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Marin IJ Articles

Fire-smart seasonal tips

  • Fay Mark
  • With 64% of our average rain fall, Marin County is quickly entering the dry season.  Like a pandemic, the question about wildland fire is not ‘if’, it’s ‘when’.

    Consistently maintaining your property surrounding your home can help to withstand ember showers from nearby burning woodland and minimize the likelihood of flames or surface fire touching your home or any attachments or structures on your property.

    There is no time like spring when the weather invites you into the garden.  This is a great time to catch up on maintenance while the soil is still supple, and the air temperature is comfortable.

    Grab a rake, spade or weeding tool, and a tarp or green waste bin and start by simply walking around your property collecting dead or dying plant debris.  Bring your children with you and have fun talking about the shapes of the leaves they collect, or how the smaller dead branches could be used by Harry Potter.  Dead plant debris is often used as mulch on the soil to moderate temperature and provide nutrients.   However, unless it is kept moist, it can combust should an ember land on it.  Either eliminate it from your garden or turn it into compost to distribute around your plants. 

    Next, dig out weeds by going deep enough to get the root out of the soil.  Be diligent about pulling weeds before they dry out or set seed and spread.  Dry weeds are fuel for fire.  Weeds that go to seed spread and become more maintenance in the future.  We recommend that you toss weeds into your green waste bin where it will be composted in high heat conditions killing the seeds and roots.  For bigger jobs where hand weeding is not an option, please see the UC IPM website (ipm.ucanr.edu) for recommendations on safe weed removal. 

    Once some of the easier basics are done, it’s time to prune.  Pruning throughout the year will increase the spacing between plants and tree canopies and will help to reduce the chance of fire jumping from one plant to the next and spreading to your home.  When you prune a plant depends on the plant type.   For example, May is a great month to prune spring-blooming shrubs after they have finished flowering.  Prune azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons after they have finished blooming and gently pull apart the bush towards the interior to find and eliminate dead branches.  Removing dead wood does not weaken the plant and can be done at any time of the year.  If you do not know what type of plant you have, The Marin Master Gardener Help Desk can help you to identify your plant. 

    We commonly talk about keeping your plants irrigated but what we really mean is keep them well-hydrated.  But again, how much water depends on the plant type.  Give plants the water they need, when they need it, to thrive – no more, no less.  This is especially true in the spring, when the soil continues to be moist.  If you are unsure about the moisture level in the soil, take a weed tool, drive it into the ground and placing your finger in the soil 6 inches or so. 

    And please, do not wet down your property on Red Flag warning days.  Overwatering on Red Flag days depletes the water tanks that the fire departments rely on should a fire occur. 

    Seasonal check lists are available on the UC Marin Master Gardener website and will help to guide your maintenance and fire-prevention tasks throughout the year.  Happy gardening!