Marin Master Gardeners
University of California
Marin Master Gardeners

Fire-smart Landscaping - Seasonal Maintenance

Seasonal maintenance quick check list

  • Clean up and dispose of plant litter, roof and gutter debris, dead vegetation, combustible materials within 5 feet of the structure
  • Thin and prune plants, shrubs and trees according to season
  • Before fire season, clean gutters and spaces around the structure that collect plant litter
  • Work with your community

Maintenance for fire safety is a year-round task. While most disastrous wildfires in California occur during “fire season” in summer and fall, fire can endanger lives and property at any time of year. Also, many plants survive pruning and thinning better in late fall or winter than in spring or summer when they are actively growing. Fire hazard reduction is best worked into the normal property maintenance schedule, with some tasks ongoing, some performed once a year before fire season, and others undertaken every few years as needed. For example:

Ongoing:

  • Clean up and dispose of leaves, pine needles, and other plant litter
  • Remove debris from roof and gutters
  • Remove dead plants and dead branches from trees and shrubs
  • Remove vines from trees, shrubs, and fences
  • Compost or remove debris from the site
  • Check your irrigation system.
    • Look for broken sprinkler heads, uneven water coverage due to incorrect head placement (water from each sprinkler should reach adjacent sprinkler heads).
    • Look for sprinkler heads too high or too low in relation to the level of the ground.
    • Mismatched sprinkler heads and nozzles will prevent even spraying.
    • Check for spray patterns blocked by new or growing plants (if this occurs, adjust your sprinklers so that they do not water walks, driveways, etc.).

Annually before fire season:

  • Mow
    • annual grasses and weeds to about three inches tall, 30 feet away from your home
    • Use equipment properly to keep from sparking a wildfire.
    • Mow before 10 a.m., and never on a hot or windy day.
    • String trimmers are a safer option (vs. lawnmowers) for clearing vegetation.
  • Thin overgrown vegetation and cut back woody perennials.
  • Cover woodpiles and clear surrounding vegetation.
  • Stack woodpiles at least 30 feet from any structures and clear flammable vegetation within 10 feet of woodpiles. (One cord of firewood contains 20 million BTUs of heat energy, the equivalent of 160 gallons of gasoline.
  • Remove combustible debris on and or under decks, overhangs, and fences.
  • Keep gutters and roofs free of pine needles and leaves.
  • Cut back woody perennials and shrubs that accumulate dry material  in a single season (e.g., lavender)
  • Thin overgrown vegetation

Every few years or as needed:

  • Cut back vines and low-growing groundcovers (e.g., ivy) to remove build-up of dry stems and dead leaves
  • Cut back twiggy shrubs (e.g., baccharis, rosemary) to renew
  • Thin and reduce tree canopies to remove twiggy growth, maintain separation between trees, and reduce overall fuel load
  • Keep lowest branches of trees pruned up ten to twenty feet, depending on the height of the tree, the height of nearby vegetation, and the distance between them to eliminate “ladders” for the fire to climb.
  • Avoid topping trees as this causes excessive branching and twiggy growth that can increase the fire hazard
  • If you have a valuable tree, consult a professional forester or certified arborist to help determine the degree of injury and/or safety after a fire. If possible, it’s also desirable to let at least one, and preferably three, growing seasons pass before making a final decision to cut down large, valuable trees whose safety or survival at first seems uncertain.

Structures and lives are put at risk when accumulated fuels make property damage more likely and fire fighting more difficult.

Reference Materials for further reading

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