Tag Archives: fire safe landscaping

Firesafe Landscaping

I’ve hiked the trails of the Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve for many years, even before the 2008 Martin Fire. Since then we’ve had wet and dry winters but I was amazed at the amount of regrowth this year when I visited recently. The trees are getting huge, the shrubs robust and the flowering perennials took my breath away.

Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve

Everything is green and lush now around our homes and wild areas but summer is right around the corner and with it comes the increased danger of fire. What should we be doing to keep our homes safe? Is there a landscape that is safer in a wildfire than another? Which plants burn more readily?

Fire safe landscaping is a term used to describe defensible space. It can look like a traditional landscape. The idea is to surround the home with things less likely to burn and place them to provide separation between canopies and avoid creating fire ladders. Highly flammable plants should be placed, whenever possible, with low-growing and/or low fuel plants.

The three basic rules that Cal Fire advocates to make your home and community safe are to remove dead vegetation, thin out live vegetation and prune up your trees within 100 feet of your home or at least to your property line. There are guidelines for each area within that 100 feet but that’s a good rule of thumb to follow.

Silver lupine

Your landscaping should be well-spaced, watered appropriately and the plants fire resistant. Plants should be low enough around the home that if they do catch fire they won’t give the flames a ladder to the eaves of a structure or lower branches of trees. Replace flammable plants with fire-resistant plants. Fire-resistant plants have watery sap, little flammable material and open, airy growth. Plants that provide fruit or flowers for bouquets are usually fire-resistant.

Even green plants will burn and several such as rosemary, lavender, large ornamental grasses, Japanese honeysuckle and juniper are actually extremely flammable. Some drought tolerant and native plants like sagebrush, baccharis, toyon, deer grass and buckwheat contain large amount of pitch, resin and dry flammable twiggy material. Keep these low and full of fresh green growth with frequent trimming. Remove dead limbs and twigs from manzanita. If you have these plants on your property yearly pruning and maintenance is important.
Prune pine, cedar, oak and other trees. Thin and separate clumps of brush to reduce their flammability and slow the spread of fire.

Plants with the ability to hold the soil in place and have value for wildlife and their habitat include some drought tolerant, California-friendly, fire resistant plants like western redbud, monkey flower, ceanothus, yarrow, California fuchsia and wild strawberry. Also consider coffeeberry, flowering currant, bush anemone, snowberry, California wax myrtle and evergreen currant. Non-native fire resistant plants from areas include rockrose, strawberry tree, Chinese pistache, barberry, escallonia, oleander, pittosporum, bush morning glory, dwarf pomegranate and wisteria to name just a few.

Penstemon heterophyllus

Groundcovers for areas closest to your house include ornamental strawberry, red fescue, and sedum. Perennials to try include bush morning glory, coreopsis, fortnight lily, hens and chicks, daylily, penstemon, santolina and society garlic. Vines that resist fire when maintained and watered occasionally include pink jasmine, white potato vine, cape honeysuckle and star jasmine.

Many people think they have to clear everything within 30 feet of their house to truly have a defensible space. This is unnecessary and actually unacceptable due to soil erosion and habitat destruction reasons. We want to retain the character of this beautiful area we live in, provide the food and shelter that our native wildlife are accustomed to but also reduce fire risk.

In areas 30-70 ft. away from your house plants should be trimmed and thinned to create well-spaced groups and help prevent a fire in the wildland from spreading to your home. Be cautious with slopes. If you have a large lot, the fringe area should be inspected and maintained regularly to eliminate any build up of dry brush and litter. This reduces the chance of surface as well as crown fires.

For example, grasslands mowed to leave 4-6″ of height allow insects, reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals shelter, food and a place to reproduce. Leaving 4-6″ standing also provides some erosion protection and shades out some of the weeds that follow disturbance.

All vegetation, including native plants and ornamentals in a residential landscape, is potential wildfire fuel. Vegetation that is properly pruned and maintained, however, can slow a wildfire and reduce the amount of heat around your home.

