We are well into May – the official start of fire season.  It may be hiding behind the coattails of COVID-19, but we know it’s here.  In spite of recent rains (which we are grateful for), temperatures will heat up and dry weather will prevail for the next several months.

Like clockwork the call volume at Gardeners’ Guild’s has spiked with requests for weed abatement.  This is vegetation management – an essential part of fire prevention – and our topic for this month.  Our forty-plus years of experience managing vegetation inform this month’s content and make us a valuable resource for you.

A note about the pandemic and Gardeners’ Guild’s status

We are open now – since the state has determined that landscape activities are essential.   I hope this post finds you well. Please call us with any questions about our policy. 
(510) 439-3700.

As if you aren’t dealing with enough – the shock and overwhelm of a pandemic thrust upon you. Now, Californians, we enter summer with fire prevention added to our to-do list. 

This post is focused on vegetation management and its role in preventing wildfires.  We help you navigate this with simple and easy-to-digest basics. 

I’ve synthesized the essentials.

  • What vegetation management is, why it’s important now and actions you can take to minimize your risk of wildfire.
  • Scroll down to see a great video on Fire Wise landscaping and links to several county resources.
Tall Weeds

Combustible Weeds


Why is this important now?

Wildfire season 2020 threatens to be longer, with bigger fires unleashing more devastation.  Being educated and taking appropriate action now will help protect your investment, family, and neighbors.

Daniel Swain is a UCLA Climate Scientist and author of WeatherWest.com.  He studies extreme weather events and their causes.  I began following Swain during the drought and was in awe of his spot-on analysis of weather events. 

In a recent post on weatherwest.com, Swain said:

“the NIFC* is predicting a higher than average likelihood of large wildfires across NorCal by mid-summer–and I would expect that ultimately to be true into the autumn as well.” *NIFC or Nation Interagency Fire Center is a support center for wildland firefighting, located in Idaho. 

You may notice that your local fire department is requiring more engagement from you this year.  I’ve noticed some are scheduling inspections and amplifying their public education efforts.

Fiery sunsetNorth Bay Sunset – October 2017


The 3-R’s of Vegetation Management

Vegetation management is the process of controlling plant material to minimize the risk of fire ignition and spread. 

Removal

Of dead fuels (vegetation), weeds, brush, invasive species and plants deemed a fire accelerant. 

Reduction

Thinning heavy brush and trimming trees.  Crucial to reducing the spread and intensity of a wildfire.
Pruning shrubs and trees will provide adequate separation between them and away from your structure. 
Check with your local fire department for plant spacing requirements in your area.  The section below has a link on spacing tips for properties on a slope.

Replacement

Replace with fire resistant plants.  These plants should be non-oily, deciduous or have higher water content.  Make sure they are free of dead wood and well hydrated. 

Below are links to great tips including fire resistant plants

Steep Slope

Steep Slope in the North Bay


How to manage your vegetation depends on its location

Is your property in an at-risk area?
Check on the latest guidelines from your municipality or county.  They’re changing as the threat of wildfire becomes more extreme.  Below are tips for assessing your property’s wildfire risk.

Advice from Contra Costa County’s Wildfire Protection Plan
“Rigorous oversight, active management, and an adaptive approach are required to achieve fuel management goals.”

Especially at risk are WUI or Wildlife Urban Interface areas
Areas, where wildland and residential communities intersect, are at risk for wildfire.  Categorized as “high” or “very high” risk.  Contributing to this is a trend toward building more homes adjacent to open space. 

Parts of Marin, Contra Costa, and Sonoma Counties are considered “very high” or “high” risk. 

Is your property on a hillside?
Wildfires on a slope burn more rapidly and longer flame lengths than along flat ground.  The steeper the slope, the more quickly it will travel. 
Clearance between shrubs should be 4 to 40 feet depending on the slope and size of vegetation. 
Assess your property’s risk of wildfire exposure by looking at the slope of the land around your commercial building or home and the direction your building faces.  See these tips from FireSafe Marin if you are on a slope

Vegetation Management Activities

Manual – hand pulling or cutting

For smaller areas, this is sometimes preferred for removing the weed’s roots.

