Imagine you are a tree that is shaken by strong winds and the change of seasons,
but you remain strong and can adapt to any situation.
Change is the only constant in our lives. When we have the wisdom to adapt to change, we can live our lives with greater grace and greater ease. That’s my goal for the year. How about you?
Change is not always fun; it can be hard to understand and cope with. Our climate is changing. Our bodies change. Lately, even the price of eggs keeps changing. Nothing ever stays the same.
Not everyone likes change, but thankfully, with age comes wisdom. When we accept the fact that change is inevitable in our lives, we can adjust our thinking to accept this is our new normal, saving ourselves the aggravation and stress that comes from resisting it.
The truth is that we all respond differently to change. Some of us are lucky because we are naturally flexible and can easily adjust our attitude when life takes a turn. Others of us are more brittle, more fixed in our ways.
How we respond to change can make all the difference in our lives. I’m reminded of the timeless and sacred Serenity Prayer:
That prayer offers us profound guidance when faced with situations outside of our control, like the weather and our changing climate. All we can do is accept climate change is real, and ask ourselves “What is one thing I can do right now?”
This past winter was brutal. Austin had an ice storm that knocked out power for days. On the east coast, high winds, bitter cold, and heavy snow, crippled traffic, and stranded motorists. On the west coast, because we’ve been in a drought for three years, no one expected atmospheric river rainstorms that swept away homes to flooding and brought down trees from the saturated soil.
Meanwhile, the propensity of wildfires is more frequent, more intense, and more destructive. As we educate ourselves on how to protect our property from wildfires, there is some basic information that will enable you to get your arms around how you can adapt your landscape to be fire-smart.
Knowledge Is Power
- Mother Nature is telling us that our climate has changed and we need to change how we think about our landscapes. You may say that your landscape is established and you don’t want to change it; for your landscape to be fire-smart, you will need to make some changes.
- We now know that the biggest threat from wildfires is not through direct contact with flames, but from embers that can fly for more than a mile from nearby fires. If embers land on leaves on our roofs and in our gutters, they can smolder, smoke, and catch fire. Embers can also ignite many plants, like the popular Junipers with their highly flammable resins that make them easy to ignite. Firefighters call them “gasoline plants”. Go to your local Master Gardener website for a list of flammable plants in your area.
- The key is knowing your defensible space zones. Firewise USA describes it best: “A Firewise® defensible space is any natural and/or landscaped area around a home or structure designed to improve the home’s chance of surviving a wildfire. In particular, defensible spaces act as a buffer between the home or outbuildings and any trees, grass, or shrubs surrounding it, slowing the spread of wildfire.”
- When the question is: “Where do I start?” The answer is: You start at the first five feet around the perimeter of your home and structures. That is the most important area to keep clear of trees and vines next to the roofline and shrubs more than 3’ high. This is the area where you want to incorporate inorganic materials such as stone, pebbles, gravel, or stepping stones, rather than bark, especially shredded or dyed bark, because if an ember lands on that bark, it can spark a fire.
6 Steps To Adapt To Change
1. Be aware of your home’s risk for wildfires in your area. Contact your local fire department and your county’s fire agency so you can be aware of the fire code that applies to your area. Check with your county’s fire safety association to determine if grant money is available so you can be reimbursed for your materials and expenses.
2. Accept that we live in a part of the world where wildfires are a part of our environment. We have to shift our thinking from it being a problem that we don’t want to think about, to making plans and taking action, doing our part to protect our home and neighborhood.
3. Understand that doing nothing is still making a decision. The more you can identify, understand, anticipate, and prepare for the changes that need to take place, the better you will be able to benefit from what lies ahead, like the potential for peace of mind. Ask your fire department if you can get an inspection report so you can learn your risk.
4. Plan to make changes but be realistic that it won’t happen overnight, because it won’t. Winter is the best time to start planning the changes you will make in your garden this spring. When the weather allows, go on a walkabout on your property. Take photos and make notes. Identify what you can and cannot do yourself, and where you can get help.
