Les Harrison is the Wakulla County Extension Director
The home landscape has many functions. In the minds of most, it is a conspicuous effort to add seasonal color and texture around the home.
Millions, if not billions, of dollars are spent annually to have the most attractive combination of plants and trees which create the perfect setting for domestic bliss. There are tangible reasons for the expense and effort, too. .
A properly designed and installed landscape is an energy saver. It creates a micro-environment which buffers the home from temperature extremes and can act as a windbreak.
Unfortunately, there can be some devastating negative effects if the plan only considers the cosmetic and energy considerations. Drought and seasonal dieback can change the bright foliage pallet into an earth toned tinderbox awaiting a spark.
Wakulla County residents are able to enjoy a lifestyle with vast tracts of forested land having ample greenery. Combined with the temperate climate, the wildlands sustain an environment which is the envy of many Americans in urban locales.
Those acres stay lush during years with normal to surplus rain and are in no danger of burning. Then there are the dry years.
When foundation landscaping becomes dense undergrowth turning from green to brown during the summer months’ baking heat, wildfire danger jumps dramatically. However, when winter sets in after a good growing year there can be problems, too.
The fact not commonly recognized is winter can create a similar hazardous environment, and without much notice from the homeowner. While many shrubs become dormant during this season, with some loosing many of their leaves, they still require appropriate levels of moisture.
If there is an extended dry period during the cold season, the dormant shrub can quickly become a tragedy in waiting. A little awareness of the environment and effort to sustain the plants can avert most of these problems.
First, maintain the correct moisture level of the root zones during the dormant period. This is easy to check by placing a finger into the soil within the plants root zone.
Water the plants before 10:00 a.m. to assure the excess drains away before the day ends. Take precautions not to saturate the plants or irrigate late in the day as this promotes the growth of fungal diseases.
Next, maintain a two to three foot buffer between foundation plants and the structure. This is easy to accomplish when installing new plants, but can be challenging if the landscape has been in place for a time.
Pruning is recommended to establish the open space. If the shrub is installed within a short distance of the foundation, removal of the existing plant may be necessary.
The space between shrubs and buildings allows for airflow which reduces mildew growth on structure surfaces. Plants growing against a building can become a contributing factor in a fire event.
Lastly, remove dead and dying plants from close proximity to structures. This removes potential wildfire fuel and improves the home landscape’s general health.
Dead plants and thatch offer an ideal growing environment for fungal diseases during cool wet winters. During dry winters they become fuel for wildfire.
Home landscape preparation now can prevent a Wakulla winter from becoming too hot.
To learn more about the landscaping for fire prevention Wakulla County, visit the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Office or call 850-926-3931.