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  • Writer's pictureJesica Zebouah

The Good Kind of Watering

Updated: Oct 23, 2021

30 years ago this week, the Oakland and Berkeley hills were devastated by a very fast moving, very hot wildfire. Now, at this point in October, we would typically be in the peak season of wildfire threat, but nature has blessed us with a week of rain where the foliage and wood on plants and trees will hopefully be saturated enough to no longer have the threat of fire. This is very good news since this time last year, we were choking in horrible air quality and days where the sunlight could barely make it through the thick blanket of smoke that hung over our heads.

The 1991 Tunnel fire that burned through the Oakland and Berkeley hills 30 years ago this week

Fire is one of the main threats we face during drought conditions, so while we need to carefully monitor and be aware of when we're watering and how much (see previous posts for details on this), we don't want to shut off our watering during hot months, thinking we're doing the right thing by not using any irrigation water. We've all seen houses that don't water through the hot months and their landscaping and lawns have grown tall and gone to seed. This creates an environment that is ripe to burn if given the chance, and this is what we want to avoid even though there's a temptation to not use any water.

An extreme example of a yard so dry and unmaintained, it would ignite quickly if given a spark

Doing the right thing in drought conditions has to do with reducing or removing your lawn, turning the soil throughout your landscaping so water can be absorbed, planting drought tolerant plants that don't require a lot of watering (not necessarily CA natives, but also natives from South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and the Mediterranean- areas that have similar conditions to us), then efficiently watering through a low-flow drip irrigation system.

Succulents are a classic drought tolerant plants that require little watering but do like it efficiently around their roots not from overhead spray. They store water in their "leaves" and are the perfect plant for fire prevention.

Since the 1991 fire, the cities of Oakland and Berkeley have had an ongoing discussion about the presence of Eucalyptus trees in our residential areas.

Were they the main factor that contributed to how fast and hot the fire moved through the area and should they be treated like an invasive species to be reduced? Most say yes. These trees are not native to our area, they are particularly flammable because of their peeling bark and light dried leaves and they grow in groves, densely taking over entire areas, able to grow very quickly in tree terms, making them difficult to thin out and control. Their roots are shallow, easily compacting the surrounding soil, and are susceptible to rot and falling over. As a result, both cities have cleared entire areas in an attempt to prevent what happened in 1991 from ever happening again.

Eucalyptus trees are highly flammable and invasive. They choke out other native trees and compact and erode the soil

One great way to reduce watering is planting in areas that are shady and don't dry out from heat. Tree coverage helps, north facing gardens are also less harsh on the plants and soil.

Beautiful dry shade garden on low-flow drip watering

That's it for this post on wildfires, the factors that contribute to their threat and what we can do to reduce the risk in our communities. If you haven't switched off your irrigation timer yet and the forecast says rain all week, go ahead and switch it off. Just remember to switch it back on if the heat returns.

Enjoy the rain!



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