Maintain a Fire-smart Landscape
When it comes to creating defensible space, the significance of proper plant and landscape maintenance cannot be overemphasized. Even the best designed landscape requires regular maintenance. Poorly maintained landscapes can easily become fire hazards – regardless of which plants are grown.
The goal of fire-smart maintenance is to reduce fuel while preserving the ecological well-being of the environment.
• Remove dead plants, grass, and weeds.
• Prior to fire season, remove dead or dry leaves and pine needles from your yard, roof, and rain gutters.
• Move flammable items away from house, including plastic bins.
• Remove combustible debris on and or under decks, overhangs, and fences.
• Mow before 10 am and not on hot or windy days. Mow annual grasses and weeds to about three inches tall.
• Use string trimmers (vs. lawnmowers) for clearing vegetation.
• Stack woodpiles at least 30 feet from any structures. Clear vegetation within 10 feet of woodpiles. (One cord of firewood contains 20 million BTUs of heat energy, the equivalent of 160 gallons of gasoline. Do you want that near your home?
• Keep gasoline generators a minimum of 30 feet from any structure and 10’ from plants.
• Remove any flammable debris under propane tanks. Move propane tanks 30’from structures if fire approaches.
• Do not accumulate construction materials, recreational equipment, or other debris, including dry grass beneath patio decks or elevated porches. Screen or enclose areas below decks with wire mesh screen no larger than one-quarter inch, OR even better, attach skirting of ignition-resistant materials from the deck to the ground.
• Use equipment properly to keep from sparking a wildfire.
Landscapes and irrigation systems should be designed to work together. Too much water, too little water, or watering at the wrong time of year may damage plants. Watering more than necessary can encourage quick and excessive plant growth, increasing the fuel load on your property.
Water is a precious resource in our drought-prone climate. In addition to adhering to general irrigation guidelines and water conservation efforts, pay attention to these fire-smart irrigation strategies:
• Do not wet down your property on Red Flag warning days. Irrigate as normal.
• Clearly mark all emergency (and other) water sources
• Create easy firefighter access to your closest emergency water source
• Store an extra hose or two with emergency supplies.
• Keep hoses accessible for firefighters.
• If your water comes from a well, consider purchasing an emergency generator to operate the pump during a power failure.
• Keep your drip irrigation system in good condition by checking it annually, preferably in winter or early spring. Make any necessary repairs before the dry season.
The award-winning Garden Walks program helps homeowners conserve water in their landscapes. If you would like two UC Marin Master Gardeners to visit your garden, suggest irrigation improvements, and make plant selection recommendations, please contact us.
Mulch is a layer of material, commonly organic, spread on the soil surface. Mulch has many benefits: it improves soil quality and regulates soil temperature, reduces weeds, and helps retain water. There are many types of mulch. Common organic mulches include wood chips, leaves, grass clippings, and straw. Unfortunately, mulch can be flammable, and can pose a risk to your home if ignited. Non-combustible mulches include rock and gravel.
A 2008 University of Nevada Cooperative Extension study tested the combustibility of eight different mulches. Below is a summary of the study's findings:
Mulch guidelines for defensible space zones:
Proper fire-smart use of mulch ties back to the three zones of defensible space:
Overgrown, diseased, or dead plant material creates excess fuel that can feed the spread of fire. Reduce your risk by keeping plants and trees adequately trimmed and pruned. Depending on the plants in your garden, pruning can be an ongoing process, with different plants requiring attention at different times of the year – especially in winter. For larger trees, this may require the services of a professional arborist or pruner.
Fire-smart pruning checklist:
• Cut back woody, twiggy or overgrown shrubs that accumulate dry material (e.g. lavender).
• Cut back vines and low-growing groundcovers (e.g. ivy) to remove build-up of dry stems and dead leaves.
• Thin and reduce tree canopies to remove twiggy growth, maintain separation between trees, and reduce overall fuel load.
• Remove dead or diseased branches.
• Gently thin and trim back tree canopies to remove twiggy growth and maintain separation between trees.
• Limb up trees 6 to 15 feet from the ground or up to one-third of their height
• Avoid topping trees as this causes excessive branching, is unhealthy for the tree, and results in twiggy growth that can increase the fire hazard.
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