Since fire knows no boundaries, cross-jurisdictional, multiagency efforts are underway to develop strategies on wildfire preparedness. Various tasks to protect your home require planning and maintenance throughout the year, and should be an on-going top priority as we continue to experience less-predictable weather.
Learn How To Reduce Risk
During a wildfire, embers fly around in the air and can land anywhere. A well-maintained landscape is a valuable resource to discourage embers that land on your property from igniting combustible material that can drive fire towards your home.
Do A Garden Inspection
Now is a great time to develop a relationship with your property. On a pleasant weather day, spend 15 to 30 minutes to inspect your garden. Grab a piece of paper and a pen, or your favorite electronic device, and take notes.
First Five Feet From Your House
Start with the perimeter around your home and carefully inspect the first 5 feet. Look for potential “fuel,” which is anything that will burn. A few examples include dry or dead vegetation, wood piles, brooms and jute, or natural fiber door mats. If the material is something you could use to start a campfire, remove it. Also look for plants that are under eaves, against your house or under a window. Is there roof or gutter litter?
Beyond 5 feet
Now, take a second lap and inspect your property beyond 5 feet. Consider the size of the shrubs and trees on your property. Do they need to be pruned? Can you walk around each shrub or plant? Do you have shrubs under a tree with low-growing tree branches? Are there tree branches within 10 feet of your roof or chimney? Do you live on a hillside with plants that need to be pruned?
We know that this can be an overwhelming task, so don’t get discouraged. Keep taking notes.
Make A Plan
Now that you have your list, play your favorite music, sit in a comfy chair and take some time to plan how you want to tackle the list. There will be some obvious, easy, quick things to do like planning one day each month to spend 30 to 60 minutes clearing dry vegetation.
Other things take more time and expense, like replacing mulch with pebbles or hardscape around the 5 feet perimeter of your home, adding compost with herbaceous low-growing plants and succulents or removing and replacing a plant. And then there will be the larger tasks like clearing and replacing old or overgrown shrubs, or pruning trees with branches that are too close to your home, roof or chimney.
If you live on or adjacent to a hillside, please be aware that removing vegetation without replacement could lead to unintended consequences, such as erosion or habitat disruption. Vegetation helps to stabilize a hillside and if the vegetation is native to California, may be providing habitat to a variety of animal species and ecological value to beneficial insects. If you cannot identify the plants on your hillside, ask for help from your local nursery or the master gardener help desk at the UC Cooperative Extension in Novato.
Reading articles and attending seminars will help you to build knowledge and be better equipped to prioritize tasks. As soon as we are permitted, the UC Marin Master Gardeners will offer free fire-smart landscaping presentations in the county, and its website provides in-depth information on planning and maintenance to help you create and maintain your beautiful, fire-smart landscape.
As time goes on, you will find that maintenance will become routine and probably less demanding. Try to commit to doing three things each month, but please, start today.
By Fay Mark, Master Gardener