Irrigation is vital in a fire safe landscape to maintain plant moisture especially within 30 ft around your home. Choose the right irritation system. While all plants can eventually burn, healthy plants burn less quickly. Consider drip irrigation and micro sprays for watering most of your landscape. Use sprinklers and micro spray for lawns and other groundcovers or turf. Even drought adapted species and natives will benefit from watering every month or so during the dry season. Unwatered landscapes generally increase the risk of fire.

Mulching around your plants will preserve the moisture in the soil. Plantings beyond 30 ft. should be irrigated occasionally but to a lesser extent. As you get 70-100 ft from the home, native plantings that require little or no irrigation should be used.

Many homes may not have 30 ft. between their house and the property line but following these guidelines will help. Plants in this area need to be the slowest to ignite and should produce the least amount of heat if they do burn. There are plants with some fire resistance which include drought tolerant California natives and Mediterranean climate selections. The key to fire resistance, though, is maintenance and keeping the moisture in the foliage high.

Plant arrangements, spacing and maintenance are often as important as plant types when considering fire safety. Group plants of similar heights and water requirements to create a landscape mosaic that can slow the spread of fire and use water most efficiently. Use plants that do not accumulate dead leaves or twigs. Keep your landscape healthy and clean. On a regular basis remove dead branches and brush, dry grass, dead leaves and pine needles from your yard, especially within 30 feet from your home and at least 150 ft if you’re on a hill. Keep trees spaced at least 10 feet apart with branches trimmed at least 10 ft away from your roof. It’s best, however, to keep trees further from your house. Low shrubs can be closer in and herbaceous perennials and groundcovers can be nearest the home.

Using fire resistant plants that are strategically planted give firefighters a chance fighting a fire around your home especially within the 100 foot defensible zone. Each home or property is different and you will need to look at the unique qualities of yours in planning your firescaping. Some of the info for this column was obtained from two valuable booklets, ‘Living with Fire in Santa Cruz County’, prepared by Cal Fire and available free from any fire department or online and another booklet published by the Calif. Department of Forestry.

Firesafe landscaping – Part II

I walk regularly in Henry Cowell State Park in Felton. I can’t imagine losing the majestic redwood forest I enjoy so much to a fire. Over the summer there were several arson caused fires in the park. Actually 10 separate fires have occurred in the same general area and along the San Lorenzo River over the past 6 months, some caused by campfire escapes and some by arson. All of them were caused by humans.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe live in this beautiful area because of the natural scenery and wildlife. To lose any part of it to wildfire would be tragic. Whether a fire is caused by humans or natural causes such as lightning it’s all the same to our neighborhood, our homes, our pets, our lives.

We know that fire in some instances can be good for the land. After many years of fire exclusion an ecosystem that needs periodic fire to remain healthy becomes overcrowded and flammable fuels build up. The Forest Service manages prescribed fires to benefit natural resources and protect communities. However, as we build homes further into nature prescribed fires are not always possible. This is where mechanical treatment can benefit ecosystems and people.

Mechanical treatment include thinning of dense stands of trees or other fuels that make an area better able to withstand fire. Pruning loser branches, piling brush or creating fuel breaks encourage a more manageable fire should one occur.

Last week I talked about how to make the area closer to your home more firesafe. Here are some more OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAtips.

In areas 30-70 ft. away from your house plants should be trimmed and thinned to create well-spaced groups and help prevent a fire in the wildland from spreading to your home.  Be cautious with slopes.  If you have a large lot, the fringe area should be inspected and maintained regularly to eliminate any build up of dry brush and litter.  This reduces the chance of surface as well as crown fires.

Plant arrangements, spacing and maintenance are often as important as plant types when considering fire safety. Group plants of similar heights and water requirements to create a landscape mosaic that can slow the spread of fire and use water most efficiently. Use plants that no not accumulate dead leaves or twigs. Keep your landscape healthy and clean. On a regular basis remove dead branches and brush, dry grass, dead leaves and pine needles from your yard, especially within 30 feet from your home and at least 150 ft if you’re on a hill. Keep trees spaced at least 10 feet apart with branches trimmed at least 10 ft away from your roof. It’s best, however, to keep trees further from your house. Low shrubs can be closer in and herbaceous perennials and groundcovers can be nearest the home.