Mechanical treatments

Such as mowing of weeds
Selective tree removal

Chemical treatments with herbicides

The least desirable method, but sometimes warranted for large areas as part of an integrated pest management (IPM) plan. For weeds that are invasive and combustible.

Fire Break Work

Work usually performed on a hillside with equipment that creates a non-flammable gap between vegetation, acting as a barrier to stop the progress of a fire.

Managed Grazing

Generally used for large areas for fire breaks and to clear combustible weeds. Goats, miraculously suited to the job, forage for low lying grasses, weeds, trees, shrubs, branches and invasive vegetation.  They can also reach upwards of 4 to 5 feet to eat tree branches, which reduces “ladder fuels” and helps to slow spreading of a fire.  It’s a cost effective, environmentally friendly option and a joy to watch. 

Controlled Burns

The state of California says this about controlled burns:
“Sometimes called a controlled burn or prescribed fire, prescribed burning is one of the most important tools used to manage fire today. As catastrophic wildfires continue to be a growing concern in California, the use of prescribed burning to reduce hazardous fuels is projected to increase. Daily burn decisions are issued based on the forecast of air quality and meteorological conditions that can affect smoke dispersion.”

Managed Grazing

Managed Grazing Project


What you can do now

Know your property and its risk of wildfire
Make sure you have the most up to date information from your local fire department.  (See below for links).

Create a vegetation management plan that consists of the 3-R’s mentioned above
For removal or thinning, hire a landscape professional or an Arborist.

Begin defensible space planning
The links below have the latest requirements on defensible space.
We will also cover this topic in the summer.

Inspect your property
A letter to the Marin IJ’s editor, written by a Fire Ecologist has tips I wanted to pass along. He suggests that people still stuck at home could examine their property for dry debris within five feet of a structure’s foundation, especially under wooden stairs and decks.  The reason – embers from approaching fire target these areas. 

Call us with questions about vegetation management to prevent fires. 
(510) 439-3700.

See the video below on Fire Smart landscaping, narrated by a local Master Gardener.  Below the video are links for you.


The links below have the most up to date guidelines on reducing your risk. 

Wishing you good health.

San Francisco’s oldest retirement community, called Heritage on the Marina, is a historic building, designed by California’s first woman architect and owned by one of the city’s oldest philanthropic organizations. Located in San Francisco’s Marina district, a neighborhood recognized for its iconic architecture.

Looking at the northeast corner of the property, you will see a small, but charming brick building, originally a groundskeepers’ quarters.  This month’s post chronicles our experience renovating the landscape. We also describe how we resolved two challenges.  

(See before photo below.)

Before renovation


Design Intent and Its First Challenge

The owner wanted to repurpose the building’s interior, then rejuvenate the landscape, which had declined as evidenced by overgrown vines, yellowing turf and poor grade definition.

Gardeners’ Guild was engaged to design and build the project.  Our objective was to transform the outdoor space into a small garden that could serve multiple functions: active gardening, areas for relaxation and pre-ambulation.

But, there was one challenge – limited space. 

This required that our design be creative and meticulous, in order to incorporate each design element. Moreover, the landscape needed to be reflective of the building’s character.  Our design featured a flat turf area for small outdoor gatherings, decomposed granite pathways that traversed around the building and raised planters for gardening projects. (See photo below)

 

Path and turf areas


The Landscape’s Second Challenge – To Complement the Building’s Character

The building’s historic elements called for ornamental plants, along with fencing and stonework.

Primary areas were scaled to the site by achieving minimum dimensions required for the intended use. Grading issues were resolved by the use of subtle retaining walls. Stone materials were carefully specified to match existing structures. (See photo below)

Historic Building Landscape

New Landscape for Historic Building


 

Gardeners’ Guild will deliver Poinsettias to your SF Bay Area office

Having Poinsettias delivered will put a smile on your face. 
Your office mates will thank you.

