Hero Image

Tips: Monthly Fire-smart Reminders

Feeling overwhelmed and need a place to start? Check out our monthly tips for actionable, affordable ways to reduce fuel on your property. Our fire-smart landscaping tips are a reminder to homeowners to plan and maintain their homes and landscapes with awareness of the threat of wildfires. Read on for this month's fire-smart tip!

 

JANUARY: Time to Prune!

Photo: Richard Ackley
Photo: Richard Ackley

  • Prune trees when dormant (except apricot and cherry)
  • Trim tall trees to remove limbs 6 to 10 feet from the ground but keep at least 2/3 of the total height in foliage.
  • Remove branches within 10 ft of chimney. Consult an arborist to consider elimination of branches that overhang the roof to minimize plant debris but not to the detriment of the health of the tree.
  • Avoid topping trees and shearing hedges as this causes weak and twiggy growth and more fuel for a fire.

 

FEBRUARY: Trees and Shrubs - Consider spacing

FIRESafe Marin

  • Consider creating separation by increasing spacing between tree canopies while considering flat vs sloped terrain.
  • Maintain vertical clearance of at least 3X the shrub’s height between the tops of shrubs and the bottom of the tree canopy. This can be done by pruning the shrub down, or pruning smaller, easily ignitable tree branches up, or both.
  • Remove dead trees.
  • Plant spacing, size control and maintenance are more important than type of plant.


MARCH: Remove and replace invasive plants

Photo: Marin Master Gardeners
Photo: Marin Master Gardeners

  • Remove invasive plants such as ivy, broom, and pampas grass that spread quickly, add considerable fuel for fire and use precious water. 
  • Replace with California natives, pollinator or low water use plants keeping drought tolerance and biodiversity in mind. 
  • Unfortunately, excessive clearing can create a vulnerable entry point for the plants we do not want. Pull weeds before they go to seed to keep them from spreading.

APRIL: It’s spring! Think Lean, Clean and Green

Photo: Plant Master
Photo: Plant Master


  • Lean: Allow space between individual plants, or plant in small, irregular clusters or islands.
  • Clean: Remove dried grass, weeds, dead branches, and all other dead vegetation. Check gutters, roof, eaves, vents, chimney, under decks or elevated porches for leaf and needle litter. Thin and reduce tree canopies.
  • Green: Properly irrigated plants with healthy soil remain healthy and green summer through fall.  Check your irrigation system regularly for leaks or malfunctions. Applying compost and mulches help stabilize soil temperature and prevent evaporation. Areas 0-5’ from structures, use non-combustible mulches like rock, gravel, and stone. 5-30’ from structures, composted woodchips or bark nuggets to a depth of two inches. Avoid fine, stringy mulches.

 

MAY: Maintain Plants Along Exit Routes From Your Home

Photo: Fay Mark
Photo: Fay Mark

  • Identify the best escape routes to get to your vehicle and then for your vehicle to leave your property. Routes with less vegetation are safer.
  • Assess the health and condition of the plants along each route. Keep vegetation maintained – pruned and hydrated.
  • Remove or move combustible materials from your exits e.g., jute door mats, wood planters, furniture etc.
  • Remove dead plant material and debris.
  • Remove vines near doors or windows.
  • Replace wood gates, arbors, or trellises near exit routes with metal.
  • Have evacuation signs ready to post at home exits in the event you must evacuate. This alerts fire personnel that you have left the property. (Check with your local fire department for signs.)

 

JUNE: Clean up Zone Zero - Within 5 Feet of Your Home

June

  • Clean-up areas where wind eddies deposit leaf and plant litter along the perimeter of your home. 
  • Clear dead debris from flower beds close to the home.
  • Rake up wood mulch within 5 feet of the home and move it to another location in your garden.
  • Trim dead, damaged and diseased branches and dispose of the material in your green waste bin.
  • Move common combustible fire hazards away from the area immediately surrounding your home including brooms, rakes, plastic waste bins, wood furniture, furniture cushions, wood piles, and natural fiber door mats. Move these items as far away from your house as possible – or indoors if a nearby wildfire threatens.



JULY: Mindfully Mulch

July

  • Mulch: material spread over the surface of the soil to help reduce water evaporation, add organic material to soil, reduce erosion and compaction, and help maintain a more even soil temperature & health.
  • 0 feet to 5 feet from your house: non-combustible mulch such as stone, rock, pavers, decomposed granite, or gravel. 
  • 5 feet to 30 feet from your house: composted wood chips are considered the best choice for residential landscapes. Limit mulch depth to 2 inches. Separate wood chip areas with non-flammable hardscaping materials such as decomposed granite, gravel, rocks, and flagstone. 
  • 30 feet and beyond from your house: larger, composted or non-composted wood chips or bark nuggets up to a depth of 3 inches. 
  • Avoid hazardous mulches: shredded western red cedar (gorilla hair) or pine needles. Do not use any fine, stringy mulches, as they burn faster than larger chunks.

