Here comes the sun. Spring is here in full force and summer will be around the corner shortly. This is your friendly reminder that now is the time to begin assessing your property for fire hazards. Continuously keeping your property manicured and well maintained is an endless, thankless task but is part of the price we pay for living in such an amazing setting. There is never a better time than now to begin plugging away at all of those fire-wise projects that tend to pile up over time.
One of the first jobs of spring is to start cutting back old brush and removing it from around your home and property. Remember that last year’s dead growth is this year’s kindling. Many of our native plants grow from the ground up each season leaving behind a plethora of dried-up sticks, leaves and stems. A hedge trimmer is a great tool for cutting back old, dead growth. This will also allow new growth to flourish. After trimming, the plants look tidier, giving your forest a more manicured and ‘park-like’ appearance….an added bonus.
Next, it is worth walking around your home with an eye out for potential hazards. Trim back any branches that are touching the house or the roofline. Ideally, you will have at least 10 feet of space between larger bushes and trees and your house. Mature trees within 30 feet of your home should be limbed to a height no less than 6 feet off the ground (15 feet is even better!). Also, move any firewood at least 30 feet away from structures whenever possible. Clean away any needles that have accumulated in gutters, roof valleys or along decks and foundations.
Assess the type of landscaping you have installed. Are the plants ‘fire-wise’? Plants that make a good choice for around your home are those that contain succulent leaves or have a low volatile oil or resin content. The Pacific Northwest Extension (a collaboration between Oregon State University, Washington University and the University of Idaho) has a list of plants that are appropriate for fire-wise landscaping. Their brochure can be found for download at https://sjcmastergardeners.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/fireresplants_oregon-list.pdf.
Consider removing ‘beauty bark’ and replacing it with small rocks or river stones. Bark can act as an ignition point for flying embers; a common occurrence during large fire events. Rock is a better landscaping choice around structures.
If installing a new deck, consider materials that are fire resistant. There are several manufactured products available that are both aesthetically pleasing and less combustible than cedar or pine. If you already own a wooden deck, make sure it has been painted or stained. A treated deck is less likely to ignite than one left untreated.
Become familiar with the Zone Concept of property management. Information on creating zones around your home can be found at www.firewise.org . This site also contains a whole host of additional information that can keep you informed and up to date about what you can do as a land owner to minimize your risks during a fire event.
Finally, make it fun! Take this opportunity to get to know your neighbors. Have a discussion about what you can do as a community to work together to protect yourselves and your structures from fire. And remember, fire-wise landscaping is still landscaping. Many choices exist for both plants and hardscape materials that are attractive and functional. Make your yard beautiful while working toward a more fire resistant home. Happy Gardening!