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Think FireWise landscaping this spring

SUN Columnist

As planting season approaches, the nurseries and garden centers are featuring great trees, shrubs and plants for your landscape. As you ponder the many choices and create your design, give thought to how defensible the space around your home will be in the case of wildfire. People often resist creating defensible space because they believe that it will be unattractive, unnatural and sterile-looking. It doesn’t have to be. Creating a landscape that is both beautiful and defensible can add enjoyment and increase your property values.

Many plant species are suitable for landscaping in defensible space. Use restraint and common sense and pay attention to plant arrangement and maintenance. Consider the following factors when planning, designing and planting the FireWise landscape within your home’s defensible space:

• The plants near your home should be more widely spaced and lower growing than those farther away.

• Plant in small, irregular clusters or islands rather than in mass plantings.

• Modify fire behavior and slow the spread of fire across your property by using decorative rock, gravel and stepping stone pathways to break up the continuity of the vegetation and fuels.

• Incorporate a variety of plant types and species in your landscape.

• In the event of drought, prioritize plants to be saved and if you have outside water rights, provide supplemental water to plants closest to your house.

• Use mulches to conserve moisture and reduce weed growth. Mulch can be organic or inorganic. But, do not use pine bark, thick layers of pine needles or other mulches that readily carry fire.

• Include low-water bulbs, garden art and containers for added color in your landscape.

Grasses, groundcovers, wildflowers

Tall grass will quickly carry fire to your house, so mow grasses low in the inner zones of the defensible space. This is particularly important before green-up, when grasses are dry and dormant. Also mow grasses low around the garage, outbuildings, decks, firewood piles, propane tanks, shrubs and trees with low-growing branches. Ground covers are a good alternative to grasses for parts of your defensible space as they are usually low-growing, succulent or have other characteristics that make them preferable to grasses.

Wildflowers bring color and variety to a landscape, but can be a concern if they are tall and dense, particularly during dormancy. To reduce fire hazard, plant wildflowers in widely separated beds within the defensible space. Do not plant them next to structures unless they are frequently watered and weeded and dead plant material removed after the first hard frost. Isolate wildflower gardens by using gravel walkways, rock retaining walls or irrigated grass areas mowed to a low height.

Shrubs and trees

Shrubs can add color and variety to the landscape and provide cover and food for wildlife; however, because of the woody material in their stems and branches, they can be a “ladder fuel,” carrying a grass fire into tree crowns which can be difficult and sometimes impossible to control. To reduce fire risk, plant only widely separated, low-growing, nonresinous varieties and do not plant them directly beneath windows or vents or where fire can spread under wooden decks. Do not plant shrubs under trees or use them to screen propane tanks, firewood piles or other flammable materials. Mow grasses low around shrubs, prune dead stems annually and remove the lower branches and suckers from species such as Gambel oak.

Trees provide shade and verticality to the landscape design, but can be a significant source of fuel if they do burn. If you do plant trees, plant deciduous trees that do not burn well and be sure to rake up dead leaves in the fall. If you plant evergreens, plan their placement carefully. Do not plant trees near structures and leave plenty of room between trees to allow for their growth allowing at least 10 feet between the edges of the tree crowns when the tree reaches its mature size. As the tree grows, prune branches to a height of 10 feet above the ground but do not over prune the crowns at one time. Trees such as Colorado blue spruce naturally branch to the ground and exhibit a full growth habit. Limit the use of these trees in the defensible space.

Maintenance

Landscape maintenance is a critical part of your home’s defensible zone, as the plants in your landscape require regular maintenance to retain their beauty and FireWise properties:

• Be aware of the growth habits of plants in your landscape, reducing the fuel volumes when needed.

• Remove plant material after they have gone to seed or become overly dry.

• Rake leaves and other litter regularly.

• Mow or trim grasses to a low height within your defensible space.

• Prune trees and shrubs in a timely manner to maintain healthier plants that produce more vigorous, succulent growth.

Resources

Some helpful fact sheets available at the Colorado State University Extension website www.ext.colostate.edu include: No. 6.303 Fire-Resistant Landscaping, No. 6.304 Forest Home Fire Safety, No. 6.305 FireWise Plant Materials, No. 7.233 Wildflowers for Colorado, No. 7.406 Flowers for Mountain Communities, No. 7.413 Ground Covers for Mountain Communities, No. 7.423 Trees and Shrubs for Mountain Areas.

Other publications are available from the Colorado State Forest Service at www.csfs.colostate.edu.

Tax deduction for wildfire mitigation

In Colorado, individuals, estates and trusts may subtract from their federal taxable income certain costs incurred while performing wildfire mitigation work on their property in 2013. For more information, go to the Colorado Department of Revenue website at www.taxcolorado.com and refer to FYI Income 65: Wildfire Mitigation Measures Subtraction to see if you qualify.

Seed potatoes being sold 

Orders are now being taken for Colorado Certified Seed Potatoes grown at the CSU Experiment Station in the San Luis Valley. Varieties being sold for only 50 cents per pound are Sangre (red), Purple Majesty (blue) and the standard Yukon Gold (white). Approximately 2 pounds will plant a 10-foot row. To place your order, please call the Archuleta County Extension office at 264-5931. Orders may be picked up May 7 and planted after May 11.

CPR and first aid

CPR and first aid certification classes are now being offered monthly by the CSU Extension office on the second Monday and Wednesday of each month from 6-10 p.m.

Anyone needing to receive or renew certification can register by calling the Extension office at 264-5931. We will also schedule classes on additional dates with five or more registrations. Cost for the classes is $80 for combined CPR/first aid, $55 for individual CPR or first aid and $35 for recertification with proof of current certification. The type of first aid information provided will vary by the needs of the audience.

This story was posted on April 10, 2014.