Our interior division services San Francisco and the East Bay as well as Marin, Sonoma and Napa Counties.

Limited quantities available.  Order today.

Your poinsettia order options*

Either with or without maintenance
Sizes 4”,6” 8” or 10″ Poinsettia in a decorative foil sleeve
We will maintain them from November 28th through first week January
*A delivery charge may apply.  Replacements are at an additional cost.

Colors

Red, white, burgundy and pink

What you should know if you want to maintain them yourself.  

Poinsettias are temperamental need just the right light and moisture to last through the holidays.  This is why having a professional maintenance is the best option, especially for a commercial building.

They need strong indirect light, love moisture but not too much and warmish temperatures.  Avoid drafty areas.  Keep them inside.

Poinsettias aren’t poisonous but they can cause mild irrigation in puppies or kittens.  Best to keep them away.

And, they won’t harm people.  An Ohio State University study found that a 50-pound child would have to eat 500 leaves for any harmful effect to occur.

How to order

Contact Angela Wrath

Phone (510) 439-3707

Email awrath@gardenersguild.com

Read more

Plants that attract pollinators

What’s Unique about Gardening for Pollinators in the Bay Area

Most important is plant types.  Because of the bay area microclimates, planting in the right environment is critical.  Plant vigor will be impacted by sun exposure, fog, heat, soil type and wind.  Learn about pollination in a stunning video (below) that catches them in the act.  Also below is an update on the status of our pollinators which explains why gardening for pollinators is so important now.

Below is a downloadable list of 9 plants for a pollinator-friendly garden.  The list shows their preferences for sun, soil, water; the pollinators they will attract, and bloom seasons.

Why Gardening for pollinators will help sustain our food supply

We depend on pollinators

Plants that produce seeds, flowers, fruits and vegetables depend on animals who perform the magic of moving the [male] pollen from one part of a plant to the [female] part. Thousands of pollinators exist, but the most common ones include bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, wasps, beetles, and wasps. 

Consider the Bumblebee.  They are lured by the scent of nectar and the color of an apple tree’s blossoms.  Flying from flower to flower, they find nectar to feed on. While enroute, pollen from the male part of the flower sticks to their body, signaling it’s time to move on and deliver their powdery stash to the female part of the flower.  That, in a nutshell, is fertilization!  Not exactly romantic, but, now the tree can produce fruit – and that’s pretty cool.

Pollinators are declining

The reason, is pollution, the loss of their natural habitat, and poisoning from pesticides.
Habitat loss happens as an outcome of urban and suburban development.  Read about the status of our most popular pollinators.

Bees
You’ve probably heard about the decline of Honeybees.  They are most prominent of all pollinators and integral to food production. Their loss has an impact on our supply. 

Native bees’ decline, however, is lesser known and has more severe implications.  As documented by the Center for Biological Diversity,  nearly 1 in 4 are at risk.  Moreover, the Center describes native bees as having a “crucial ecological role by pollinating wild plants and providing more than $3 billion in fruit-pollination services each year in the United States.”

The Monarch Butterfly (See our report on the Monarch below)
From 2017 to 2018 the Monarch’s
population plunged dramatically – by 86 percent, according to a report by the Xerces Society, a non-profit dedicated to protecting pollinators and their habitats.  Their analysis shows that the decline has been consistent since the 1980s.  The once 4.5 million population dipped to 1 million by 1997.  

Other Pollinators are in trouble
The Center for Biological Diversity report found that globally, more than 40 percent of insect pollinators are at risk. 

Gardening for Pollinators will Help Reverse this Trend

You can help sustain our world’s food supply by creating a pollinator-friendly garden.  No matter your outdoor environment – rural, suburban, or urban area – you can create a habitat garden.  Besides the satisfaction of giving back, it will increase carbon sequestration and help prevent soil erosion.  If you plant edibles, you’ll reap the benefits of growing your own food!

