We are well into May – the official start of fire season.  It may be hiding behind the coattails of COVID-19, but we know it’s here.  In spite of recent rains (which we are grateful for), temperatures will heat up and dry weather will prevail for the next several months.

Like clockwork the call volume at Gardeners’ Guild’s has spiked with requests for weed abatement.  This is vegetation management – an essential part of fire prevention – and our topic for this month.  Our forty-plus years of experience managing vegetation inform this month’s content and make us a valuable resource for you.

A note about the pandemic and Gardeners’ Guild’s status

We are open now – since the state has determined that landscape activities are essential.   I hope this post finds you well. Please call us with any questions about our policy. 
(510) 439-3700.

As if you aren’t dealing with enough – the shock and overwhelm of a pandemic thrust upon you. Now, Californians, we enter summer with fire prevention added to our to-do list. 

This post is focused on vegetation management and its role in preventing wildfires.  We help you navigate this with simple and easy-to-digest basics. 

I’ve synthesized the essentials.

  • What vegetation management is, why it’s important now and actions you can take to minimize your risk of wildfire.
  • Scroll down to see a great video on Fire Wise landscaping and links to several county resources.
Tall Weeds

Combustible Weeds


Why is this important now?

Wildfire season 2020 threatens to be longer, with bigger fires unleashing more devastation.  Being educated and taking appropriate action now will help protect your investment, family, and neighbors.

Daniel Swain is a UCLA Climate Scientist and author of WeatherWest.com.  He studies extreme weather events and their causes.  I began following Swain during the drought and was in awe of his spot-on analysis of weather events. 

In a recent post on weatherwest.com, Swain said:

“the NIFC* is predicting a higher than average likelihood of large wildfires across NorCal by mid-summer–and I would expect that ultimately to be true into the autumn as well.” *NIFC or Nation Interagency Fire Center is a support center for wildland firefighting, located in Idaho. 

You may notice that your local fire department is requiring more engagement from you this year.  I’ve noticed some are scheduling inspections and amplifying their public education efforts.

Fiery sunsetNorth Bay Sunset – October 2017


The 3-R’s of Vegetation Management

Vegetation management is the process of controlling plant material to minimize the risk of fire ignition and spread. 

Removal

Of dead fuels (vegetation), weeds, brush, invasive species and plants deemed a fire accelerant. 

Reduction

Thinning heavy brush and trimming trees.  Crucial to reducing the spread and intensity of a wildfire.
Pruning shrubs and trees will provide adequate separation between them and away from your structure. 
Check with your local fire department for plant spacing requirements in your area.  The section below has a link on spacing tips for properties on a slope.

Replacement

Replace with fire resistant plants.  These plants should be non-oily, deciduous or have higher water content.  Make sure they are free of dead wood and well hydrated. 

Below are links to great tips including fire resistant plants

Steep Slope

Steep Slope in the North Bay


How to manage your vegetation depends on its location

Is your property in an at-risk area?
Check on the latest guidelines from your municipality or county.  They’re changing as the threat of wildfire becomes more extreme.  Below are tips for assessing your property’s wildfire risk.

Advice from Contra Costa County’s Wildfire Protection Plan
“Rigorous oversight, active management, and an adaptive approach are required to achieve fuel management goals.”

Especially at risk are WUI or Wildlife Urban Interface areas
Areas, where wildland and residential communities intersect, are at risk for wildfire.  Categorized as “high” or “very high” risk.  Contributing to this is a trend toward building more homes adjacent to open space. 

Parts of Marin, Contra Costa, and Sonoma Counties are considered “very high” or “high” risk. 

Is your property on a hillside?
Wildfires on a slope burn more rapidly and longer flame lengths than along flat ground.  The steeper the slope, the more quickly it will travel. 
Clearance between shrubs should be 4 to 40 feet depending on the slope and size of vegetation. 
Assess your property’s risk of wildfire exposure by looking at the slope of the land around your commercial building or home and the direction your building faces.  See these tips from FireSafe Marin if you are on a slope

Vegetation Management Activities

Manual – hand pulling or cutting

For smaller areas, this is sometimes preferred for removing the weed’s roots.

Mechanical treatments

Such as mowing of weeds
Selective tree removal

Chemical treatments with herbicides

The least desirable method, but sometimes warranted for large areas as part of an integrated pest management (IPM) plan. For weeds that are invasive and combustible.

Fire Break Work

Work usually performed on a hillside with equipment that creates a non-flammable gap between vegetation, acting as a barrier to stop the progress of a fire.