 

AUGUST:  Water Wise and Fire-smart

August

When it comes to water, use these important fire-smart strategies:

  • Utilize compost and the right mulches appropriately to sustain soil moisture and plant health; healthy plants are resilient plants.
  • Select water wise, drought tolerant plants to add to your garden. Avoid adding new plants in times of extreme drought. 
  • Learn the water requirements of different plants to water appropriately.
  • Water in the early morning and stager the schedule to allow roots to absorb the water slowly. Target watering at the base within the plant’s dripline.
  • Consider prioritizing valued plants & trees and decreasing the number of other plants. Remove invasives, weeds, and dead plants (plug irrigation outlet after removal).
  • Minimize fertilizing – rapid plant growth requires more water.
  • Keep irrigation system in good condition. Look into flow meters, soaker hoses, drip irrigation, and irrigation controllers to administer & monitor more effectively.
  • Do not wet down your property on Red Flag warning days. This depletes the water our fire personnel need. Irrigate as normal.
  • At http://firesafemarin.org, watch video entitled: Prioritizing Landscaping During Drought
  • Look for Chipper Days in late summer/ early fall to get rid of garden debris. https://www.chipperday.com/marin

 

SEPTEMBER: Maintaining a Fire-smart Landscape

Photo: Alice Cason
Photo: Alice Cason

  • Clear leaf and needle litter from gutters, roof, eaves, vents, and chimney.
  • Clear branches 10 feet from the chimney.
  • Rake-up fallen leaves and evergreen needles.
  • Remove dead vegetation and dry grasses and dead wood from trees and shrubs.
  • Check plants for drought stress.

 

OCTOBER:  Right Plant, Right Place - Plan Your Garden

Photo: Marin Master Gardeners

With the implications of climate change, we need to adapt and be more mindful planning our gardens, including what to plant. There are no fire-resistant plants since all plants can burn. Plant spacing, size, and maintenance are more important than type of plant. Rather than focus on individual plant species, think about growth habits and plant characteristics.

Consider:

  • Drought tolerant plants, low-growing non-woody shrubs and deep-rooted trees with thick bark, leaves over needles.
  • California natives, that add critical biodiversity for pollinators, can use less water once established and can stay hydrated longer.
  • Horizontal and vertical spacing with hardscape between plant islands to breakup path of fire.

In general, avoid plants and trees that:

  • Tend to build up dead thatch inside or under a green surface layer.
  • Produce and shed excessive dead, dry, or fine debris that can become fuel for fire.
  • Are Invasive.

 

NOVEMBER: Plant Spacing in the Defensible Landscape

Photo: Oregon State University
Photo: Oregon State University

Space trees, shrubs and grasses to minimize and slow the transmission of fire from one plant to another.

  • Space trees so that at maturity their crowns are 10 to 15 feet apart or more.
  • Avoid planting trees in rows or hedges.
  • The steeper the slope, the more space to leave between plants and trees.
  • Plant spacing, size control and maintenance are more important than type of plant.
  • Maintain vertical clearance of at least 3X the shrub’s height between the tops of shrubs and the bottom of the tree canopy. This can be done by pruning the shrub down, or pruning smaller, easily ignitable tree branches up, or both.

 

DECEMBER:  Plan Your Fire-smart Landscape

These zones make up the 100' of defensible space required by law. FIRESafe Marin
These zones make up the 100' of defensible space required by law. FIRESafe Marin

Make a fire-smart plan. Consider existing plants, budget, and how much maintenance you are willing to do. Start by understanding the three defensible space zones. The idea is to decrease the energy and speed of a fire by eliminating continuous, dense vegetation vertically and horizontally. Defensible space allows a safer space to defend property. Plant spacing and maintenance is key.

  • Zone 0: 0 to 5 feet from the house. This is the most critical area. Minimize combustible materials and separate plants with non-combustible materials (concrete, brick, rocks, decomposed granite, gravel). Eliminate combustible plants and mulch near structures, especially windows. Select plants that are easy to maintain that do not produce excessive debris.
  • Zone 1: 5 to 30 feet from the house. Separate plantings and garden beds with hardscape and provide ample plant spacing to slow the spread of flames.
  • Zone 2: 30 to 100 feet from the house. Here, you can use larger shrubs and trees planted in widely spaced groups or “islands.” Consider the mature size of plants and shrubs to maintain spaces.