Mason County News
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Fireproof Your Landscape to Protect Your Home from Wildfire Danger
Wednesday, March 9, 2011 • Posted March 9, 2011

Wildfire danger has been high recently because of the dry conditions to include high gusty winds and low humidity levels. Until our spring rains arrive, these conditions will continue. What can you do to protect your home and property? A well-designed yard is more likely to disrupt fuel corridors and will slow the spread of a fire should your property be threatened by an encroaching wildfire.

Because no plant can be truly "fireproof," the placement and arrangement of plants around your home becomes important in suppressing and redirecting fire as it moves across your landscape. Native or xeric-type plants which are drought-tolerant, and plants that are fleshy and succulent tend to be more resistant to fire when compared to woody plants. As a home and property owner, what can you do to minimize the risks of loss from a wildfire?

Properly managed and mown lawns, pruned trees, carefully placed groupings of appropriate ornamentals around the home, and the use of hardscape features such as pathways and patios will affect the movement of fire and can help to protect the home. If you were searching for a reason to landscape, now is a good time. You can create a more fire-resistant landscape by selecting better-suited plants.

For a well-designed landscape to be more resistant to fire, create four distinct zones surrounding the home to create a more defensible space. These zones should progressively expand outward from the home structure to at least 130 feet or more.

- Zone 1 is the area that is closest to your home and should be at least 30 to 40 feet in width surrounding the home. This area should be well-irrigated or have water readily accessible, and plants should be low-growing and low-flammable. Ideally, plants should be no closer than 2 feet to the structure. Avoid using junipers, hollies and other broadleaf evergreens as foundation plantings around the edges of the house, and avoid using rubber mulches because these are highly flammable.

- Plants in Zone 2 should be kept to low-growing and fire-resistant, and your water supply should reach into the zone.

- Zone 3 is where low-growing plants and well-spaced trees are planted. Keep trees well apart from one another to decrease the fuel load and lessen the ability of a fire to jump from tree to tree.

- Zone 4 serves as the natural buffer zone between the yard area and the natural space. Highly flammable vegetation should be thinned or removed.

Follow these additional recommendations to create a fire-resistant landscape:

- Store firewood away from your home and outside Zone 1.

- Always use mulch to conserve soil moisture and prevent weed growth.

- Consider using ground covers or "living mulches" which add variety to your landscape and serve as a barrier to slow or redirect an encroaching fire.

- Keep the bedding areas around your house clean. Remove dry and dead plant material away from your home so as not to add fuel to an already volatile situation.

We love our trees in Texas, and we definitely need them to help conserve resources and provide much-needed shade in the summer months. Take extra precaution with the trees in your yard to lessen the risk of bringing fire closer to your home.

- Remove highly-flammable evergreens such as junipers and pines that are within 10 feet of your home. Plants such as junipers and pines have high levels of resins that make them extremely flammable.

- If it is impossible to remove the evergreens, then prune and remove any plants that overhang the roofline of your home or those that touch the structure.

- Large trees in the landscape should be pruned so that the lowest branches are at least 6 to 10 feet above ground level.

- Remove all flammable undergrowth, and low-growing branches. These are ladder fuels and enable a fire to move from the ground into the canopy of a tree.

- Thin sick, dead or dying branches from trees, and thin all highly-flammable shrubs and trees.

- The crowns of trees should be separated by at least 10 feet. Add five more feet for every 10% increase in the slope.

If you are searching for more fire-resistant plants to add to your landscape, here are some to consider:

Ground Covers and Flowering Perennials

Ajuga; Lirope; Sedum; Ice Plant; Hen and Chicks; Hostas; Daylilies; Yarrow; Columbine; Coneflower; Artemisia; Speedwell; Coreopsis; Red Hot Poker; Lamb’s Ear; Gayfeather; Penstemon; Dianthus; Blanketflower

Vines, Shrubs, and Trees

Butterfly Bush; American Beautyberry; Althea; Spirea; Vitex; Lilac; Oleander; Crossvine; Passionflower; Honeysuckle (use low-growing varieties); Virginia Creeper; Clematis; Shantung Maple; Redbud; Oaks – White; Sweetgum; Pecan; Sycamore; Catalpa; Desert Willow

The USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. Melissa Sturdivant is a Soil Conservationist with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in the Mason Field Office and is also a Certified Arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. Melissa may be reached by email at melissa.sturdivant@tx.usda.gov or by calling 325-347-5749, ext. 3.

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