Extremely flammable plants have a high content of oil or resin and should be separated from each other, removed of dead branches and lower limbs and kept free of dry debris anywhere around your property.  Extremely flammable pyrophytes like hollywood juniper, pines, fountain grass and Japanese honeysuckle will need a higher level of maintenance.  Other common plants that are highly flammable ares sagebrush, buckwheat and deer grass.  Rosemary and purple hopseed also fall into this category.These contain oils, resins and waxes that make them burn with a greater intensity.If you have these plants on your property yearly pruning and maintenance is important.

Irrigation is vital in a fire safe landscape to maintain plant moisture especially in the 30 ft around your home.  Choose the right irritation system. While all plants can eventually burn, healthy plants burn less quickly. Consider drip irrigation and micro sprays for watering most of your landscape. Use sprinklers for lawns and other groundcovers or turf. Even drought adapted species and natives will benefit from watering every month or so during the dry season. Unwatered landscapes generally increase the risk of fire.

Mulching around your plants will preserve this precious commodity in these times of drought.  Plantings beyond 30 ft. should be irrigated occasionally but to a lesser extent.  As you get 70-100 ft from the home, native plantings that require little or no irrigation should be used.

Using fire resistant plants that are strategically planted give firefighters a chance fighting a fire around your home especially within the 100 foot defensible zone. Each home or property is different and you will need to look at the unique qualities of yours in planning your firescaping. Some of the info for this column was obtained from 2 valuable booklets.   ‘Living with Fire in Santa Cruz County’, prepared by Cal Fire and available free from any fire dept or online and another from  Calif. Dept of Forestry at  www.fire.ca.gov/.

Firescaping-Part I

shaded_fuel_brake_sign.2048I drove through the Groveland area near Yosemite a couple of days before the Rim Fire started on August 17th. The local talk over Tioga Pass was then about the recent Aspen fire in the Sierra National Forest. The Rim fire has now burned 400 square miles of forest and cost $122 million to fight to date. What started as a 40 acre fire when discovered exploded to over 100,000 acres within 2 days. It is now the 3rd largest in California history.

Remote sensing satellite images indicate that virtually all the vegetation is dead on nearly 40% of the burned area. Chaparral and oaks will resprout but ecologist say it could take 30 to 50 years for the forest to reestablish itself. It scorched some of the last remaining old growth in the Stanislaus National Forest. Two years of drought and constant slow warming across the Sierra Nevada  worked to turn the Rim Fire into an inferno. For years forest ecologists shaded_fuel_brake_example.2048have warned that Western wildfires will only get worse. The fuels get drier and drier.

shaded_fuel_brake_example.2048There have been two wildfires close to where I live in Felton, one of which was only 5 miles away on Martin Grade in Bonny Doon several years ago. How can I protect my home? Is there a landscape that is safer in a wildfire than another? Which plants burn more readily?

Many people think they have to clear everything within 30 feet of their house to truly have a defensible space.  This is unnecessary and actually unacceptable due to soil erosion and habitat destruction reasons.  We want to retain the character of this beautiful area we live in, provide the food and shelter that our native wildlife are accustomed to but also reduce fire risk.  For example, grasslands mowed to leave 4-6″ of height allow insects, reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals shelter, food and a place to reproduce. Leaving 4-6″ standing also provides some erosion protection and shades out some of the weeds that follow disturbance.

Fire safe landscaping is a term used to describe defensible space.  It can look like a traditional landscape.  The idea is to surround the home with things less likely to burn and place them to provide separation between canopies and avoid creating fire ladders.  Highly flammable plants should be placed, whenever possible, with low-growing and/or low fuel plants.