Managed Grazing

Generally used for large areas for fire breaks and to clear combustible weeds. Goats, miraculously suited to the job, forage for low lying grasses, weeds, trees, shrubs, branches and invasive vegetation.  They can also reach upwards of 4 to 5 feet to eat tree branches, which reduces “ladder fuels” and helps to slow spreading of a fire.  It’s a cost effective, environmentally friendly option and a joy to watch. 

Controlled Burns

The state of California says this about controlled burns:
“Sometimes called a controlled burn or prescribed fire, prescribed burning is one of the most important tools used to manage fire today. As catastrophic wildfires continue to be a growing concern in California, the use of prescribed burning to reduce hazardous fuels is projected to increase. Daily burn decisions are issued based on the forecast of air quality and meteorological conditions that can affect smoke dispersion.”

Managed Grazing

Managed Grazing Project


What you can do now

Know your property and its risk of wildfire
Make sure you have the most up to date information from your local fire department.  (See below for links).

Create a vegetation management plan that consists of the 3-R’s mentioned above
For removal or thinning, hire a landscape professional or an Arborist.

Begin defensible space planning
The links below have the latest requirements on defensible space.
We will also cover this topic in the summer.

Inspect your property
A letter to the Marin IJ’s editor, written by a Fire Ecologist has tips I wanted to pass along. He suggests that people still stuck at home could examine their property for dry debris within five feet of a structure’s foundation, especially under wooden stairs and decks.  The reason – embers from approaching fire target these areas. 

Call us with questions about vegetation management to prevent fires. 
(510) 439-3700.

See the video below on Fire Smart landscaping, narrated by a local Master Gardener.  Below the video are links for you.


The links below have the most up to date guidelines on reducing your risk. 

Wishing you good health.

San Francisco’s oldest retirement community, called Heritage on the Marina, is a historic building, designed by California’s first woman architect and owned by one of the city’s oldest philanthropic organizations. Located in San Francisco’s Marina district, a neighborhood recognized for its iconic architecture.

Looking at the northeast corner of the property, you will see a small, but charming brick building, originally a groundskeepers’ quarters.  This month’s post chronicles our experience renovating the landscape. We also describe how we resolved two challenges.  

(See before photo below.)

Before renovation


Design Intent and Its First Challenge

The owner wanted to repurpose the building’s interior, then rejuvenate the landscape, which had declined as evidenced by overgrown vines, yellowing turf and poor grade definition.

Gardeners’ Guild was engaged to design and build the project.  Our objective was to transform the outdoor space into a small garden that could serve multiple functions: active gardening, areas for relaxation and pre-ambulation.

But, there was one challenge – limited space. 

This required that our design be creative and meticulous, in order to incorporate each design element. Moreover, the landscape needed to be reflective of the building’s character.  Our design featured a flat turf area for small outdoor gatherings, decomposed granite pathways that traversed around the building and raised planters for gardening projects. (See photo below)

 

Path and turf areas


The Landscape’s Second Challenge – To Complement the Building’s Character

The building’s historic elements called for ornamental plants, along with fencing and stonework.

Primary areas were scaled to the site by achieving minimum dimensions required for the intended use. Grading issues were resolved by the use of subtle retaining walls. Stone materials were carefully specified to match existing structures. (See photo below)

Historic Building Landscape

New Landscape for Historic Building


 

Gardeners’ Guild will deliver Poinsettias to your SF Bay Area office

Having Poinsettias delivered will put a smile on your face. 
Your office mates will thank you.

Our interior division services San Francisco and the East Bay as well as Marin, Sonoma and Napa Counties.

Limited quantities available.  Order today.

Your poinsettia order options*

Either with or without maintenance
Sizes 4”,6” 8” or 10″ Poinsettia in a decorative foil sleeve
We will maintain them from November 28th through first week January
*A delivery charge may apply.  Replacements are at an additional cost.

Colors

Red, white, burgundy and pink

What you should know if you want to maintain them yourself.  

Poinsettias are temperamental need just the right light and moisture to last through the holidays.  This is why having a professional maintenance is the best option, especially for a commercial building.

They need strong indirect light, love moisture but not too much and warmish temperatures.  Avoid drafty areas.  Keep them inside.

Poinsettias aren’t poisonous but they can cause mild irrigation in puppies or kittens.  Best to keep them away.

And, they won’t harm people.  An Ohio State University study found that a 50-pound child would have to eat 500 leaves for any harmful effect to occur.

