How to: A Fire-Safe Garden

A fire-safe garden can be attractive and protective.

Last year’s devastating wildfires in Sonoma County have made us all more aware of this very real threat that Marin also faces. The question isn’t if a major fire will happen here, it’s when. To keep your family, home and property safe from fire damage means knowing the facts, being prepared and working together as an aware community. With that said, here are some top garden choices and chores to take care of now that can make a big difference later.

The Definition

Firescaping is landscape design that reduces the vulnerability of your property to wildfire, in part by incorporating plants that will keep fire from spreading to your home.

Haircut

Trim back all plants and trees that touch the house or overhang on the roof. Keep tree limbs 15 feet from chimneys and power lines, and remove tree branches below six feet from the ground. Proper and continual maintenance is critical.

Green Up

Mow lawns and keep them hydrated to avoid embers igniting dry grass blades. Also, keep redwood trees well-irrigated. You can put a soaker hose around the tree and water for two hours every two weeks in late summer.

Look Alive

Remove all dead or dying plants, especially those producing leaf litter. Maintain a consistent watering schedule to avoid plants drying out.

Much About Mulch

Avoid flammable mulches like pine needles or “gorilla hair” mulch. Avoid having any mulch piled next to a shingled house or wood deck. Try gravel or small rocks near the house instead. Also, stone patios and masonry are excellent fuel breaks.

Wood You?

Consider replacing wood shingle roofs and siding with fire-resistant materials. Also keep stored firewood away from the house.

The Pits

Fire pits may be all the rage but they could start a raging fire if wind carries embers to dry areas.

Don’t Get Hosed

Make sure hoses are in good working order for emergencies.

Clean Sweep

Remove flammable plants, especially blue gum eucalyptus, pines, scotch broom and juniper (aka the gasoline plant). Consider designing more open space into the landscape with vegetation-free pockets to act as fuel breaks.

So Long, Sap

Choose new plants that have leaves with high moisture and low amounts of sap, resin, oil or wax. Top choices: low, deciduous and non-woody plants.

Read Up

For more info about fire-resistant and fire-prone plants, visit firesafemarin.org.

Katherine Randolph, Marin Magazine

Katherine Randolph

IN THE FIELD “The goal is to make your home and garden resistant to ignition so even if the fire department can’t get there, it doesn’t ignite,” says Katherine Randolph, Marin master gardener and Fire in Marin class instructor. “This takes time, so start in winter and be ready by fire season.” Randolph’s favorite fire-resistant plants: succulents.

This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition under the headline: “One Hot Trend.” 


Kier Holmes

Kier Holmes is a native, Marin-based landscape designer who works at M2 Design and Construction, for over 15 years, has artfully designed and created sustainable gardens that are dynamic year round. She also writes for Gardenista, is an elementary school garden educator, a garden speaker for adults and leader of the Garden Club for kids at the Mill Valley Library. Holmes readily admits that she is a nerd about all things plant related, and can geek out on a dinner-plate dahlia like nobody’s business. Her natural habitat is among flowers and her hands are almost always dirty.

 

Categories: Home & Garden, In This Issue