Wildfires and Your Landscape

By Wayne Hobbs Environmental Horticulture Agent
Posted 3/21/18

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Before the rains last week, you may have noticed the “red flag” warnings about possible fires in our area, due to low humidity, dry weather, and wind, making it good …

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Wildfires and Your Landscape

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Before the rains last week, you may have noticed the “red flag” warnings about possible fires in our area, due to low humidity, dry weather, and wind, making it good conditions for fires to start and then spread. In our region of Florida, the threat of fire should be considered a possible year-round issue but the spring, which is often our driest season, is often the worst. However, you can do certain things around your landscape to minimize the risk.

Wildfire in Clay County

While certainly terrifying in concept, fire is actually part of the natural lifecycles in most areas of Florida. For example, in the sand hills that make up much of the county, fire would have occurred on a major scale usually every one-to-three years, leaving only pines, turkey oaks, wiregrass and forbs to grow. This renewal by fire would help increase the fertility of the soil, allow pines to remain the dominant tree in the forest, and power a yearly cycle of renewal.

However, as humans moved into areas we did not want to risk our lives and possessions to the fire, so we suppressed the natural cycle and allowed other plants to grow and dominate the understory, such as palmettos. The interesting part is much of this overgrowth that develops without fire can become fuel for even more major wildfire events.

Reducing Your Risk

If you want to make your landscape more fire wise, one of the first things to do is to manage a defensible space. This is a 30-foot space outward from all sides of your home where you allow room for firefighters to operate, which will make your home more likely to survive on its own. Tips for a successful defensible space include keeping space between plants, not allowing trees to grow over your home and removing any fire prone plants or dead plant material.

When designing landscape beds, you can also place plants in island beds, away from the home and maintain at least 10 feet of non-flammable material such as gravel or a well-cared lawn. Plants chosen for around the house are usually those with a high moisture content in the leaves and those that require little water to survive.

Plants to avoid placing too near your home include palms, palmettos and wax myrtle. These can still be in your landscape but should be placed on another part of the property and remove any dead fronds from palms and palmettos to reduce fuel. Many ornamental grasses are also quick to burn if dry. If you choose the “Right Plant for the Right Place” you can use less water and resources but also reduce the risk of fire.

Wood and leaf mulches can also be flammable so if you are in an area in high danger of wildfire keep these around 2-3 feet away from the foundation and cover that area with stone instead.

If you have any questions about fire wise landscaping, other landscape and garden topics, or need plant or pest materials identified, contact the University of Florida/IFAS Extension Office online at http://www.clay.ifas.ufl.edu, follow us on Facebook, or call by phone at (904) 284-6355.

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