Why Pollinators Like Native Plants Best 

They are undemanding and best adapted to your local climate.  The pollinators are well-acquainted with them, also.  Non-natives might not have sufficient nectar or pollen.  In fact, a UC Berkeley study found that 80 percent of natives attracted bees versus 8 percent non-natives.

Pollination in action – Captured on Video

Watch this gorgeous four-minute clip below.  It was shown at a TED conference in 2011.  Created by filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg, it documents the romance of pollinators and pollen.  See Louie Schwartzberg’s website.

9 Plants that SF Bay Area Pollinators Love

The graphic below is a link to a plant list pollinators love plus their needs for water, soil, and light. 

UC Davis also has a comprehensive plant list.

 

See Our Report on the Monarch Butterfly

The button below is a link to the report. It’s packed with information. Learn about the caterpillar’s essential food.

Download Button Saving the Monarch

Essential Planting Tips

Know the right plants for your environment.  If you live in the city you can grow a pollinator garden in containers.  All you need the right soil, plants and a plan for watering.  Either irrigation or hand-watering.  Keep in mind, effective hand-watering is time consuming.

The

Use these planting tips below.  They were adapted from an article written by Melissa Womack, a Master Gardener

  • Plant in clumps instead of singely.  This will help pollinators find your garden.
  • Plant multiple varieties of plants.
  • Design a garden with structure.  This means simply arranging with the tallest plants in the back, the smallest in the front.
  • Pollinators prefer the sun, so aim for areas with full sun. (6 hours)
  • Reduce of eliminate pesticide use in the landscape.  Beneficial insects are an alternative and effective pest management method.
  • Tips for nurturing your pollinators: provide a hummingbird feeder, clean water in a shallow dish or bowl and dead branches for bees and beetles to nest.

Sources for this post:

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Why your weeds keep coming back

Have you noticed an abundant crop of weeds this spring?  One reason – the heavy rains of last fall and winter may have awakened long-dormant seeds.  Does it feel like the long rainy winter just erased all the backbreaking work you did last year?  Our guide to weeds includes the why what and how of managing weeds. 
Plus our guide to weeds is downloadable.  See link below.

Why do they reappear?

  • Weeds produce thousands of seeds.  Those seeds are stubborn and can be viable for years, even decades.
  • They are transported by weather, especially wind. Also by animals, humans, and water. Mulches and soil can also harbor weed seeds.
  • Even after weeding, their seeds will remain in the soil and may be dormant for years.
  • Perennial seeds are the hardiest.  Their roots are alive for many years and harder to kill than annual weeds.
  • An example of a perennial weed is a dandelion.  Just one dandelion puffball carries as many as 100 seeds!

Understanding is the key to managing weeds

They are tough and relentless. Weeds can thrive in the most unsavory environmental conditions. Drought, fire and even herbicide applications don’t kill all weeds.  And, they will outcompete with desired plants for sunlight, water, nutrients, and space. 

Weeds offer some benefits

  • Protect bare soil from erosion.
  • Improve the soil by imparting organic matter.
  • Absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
  • Can provide habitat for birds, worms, and beneficial insects.
  • And – some have powerful medicinal properties (and are edible)

Weeds are a problem when

  • They overpower desired plants and deplete the soil of nutrients and moisture.
  • Their unattractive appearance, texture, color and growth habit detracts from your garden or landscape.
  • They harbor disease-carrying insects that spread to desired plants.
  • Poisonous weeds can be dangerous to you and your pets.
  • Invasive weeds take over your garden in a single growing season.

Two types of weeds – what makes them different

Annual Weeds
Warm weather annual weeds grow only from seeds every spring.  Cool weather weeds germinate in late summer or fall. Their roots are shallow as compared to perennial weeds (see below). For this reason, they are easier to pull.  Some die out after flowering.