Many homes may not have 30 ft. between their house and the property line but following these guidelines will help.  Plants in this area need to be the slowest to ignite and should produce the least amount of heat if they do burn.  There are plants with some fire resistance which include drought tolerant California natives and Mediterranean climate selections.  The key to fire resistance, though, is maintenance and keeping the moisture in the foliage high.

For example,  Baccharis pilularis or dwarf coyote brush is generally considered highly flammable if its lush green top growth covers a hazardous tangle of dry branches and leaves several feet high.  Trim this plant down low in early spring, remove the dry undergrowth, follow with a light feeding and watering and the new top growth is now resistant to fire.

Other considerations may be as important such as appearance, ability to hold the soil in place and wildlife habitat value. Some fire-resistant California friendly plants are western redbud, monkey flower, ceanothus, sage, yarrow, lavender, toyon, California fuchsia and wild strawberry. Also consider coffeeberry, flowering currant, bush anemone, snowberry, California wax myrtle and evergreen currant. Fire resistant plants from areas include rockrose, strawberry tree, Chinese pistache, barberry, escallonia, oleander, pittosporum, bush morning glory and wisteria to name just a few.

Next week I will discuss plant spacing arrangement and maintenance to help you prepare a fire-safe landscape around your home.

 

 

Firesafe Landscaping Tips for Santa Cruz Mtns

The landscape is so green and lush in May. Shades of green are everywhere you look –   apple green, grass green, forest green, spring green, pine, olive, lime, jade, chartreuse, kelp, sage. Did you know the the human eye can identify over 200,000 shade of green?  It's hard to imagine that by summer the hills will be tawny brown. Meadows now covered with grasses and wildflowers will have dried up and put on a coat of restful gold. And with summer comes the wildfire season.  A little planning and maintenance now can help protect your property. Here are some guidelines and reminders to make your landscape more firesafe.

Some plants burn more readily than others. Using fire resistant plants that are strategically planted will give firefighters a chance against a fire around your home, especially within the 100 ft defensible space zone.
This not only helps protect your property but defends the firefighters battling to save your home.

Highly flammable plants like eucalyptus, pines, junipers, overgrown coyote brush, large ornamental grasses, Japanese honeysuckle, sagebrush and buckwheat are a hazard near buildings or wooden structures. They contain oils, resins and waxes that make them burn with a greater intensity. Even when given a higher level of maintenance they are still a high fire hazard. Highly flammable plants should be placed, whenever possible, with low-growing and/or low fuel plants. The ideal is to surround the house with plants with a high moisture content that are less likely to ignite and burn.

Plant arrangements, spacing and maintenance are often as important as plant types when considering fire safety. Group plants of similar heights and water requirements to create a landscape mosaic that can slow the spread of fire and use water most efficiently. Use plants that no not accumulate dead leaves or twigs. Keep your landscape healthy and clean. On a regular basis remove dead branches and brush, dry grass, dead leaves and pine needles from your yard, especially within 30 feet from your home and at least 150 ft if you're on a hill. Keep trees spaced at least 10 feet apart with branches trimmed at least 10 ft away from your roof. It's best, however, to keep trees further from your house. Low shrubs can be closer in and herbaceous perennials and groundcovers can be nearest the home.

Choose the right irrigation system. While all plants can eventually burn, healthy plants burn less quickly. Consider drip irrigation and micro sprays for watering most of your landscape. Use sprinklers for lawns and other groundcovers or turf. Even drought adapted species and natives will benefit from watering every month or so during the dry season. Unwatered landscapes generally increase the risk of fire.

Landscaping could be well-spaced, well-watered and fire resistant. It should be low enough around the home that if it does catch fire it won't give the flames a ladder to the eaves of structures or lower branches of trees.

Other considerations may be as important such as appearance, ability to hole the soil in place and wildlife habitat value. Some fire-resistant California friendly plants are western redbud, monkey flower, ceanothus, sage, yarrow, lavender, toyon, Ca.fuchsia, and wild strawberry. Also consider coffeeberry, flowering currant, bush anemone, snowberry, Ca. wax myrtle and evergreen currant. Fire resistant plants from other places include rockrose, strawberry tree, Chinese pistache, barberry, escallonia, oleander, pittosporum, bush morning glory and wisteria to name just a few.

Each home or property is different. and you will need to look at the unique qualities of yours in planning your firescaping. Some of the info for this column was obtained from a
 

Fire safe landscaping

There have been two fires close to where I live in Felton, one of which was only 5 miles or so away on Martin Grade in Bonny Doon.  This started me thinking: what is a landscape that is safer in a wildfire than another?  Here is what I found out.

Many people think they have to clear everything within 30 feet of their house to truly have a defensible space.  This is unnecessary and actually unacceptable because it leads to soil erosion and the destruction of animal habitats.  What we should want to do is retain the character of this beautiful area we live in, provide the food and shelter that our native wildlife are accustomed to AND reduce fire risk. 

For example, grasslands mowed to leave 4-6" of height allow insects, reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals shelter, food and a place to reproduce. Leaving 4-6" standing also provides some erosion protection and shades out some of the weeds that follow disturbance.

Fire safe landscaping is a term used to describe defensible space.  It can look like a traditional landscape.  The idea is to surround the home with things less likely to burn and place them to provide separation between canopies and avoid creating fire ladders. Many homes may not have 30 ft. between their house and the property line but following these guidelines will help.  Plants in this area need to be the slowest to ignite and should produce the least amount of heat if they do burn.  There are plants with some fire resistance which include drought tolerant Mediterranean climate selections as well as natives. 

The key to fire resistance, though,is maintenance and keeping the moisture in the foliage high.  This may mean deep infrequent watering every month or two during the summer months.  For example,  Baccharis pilularis or dwarf coyote brush is generally considered highly flammable if its lush green top growth covers a hazardous tangle of dry branches and leaves several feet high.  Trim this plant down low in early spring, remove the dry undergrowth, follow with a light feeding and watering and the new top growth is now resistant to fire.

Drought tolerant plants with some fire resistance if properly maintained include trees like strawberry tree and western redbud.  Shrubs include escallonia, pittosporum, dwarf pomegranate and coffeeberry.   Groundcovers for areas closest to your house include ornamental strawberry, red fescue, and sedum.  Perennials to try:  yarrow, bush morning glory, coreopsis, fortnight lily, hens and chicks, daylily, lavender, penstemon, santolina,sticky monkey flower and society garlic.  Vines that resist fire when maintained and watered occasionally include pink jasmine, white potato vine, cape honeysuckle and star jasmine.     

In areas 30-70 ft. away from your house plant should be trimmed and thinned to create well-spaced groups and help prevent a fire in the wildland from spreading to your home.  Be cautious with slopes.  If you have a large lot, the fringe area should be inspected and maintained regularly to eliminate any build up of dry brush and litter.  This reduces the chance of surface as well as crown fires.  Extremely flammable plants have a high content of oil or resin and should be separated from each other, removed of dead branches and lower limbs, and kept free of dry debris anywhere around your property.  Extremely flammable pyrophytes like hollywood juniper, pines, fountain grass, japanese honeysuckle will need a higher level of maintenance. 

Other common plants that are highly flammable are manzanita, california sagebrush, california buckwheat, toyon, rosemary, deer grass and purple hopseed.  If you have these plants on your property yearly pruning and maintenance is important. All vegetation, including native plants and ornamentals in a residential landscape, is potential wildfire fuel.  Vegetation that is properly pruned and maintained, however, can slow a wildfire and reduce the amount of heat around your home.  Irrigation is vital in a fire safe landscape to maintain plant moisture especially in the 30 ft around your home.  Mulching around your plants will preserve this precious commodity in these times of drought.  Plantings beyond 30 ft. should be irrigated occasionally but to a lesser extent.  As you get 70-100 ft from the home, native plantings that require little or no irrigation should be used.

These are just come of the many tips for fire safe landscaping.  Find out more from the California Department of Forestry .