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March 30, 2013

1 - Creation of defensible space around rural homes as mentioned in last week's Yard and Garden is very important in New Mexico's dry environment.

Yard and Garden March 30, 2013

Today I am writing a follow-up to last week's Yard and Garden column click here. The question last week was a request for some relatively small, trees to screen an area that was being "clear cut" to create a wildfire defensible zone around a home in Grant County. As a horticulturist, I focused on the request for suggested trees, but a friend of mine, George Duda, who is retired from New Mexico State Forestry saw something else. George noticed the reference to clear cutting and contacted me. George sent me the following message, "Thinning for defensible space is just that, thinning, not clear cutting."

I called George and we talked about the importance of properly creating a defensible zone around structures and that such a zone does not entail clear cutting. George also suggested that readers should contact New Mexico State Forestry Division for defensible space information. The New Mexico State Forestry web site click here has publications on the home page and contact information (at the top of the screen under "contact us") for residents of New Mexico. District office representatives of New Mexico State Forestry found on the web site will advise homeowners and send them information as to how to properly do the required thinning. George and I spoke on the telephone and he told me that many people are finding their homeowners insurance impacted by wildfire risks. Some insurance policies have dropped coverage for "external" fires unless a properly developed defensible zone and other safety measures are implemented.

One impact of the current drought is the increased potential for wildfire and property damage as a result. Many New Mexicans may find that this year will be one to seriously consider wildfire preparations, planning, and safety to be very important.

A couple of publications on the State Forestry web site caught my eye. Ready, Set, Go and Living with Fire provide good information regarding preparations to take before fire. These publications describe creation of the defensible zones and clearly describe the characteristics of the defensible zone. Home landscapes can create fire hazards or, when properly implemented and maintained, can be an important element protecting property from fire. Trees, shrubs, and lawns when properly installed and maintained can keep fire away from a home. Irrigated lawns around a home, or use of succulent plants as groundcovers, can create a "quenching" zone around a house to prevent fire from reaching a home. Proper pruning of trees and shrubs to prevent crown fire development are good horticultural practices to protect homes. And keeping trees at an appropriate distance form a home help prevent direct damage from fire burning the home, or even the heat damage from fire coming too close to the structures.

Much of the information found in the publication on the State Forestry web site is useful for residents in grasslands that are also subject to wildfire. Home landscapes ignited by grass fires can destroy homes, but if the information in these publications is adapted to homes in grasslands, the possibility of range fire damage can be greatly reduced.

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension publications Web site at http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h, or to read past articles of Yard and Garden go to http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/periodicals.html

Send your gardening questions to:

Yard and Garden, Attn: Dr. Curtis Smith
NMSU Agricultural Science Center
1036 Miller Rd.
SW, Los Lunas, NM 87031.

Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist emeritus with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. NMSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating