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USDA-Supported Extension Master Gardeners Can Help Keep Lawns and Gardens Fire Safe

Jennifer Martin, (202) 720-8188
July 10, 2008

Nearly 1,800 fires have raged across California for the past two weeks causing major damage to life and property. While it may be too late to protect some homes, USDA-supported Master Gardeners can provide resources for homeowners wishing to defend their homes from wildfire by using less flammable plants, removing combustible materials and properly spacing trees.

"Through proper planning, you can have a beautiful landscape and fire safe zone around your home, which may be the difference between your house succumbing to a wildfire or being relatively unaffected," said Pam Geisel, University of California's state Master Gardener Program coordinator.

The University of California Master Gardener program recommends creating a "defensible space" of 100 feet around your home. A defensible space is an area around a structure where fuels and vegetation are treated, cleared or reduced to slow the spread of wildfire toward buildings. It can also reduce the chance of fire moving from a building to the surrounding landscape.

A proper defensible space should include a plant-free zone of 30 feet surrounding your home and a reduced-fuel zone with open spaces between plants extending another 70 feet. If your home is on a steep slope or in a windswept area, an even larger zone is needed for protection.

Other helpful tips include using wide spaces between plants near your house; planting in small, irregular clusters or islands; using decorative rock, gravel and stepping stone to break up vegetation and fuels; and incorporating a diversity of plants into your landscape.

"There is a master gardener in your area who can answer your questions about creating a more fire-safe landscape," said Bill Hoffman, USDA's CSREES National Program Leader for Agriculture Homeland Security. "Your local extension office can put you in touch with a master gardener near you who can answer your home gardening questions." Contact information for your state's Master Gardener program is also available through

More than 90,000 Extension Master Gardener volunteers currently deliver horticulture outreach information to the general public through a variety of locally-based programs across the United States.

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, CSREES focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people's daily lives and the nation's future. For more information, visit