5. Implement your plan and seek as much knowledge as you can by searching the internet and talking to friends and neighbors. Start at the first five feet surrounding your home and structures. This is the critical area that needs to have all combustible material removed. Remove dead, diseased, and damaged plants. Remove high flammability and invasive plants. Prune to give space in between plants.
6. Maintenance is key to having a fire-smart landscape. To learn all you can about pruning, go to your local Master Gardener website or go to YouTube University for tips on pruning trees and shrubs. Be sure to have quality tools that will help you to prune with confidence and safety.
We Get By With A Little Help From Our Friends
Last year, my husband Tim and I knew we couldn’t ignore the fact that Mt Tamalpais, which is twelve miles from our home, historically burns every fifty years. What is concerning is that it’s been more than a hundred years since she endured the last fire.
The first thing we did was arrange an inspection by our fire department, which was the best way to understand our risk and to hear firsthand what we needed to do. As a result of that meeting, the conversation turned skepticism into acceptance.
Within days we were able to access the report and I have to admit, it was a bit daunting in the beginning, but we knew we could attack the elephant one toenail at a time. We began to prioritize the projects according to what we thought we could do on our own, with help to get started. Our first project was to remove three highly flammable Italian Cypress trees, referred to by the fire department as “roman candles” because they burn so easily. As much as those trees transported us back to our beloved Italy, they were planted right next to our home reaching up to the roofline. Not a good thing.
Next, to offset declining muscle strength in my hands, I reached out to my friend, Chris McGregor, the owner of the Ironwood Tool Company. Based on his suggestions, I ordered two tools that proved to be excellent choices.
This ratchet lopper is now my new favorite tool. With the six-stage ratchet, we were able to prune branches up to 2” in diameter with ease.
Their comfort grips make it easier on your hands and because it weighs only 2 lbs, you can prune longer without getting fatigued. At only 19” long, it is a little but mighty tool to use.
When it comes to pruning, you need a good quality, super sharp pruning saw. This folding saw was unparalleled to the older, worn-out one in my tool shed.
With less effort, the curved blade and tri-edge teeth reduce resistance for more incredible cutting speeds. Non-slip rubber grips provide maximum comfort and safety.
This saw is considered the fastest and lightest folding saw on the market, offering superior durability and sharpness for many years of use.
The next thing we did was call our friend Bob Lasser who was eager to help and he has a garage full of tools he was happy to share.
Between the three of us, we trimmed back some unruly hedges, and incorporating our new ratchet lopper, the pruning saw, and Bob’s power saw, we pruned the lower branches of the remaining trees to be 6’ off the ground.
We had a lot of fun with our group effort and the added bonus is that we now have more sunlight in our north garden, which is always a good thing.
Working towards our end goal, we removed all of the combustible bark that was in the first five feet around the front of the house and replaced it with the same pebbles we’ve used elsewhere in the garden.
Extensive raking, shoveling, and replacing hardscape can be hard on the body, especially if you have a bad back or bad knees. If your doctor suggested you wear a back brace, this is the perfect time to wear it so it will remind you to move with caution.
Remember: Self-Care Is Not Being Selfish
One last thought… As you make your plan to create your fire-smart landscape, your first priority is to take extra good care of your body. From an adaptive gardening point of view, warm up your body with stretches, yoga, or dancing to your favorite music before you start working.
Once you are in the garden, the 20-20-20 rule will remind you to switch it up, so you don’t do one repetitive chore for more than twenty minutes at a time. Additionally, dress appropriately for the job, wear good gauntlet gloves to protect your hands and arms, and sturdy shoes or boots.
In upcoming blogs, I’ll cover practical tips and solutions, plus more tools designed to make the job of pruning and maintaining your landscape easier on your body, so check back soon. There’s a lot to cover, so we’ll take this journey, one step at a time.
My greatest hope is to provide you with helpful information that will enable you to protect your body, your home, your neighborhood, and your community, so you can live your life with greater grace and greater ease.