Fire-wise gardens
January 15, 2024 7:04 AM   Subscribe

Learning lessons from Black Summer, these Gippsland locals are planting fire-wise gardens. East Gippsland communities hit by the Black Summer bushfires are planting trees with low flammability to reduce the risk of radiant heat and embers destroying homes and other assets.
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries (6 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I am amused that one of the fire resistant species selected is a flame tree.
posted by zamboni at 7:39 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]

Oh, not that Black Summer.
posted by SPrintF at 9:35 AM on January 15

No, definitely not. Our Black Summer (34 direct deaths, 445 indirect) is not a Netflix series, and our Black Friday (71 deaths) is not a shopping event.
posted by zamboni at 9:59 AM on January 15 [5 favorites]

They say the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, and the second best time is right now.

I'm really glad I planted half a dozen fast-growing paulownia tomentosa to the north-west of our house starting twenty years ago. They've been doing very well off the greywater from our shower and the leaks and splashes from the summer paddling pools, and for the last ten years they've been providing simply magnificent cool summer shade in the back yard while doing a good job of cutting the speed of the fire-driving summer northwesterlies that arrive on our doorstep.

Given the enormous volume of tiny windborne seeds these things release, I've also been pleasantly surprised by having seen no volunteer seedlings popping up nearby; getting new plants going on purpose has always needed careful nurture from supervised germination onwards. I think it's probably because the seeds are so tiny (smaller than poppy seeds, but with a wing), the new seedlings are so soft and delicious to slugs, snails and small mammals, and the larger seedlings seem irresistible to our local cockatoo flock. The mature foliage is pretty high in nitrogen and makes good horse feed.

If my attempts to get more of them started are any guide, in any contest for soil moisture between a eucalypt and a nearby paulownia the eucalypt will just wipe the floor with the invader, so I'm no longer feeling quite so much like the kind of ignorant lout who would risk an environmental weed nightmare the in nearby bush country. So no, they're not native, but I like my trees a lot.

Compared to the willows and poplars that have run rampant in our waterways for decades, paulownias just don't figure despite the astonishing speed they grow at. I did find one volunteer sapling growing by the side of the river one year, a little downstream from one of our less accessible swimming holes a few km from town; I don't think it was descended from any of my own trees because there are so many others on properties much nearer to there. I considered digging it out and bringing it home, but by the time I'd got it together to do that we'd had some heavy rain through and the river had risen and washed it out.

What has been volunteering under the shade of my paulownias is a fair bit of pittosporum undulatum, another fire-resistant wind deflector that is native to this locality (it's an environmental weed in many other places, but this is its home range). These are a birdshit-propagated berry producer with small hard seeds and they smell just gorgeous.

I was expecting a terrible bushfire season, given that we're now in an El Niño year after three years of La Niña had brought on vigorous understory regrowth since the last horror fire season, but so far this has been a weirdly wet summer in East Gippsland with loads more moist ocean air arriving from the northeast than I've ever seen before. The local dairy paddocks are all still bright green - normally the grass would have been well cured by mid-January but not this year. I don't mind the river running too hard for safe swimming if it means not having my house under ember attack.
posted by flabdablet at 5:40 PM on January 15 [4 favorites]

Does anyone know native recommendations for other climates? I'm looking for new trees to plant in Fort Worth, Texas. (1) Low water needs, (2) provides lots of shade, and (3) fast growing are my main criteria, but (4) fire resistance seems like a sensible one to add with an eye towards what will surely be a wildfire-y future.
posted by It is regrettable that at 12:01 PM on January 16

I'm looking for new trees to plant in Fort Worth, Texas.

Check in with your local Extension (e.g. Tarrant County) or the Master Gardeners and the Texas A&M Forest Service about Firewise Landscaping. Travis County has an extensive page on it, but it'd be good to get some local advice.
posted by zamboni at 12:53 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]

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