Perennial Weeds
These weeds reproduce year after year from roots and seeds.  Because of their tenacious roots and seeds that can live for years, they are much more difficult to control.  Two common perennial weeds in the San Francisco Bay area are dandelions and oxalis.

Tips for Managing Weeds

The harsh truth is that you can never completely eliminate weeds, but effective management will help control them. 
Your first step is prevention.

Tips on Weed Prevention

Plant Choices
The right plant in the right place sounds simple but makes all the difference.  Healthy vigorous plants have the best chance of out-competing weeds.  
Healthy Soil
Make sure that plants are healthy by feeding the soil with organic products including mulch and compost.
Mulching and Sheet Mulching
Mulch keeps the soil cool and moist.  It deprives weeds of light.  Organic mulches enhance soil structure and host insects can devour weeds.  Sheet mulching is layering of cardboard, newsletter or fabric.  It serves as a weed barrier.
Proper irrigation is critical
We recommend drip because the water goes directly to the root of the plant, not in between them. Spray irrigation can encourage weed growth.  
Pre-emergent Herbicides
There are products that range from natural to chemicals whose purpose is to control the germination of weed seeds. This product will not impact weeds that have already grown.  An herbicide is a barrier so it needs to thoroughly cover an area for maximum effectiveness.

 

How to get rid of them?

Gardeners’ Guild’s philosophy is to use the least toxic practices. We recommend a combination of prevention, mechanical, biological, and chemical means only when necessary.  

Hand Pulling
This works best when weeds are small and before they flower.  Once they flower, seeds will be spread.
String Trimming
This works best for annual weeds.  It is used for the top growth control of broadleaf weeds.
Mowing
For a heavily weeded area, mowing helps prevent broadleaf weed seeds from spreading but cutting off flower heads.
Flaming
Less effective for deep-rooted (perennial) weeds. This method requires a propane burner which burns cell walls of the seeds.
Post-emergent Herbicides
Their purpose is to kill weeds once they appear. This product will either target foliage and/or weed roots. Take precautions when using and be aware of any community regulations against them. 

 

Weed Types Common to SF Bay area

Below is a list of common San Francisco Bay area weeds.  Some are invasive and fire hazards.  Invasive weeds will damage our ecosystems by displacing native species, increase fire and flood danger and consume valuable water.
 
Ice plants – Invasive
They compete with native plants. Seeds are carried from landscape settings to natural areas. Pieces of the plant can be washed into storm drains. They grow in natural areas and along freeways. Remove by hand pulling, mechanical methods.  Glyphosate is effective but only as a last resort.
Oxalis/Wood Sorrel
Grows in lawns; flower beds.  Blooms in spring. Spreads rapidly by their many persistent bulbs. Very competitive. Remove root bulbs before they bloom.  Sheet mulching or post-emergent treatments are used.
Dandelion
Perennial. Seeds spread in wind. Leaches nutrients from the soil of desired plants. Prevention is key. Hand weeding and fabric mulching can work.  Herbicides if necessary.
Periwinkle/Vinca Major – Invasive
Their aggressive stems root wherever they touch the soil.  Spreads rapidly in shady creeks, drainage areas and chokes native plants. Vinca minor is okay.  Removal by hand pulling.  Rake the area to loosen the soil. Or, brushcut and cover area with cardboard for at least a year.
Licorice Plants – Invasive
Seeds spread by wind.  Spreading branches root wherever they make contact.  They can and do displace native plants in coastal areas. Hand pulling is effective for small infestations.  for larger areas, herbicides are used.
English Ivy – Invasive
Distinguishing them from less invasive ivy is difficult.  Invasive ivy will smother understory vegetation, wrap around trees and harbor non-native rats and snails.  Removal – wear protective clothing. Dig down 8-10 feet should get at their roots. Dispose of plants. A large expanse of ivy can be rolled like a carpet.
 

Download our report on Weed Management

 

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