Bushfires pose a very real threat to many Australian homes. The frequency and intensity of fires is rising, thanks to changes in our climate and the way that land is used. Each fire season is a nervous one for those in bushfire prone areas, and we need to use every tool at our disposal to manage this threat to our families and homes.
One tool in this arsenal is the garden surrounding the house. For those in high risk areas for fire, steps need to be taken to prevent fire and heat from reaching the house and surrounding buildings and provide an escape route if it's needed.
Pick the right plants
No plant is fireproof, but some are less flammable than others. The flammability of a plant is influenced by two factors: its composition and its form. Plants with a composition that includes a high moisture content, high salt concentration and low levels of volatile oils have a lower flammability rating. A plant's flammability with regards to form is harder to pick, but generally speaking those with dense foliage, smooth bark, and those which don't retain dead matter are less of a fire hazard.
Using fire retardant trees close to your home provides three advantages:
- A physical barrier to heat
- A green shield against embers
- A fire barrier of moist leaves
Fire resistant ground covers and shrubs should also be used, to prevent fire travelling along the leaf litter, and from there into the trees.
The best trees are European deciduous trees and fruit trees and shrubs, planted in double rows to protect your house. In the aftermath of the Black Saturday Fires, European deciduous trees could be seen amongst the devastated countryside, standing singular or in clumps.
Avoid eucalypts, callistemons and melaleucas, as these seem to be particular designed by mother nature to burn easy, quickly, and for a long time.
Avoid vines on flammable walls and pergolas too.
Remember, to be truly effective, your fire resistant plants need to be well-watered – all dead plants burn well.
Keep it tidy
Maintaining a fire resistant garden takes a lot of commitment in time, money and energy. Regular maintenance is a must – messy plants and thick leaf litter provides fuel to both feed and spread the fire.
On a regular basis you'll need to:
- Remove leaf litter,
- Thin undergrowth, and
- Strip trees of messy bark.
Furthermore, to help reduce the threat from fire you should also:
- Mulch with gravel rather than wood chips (particularly close to your house)
- Keep your wood pile away from the house
- Keep rubbish to a minimum - and where it's unavoidable, pile it away from the house
- Trim your trees so that they're always more than a metre from the house
- Keep grass trimmed to less than 10cm
More than just your garden
Your garden should only ever be one part of your Fire Safety Plan. Visit your local fire authority's website for more information, and create a fire plan for your family. Make sure everyone knows what it includes, and what their roles and responsibilities are. Plan to get out alive.