Recreating the Country blog
What to plant, where to plant and how to maintain beautiful native gardens to make our homes safer during the fire season.
Planting native gardens with groundcovers, shrubs and small trees for fire safety and aesthetics
Living in the country has a lot going for it most of the year – plenty of wildlife, cheaper property prices, great communities, less traffic and clean air. Then the summer rolls around and the frightening prospect of bushfires becomes a sobering reality once again.
Bushfires can be deadly as we all know too well and they are going to become more frequent and more serious in the southern states according to the Climate Institute’s long term projections
Public enemy number one in the bushfire season, aside from hot days with strong northerly winds, are the plants that burn and carry the fire to our homes - grasses, shrubs and trees. Yet we know native gardens often support important communities of native birds, frogs, lizards and insects, give us shelter and a lot of pleasure, so how can we enjoy our gardens and be fire safe as well?
Here are some practical insights into what to plant, where to plant and how to maintain these beautiful native plants to make our homes safer during the fire season.
Trouble from the Veldt has appeared in my ‘backyard’ in the form of three invasive grasses that are threatening to displace remnant grasslands in three reserves that I help manage. The indigenous plants that have succumbed are extremely tough and hardy, but they are no match for this trio from the Veldt.
The South African Veldt is a wide open plain and its literal translation from Afrikaans is ‘field’, originating from Old Dutch. In South Africa the Veldt can be predominantly grasslands or a combination of grassland with shrubs and open woodlands. This type of landscape will sound very familiar to Australians.
Because of its exposed, dry climate the Veldt has produced plants that are very tough, so not surprisingly the Veldt grasses that were introduced to Australia as pasture grasses and for binding sandy soils, have adapted so well that they have invaded many waterways and nature reserves in Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria.
The three Veldt grasses causing the trouble are Panic Veldt Grass, Ehrharta erecta, Annual Veldt Grass, E. longiflora and Perennial Veldt Grass, E. calycina. Each species of grass is very invasive, fast growing, have done well in the extreme dry of the recent drought years and adapt well to wet years as long as the soil is well drained. They seem pretty bullet proof though some chinks in their armour are beginning to appear
In Central Victoria near Teesdale and Inverleigh which is my backyard, these Veldt grasses have invaded grasslands and grassy woodlands, displacing many of the indigenous grassland plants. Disappointingly they are not considered pest plants by government departments because they are not a pest for the farming community, though the departments will indirectly fund their control because they are causing a loss of biodiversity.
Stephen Murphy is an author, an ecologist and a nurseryman. He has been a designer of natural landscapes for over 30 years. He loves the bush, supports Landcare and is a volunteer helping to conserve local reserves.