Friday, August 19, 2011

A Sand Storm By Any Other Name...

During the Great Depression, they were called dust storms—hence, the Dust Bowl. Today, the Arabic name, haboob, is catching on. But when I was a kid growing up in the desert, they were sand storms, because that's how they felt: as if you were being sand-blasted.

By now, I suspect those of you living around the Phoenix area, having just experienced your third such event of this summer, have a lot of other names for them.

If you've ever been hit by an airborne wall of dirt, you aren't likely to forget it. After all these years, I still  remember well the sinking feeling in the stomach as I looked toward the nearby mountains and saw a brown cloud rolling rapidly toward me even as it boiled higher and higher into the sky. My family huddled together in the house as it hit, the terrified, whimpering dogs hiding behind the couch. Day turned to night, accompanied by the roar of high winds that seemed to go on forever. Something, I suppose, like a dry hurricane.

These epic sand storms are symptoms of serious drought conditions, much like the vast wildfires that struck earlier in the summer. (We had a relatively miniature dust storm right here in the drought-stricken Southern Plains this past week.) The desiccating high winds can damage trees and shrubs, leaving them even more vulnerable to ongoing heat and drought conditions.

Mulch and water, mulch and water. In the absence of rain, that's been the story of my life throughout this difficult summer. Millions of us have pretty much been reduced to survival tactics, just getting through the record-breaking hot/dry season; having to endure a spectacular sand storm would just add insult to injury. Tolerating three in one season cannot be good for one's disposition.

Have you can gifted with a haboob? (I have to admit, haboob does make it sound more exotic than just a mouthful of dirt.)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Not Wild About Wildfire

Nothing gets your attention quite like an inferno eating through the woods barely half a mile from your house. Last week, a wildfire took off into a neighborhood just down the road, turning oaks and cedars into giant torches. Residents stood in their yards, water hoses in hand and stark worry in their eyes, as flames crackled through the drought-stricken trees.

Fortunately, there was little wind (for a change), and firefighters were able to tamp down the wildfire before houses were lost. But somewhere between five and ten acres of woods were lost, in some cases burning right up to doorsteps. Trees—even roadside power poles—were left charred.

Ironically, a brisk wind might have driven the wildfire along at a faster pace, leaving many of the tree trunks less damaged. But houses would have been lost, and the fire would have spread over a greater area.

In the aftermath, I took a hard look at our own trees. Previous owners had been wise enough to trim the lower branches up a good six to eight feet, making it more difficult for a grass fire to take hold in the tree crowns. During our ongoing drought-abetted heat wave, we make a point of keeping the grass clipped short to provide less fire fuel. And most of our trees are set well away from the house.

That's the best we can do. That...and hope for fall rains this year.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Welcome to the new blog site for Weatherproofing Your Landscape: A Homeowner's Guide to Protecting and Rescuing Your by Emmy-nominated landscape architect Dean Hill, co-host of the popular DIY network program, Grounds for Development.

Trees and shrubs are the big-ticket elements of your landscape, adding both aesthetic and monetary value to your real estate. As climate change brings increasingly extreme (often violent) weather events to your corner of the world, these slow-growing and often treasured elements of your landscape's tapestry are threatened by instant damage or destruction.

Weatherproofing Your Landscape is designed to help you prevent damage to your anchor plants by extreme-weather events, whether from wind, flood, drought (and associated wildfires), frozen stuff (ice and snow), and even lightning. If an extreme-weather event is already in progress, Weatherproofing might help you reduce the damage as much as possible. And after the fact, you will find clear guidance on how to help your landscape recover from a hard hit by the elements.

Virtually every location in the country is vulnerable to one or more forms extreme weather—and often a combination of events at the same time. I hope you'll find this site to be a welcoming source of insights, information and discussion regarding things arboreal.