How to order

Contact Angela Wrath

Phone (510) 439-3707

Email awrath@gardenersguild.com

Read more

 

 

Sonoma and Napa Fires are the backdrop of this firey sunset in Novato

Fiery North Bay Sunset October 17, 2017

Wildfire Readiness – 5-Step Plan for the Bay Area

The essentials of what you can do now – including a list of the most fire-prone plants

Though it is wet today, the forecast shows temperatures steadily climbing, into the 90’s through next week.  In fact, according to Daniel Swain, weatherwest.com,  we may be headed toward an extended heat wave late September into October.  Raising the risk of wildfire.  

Because the threat remains and the media reports can be overwhelming,we’ve broken it into useful chunks – just a 5 step wildfire readiness plan – only the essentials you need for this late September.

This 5-Step Plan for wildfire readiness were adapted from literature provided state and bay area cities

  • County by county links for emergency alert sign ups
  • Evacuation checklist
  • Inspection by your local fire department
  • Debris removal
  • Removal of flammable plants and debris around your home or building

The list above is a short term strategy.  The details below explain what to do, starting with making sure you are set up for emergency notifications.

1. Sign up for Emergency Notifications

If you haven’t already, sign up now.

Nixle
It will alert you to any emergency events and evacuations in your area. You will also receive non-emergency alerts about local criminal activity.  Those messages can be annoying, but trust me, Nixle is an invaluable system.

Cal Fire emergency notification sign up, no matter where you are in the state

Sonoma County alert system

San Francisco alert system sign up

Contra Costa County emergency warning system

Alert Marin warning system sign up

Napa County emergency warning

Alameda County emergency alert

Alert Solano warning system sign up

Understanding the categories of alert messages

Evacuation order: Means evacuate now do not delay to gather belongings.  Fire expected in less than an hour. 
Evacuation warning: Evacuate soon, but there is time to gather belongings quickly.
Shelter in place: It is safer to stay in your current location. 

2. Evacuation Checklist

The checklist – linked below from the County of Marin, will help you prepare. They have the best one I’ve seen, it has pre-planning checklist in addition to a list for your “go bag”.  Plus a family communications plan.

Make copies of important documents like passports, insurance policies, birth certificates, drivers licenses, property deed and mortgage papers.
Some people put them in a safe deposit box.

Wildfire Evacuation Checklist

Where to Purchase Disaster Supplies

If you are looking for reviews and advice on where to purchase disaster supplies, the list below can help.

Wirecutter, which is a New York Times Company has much information about where to purchase, costs including for pre-assembled kits. 

Aside from the above, there are local big box stores where you can purchase emergency supplies.

Costco

Home Depot

3. Local Fire Department Safety Check

If you have questions about your property call your local fire department.  Find out if they will do a check of your home’s exterior.  They will make recommendations for any vegetation that should be cleared.

4. Debris Removal

The State of California recommends removing debris like dead leaves because they will quickly ignite.

Clear your roof
Remove dead leaves and debris from your roof and gutters
Keep branches 10 feet from your chimney
Cover your chimney outlet and stovepipe with a nonflammable screen of 1/2″ mesh

Dry leaves on roof - they are a fire hazard

Get dry leaves off your roof!

Landscape and Debris Cleaning
Remove all debris, i.e., fallen leaves, dead plants, construction materials away from structures
Stack woodpiles at least 30 feet from structures
Move liquefied petroleum gas containers to a minimum of 10 feet from structures

Create a Defensible Space (See detailed version for more information)
The law requires every home have a 100-foot defensible space around it

Zone 1-up to 30 feet
Remove all dead plants, grass, and leaves.
Remove dead dry leaves; pine needles from rain gutters and roof.
Remove tree branches from your chimney, and the ones that are hanging over your roof.

Zone 2 – up to 100 feet
The remaining 70 feet should be a “reduced fuel zone.”
Cut or mow grass to a maximum height of 4 inches.
Create horizontal and vertical space between shrubs and trees.
Keep plants well hydrated.

How to Use Equipment Properly
Mow grass before 10 am.
A string trimmer is safer for clearing vegetation than a mower.
Never on Red Flag days or when it is windy, hot and dry.
Spark arrestors* should be installed on all portable, gas-powered equipment.
*A spark arrestor prevents the emission of flammable debris.

5. Remove These Fire Prone Plants*

The most fire prone plants have similar characteristics
High oil or resin content. 
May have fine needles or lacey leaves.
Abundant and dry leaves underneath or leaves with low moisture content.

This list represents the most flammable of plants.

Juniper – highly flammable – will burn even when wet
Acacia
Bamboo
Cypress
Fountaingrass
Scotch, French or Spanish broom -Highly flammable, invasive weeds
Douglas Fir Trees
Rosemary

*Keep your plants watered, because even the most fire resistant plant will burn if it is dry.

Sources for this article

Cal Fire
Fire Safe Marin
Firewise USA

Marin Conservation League