Bush fires are a natural summer occurrence in Australia and the recent fires through January are a reminder that we all need to be aware of the potential danger and the damage that can be caused by these fires.
There is no way to fireproof the garden, but there are ways to reduce the opportunity of fires around your property with the use of fire retardant plants.
All plants will burn in the right conditions but some are more resilient and less flammable than others.
Plants with broad fleshy leaves do not burn as readily as finer hard leaves and those that have a high salt content are also less flammable and can be considered for planting around homes.
Fire retardant plants have the ability to absorb more of the heat of an approaching fire without burning. Fire retardant trees can trap flying embers and sparks and can also reduce wind speeds around the house if properly positioned.
Shrubs and ground covers can reduce the speed of fires moving through leaf litter.
These trees and shrubs need to be well maintained and kept in a healthy state to be effective.
If not, they will become just as much a fire hazard. Regular watering is required to maintain high moisture content in the leaves, particularly through the hotter months, as well as the removal of dead leaves and branches.
Trees such as box elders, elms, liquidamber, and golden rain trees are good fire retardant trees that will grow well in our region.
Shrubs such as hibiscus, camellia, hebe, photinia and hydrangea will also do the trick and ground covers such as agapanthus, geraniums, canna lilly and even prostrate rosemary all have fire retardant properties.
If you prefer native plants then green and black wattles, lilly pilly, white cedar, kangaroo paw, native frangipani, emu bush and salt bush are excellent.
It would be worth checking with your local council on the types of plants you can use, particularly if you back on to national parks, as some garden variety plants can become unwanted pests if they are allowed to escape in the parks and some councils may have strict conditions on the types of plants used. It may also be worth contacting your local Landcare group for advice.
Sean O'Brien is the horticultural manager of Hunter Valley Gardens.
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