A fire spreads through a forest in Colorado.

What to Do on Your Colorado Foothills Property After Fire Mitigation

Fire mitigation, or reducing the chances of catastrophic devastation from wildfires, is an increasingly important task to perform on your Colorado foothills property. As forest fires become more and more common, preventing damage to your home and landscape should be top of mind.

However, not everyone loves how properties can look once fire mitigation steps have been completed. Sometimes it is because the steps were done incorrectly or haphazardly, but other times even with proper fire mitigation processes some areas can look sparse or become unhealthy.

In this article, we will cover something you can do on your property after fire mitigation procedures have been completed to maintain the forest’s health and make your landscape look better overall.

Firewise landscape in Colorado with trees, plants, and native grasses.

Ensure Fire Mitigation is Done Properly

Wildfire mitigation allows you to minimize the destructive effects a wildfire has on your property by creating a defensible space around your home and modifying the home’s construction (for example, the materials used to build your house). Defensible space is the area around your house where the vegetation, including shrubs and trees, has been modified or removed to reduce the intensity of a wildfire and slow its spread.

A firewise landscape does not need to be completely devoid of trees, shrubs, grasses, and flowers. Instead, the goal is to reduce the amount of flammable vegetation and materials surrounding your home.

We have detailed information about how to do this, called “Creating a Defensible Space,” on our website.

We also created a list of great plants for firewise landscapes. We encourage you to plant these “lean, clean, and green” plants on your property, keeping in mind the different defensive zones around your house.

A LAM tree climber uses ropes to climb a conifer tree in Evergreen, Colorado.

Remove Branches Rather Than All of Your Trees

Prune Lower Tree Branches

The goal is to prevent fire from reaching the crowns of the large trees, leaping from one tree to the next. Fire moves from the light fuels on the ground up into the tall trees, so one way to slow or stop the flames is to prune off the bottom branches or “ladder fuels.” By doing this, you can keep some valuable mature trees on your property. Prune trees up six to ten feet from the ground, especially any dead limbs.

Removing these branches is similar to what used to occur naturally. Thanks to wildfire suppression, however, this is no longer the case. But by pruning off the weak, smaller lower branches, we are replicating the results of the more contained, smaller, naturally occurring forest fires.

Remove Select Trees

While some trees will need to be removed during the fire mitigation process, you do not need to remove ALL trees. Instead, focus on removing trees that are highly flammable (especially in zone 1), or remove some trees from a section of trees that are growing closer together.

We recommend spacing conifer trees 30 feet between crowns in zone 1, and 10 feet between clusters of two or three trees, or 15 feet between individual trees in zone 2. In zone 3, smaller conifers that are growing between taller trees should be removed, and trees can be pruned so that the remaining tree canopies are not touching. Learn more about defensible space zones here.

Sometimes the best way to accomplish this thinning is by selecting the trees to keep. These could be the trees that block a bad view (a road or neighbor’s house) or a large mature tree that meshes well with your landscape. Mature trees can be 200-300 years old; these can’t be replaced and probably survived a fire before our homes were here. Once the “trees to keep” are determined, we’ll thin appropriately around them. This ensures they have space to grow in the future too, along with the water and other resources to thrive.

A remaining mixture of deciduous and coniferous trees, varying in age and species, is best. This mixture is what was here before our fire suppression efforts over the past century.

A bird eats red berries from a tree or shrub in Colorado.

Protect Remaining Trees

Once you have removed the excess trees, protecting the trees that remain should be a high priority. These trees are now more valuable, especially since they tend to be the large, mature trees that provide shade, oxygen, and other benefits to your property.

One way to protect these valuable trees is to prevent pests and diseases. Monitor your trees for any signs of distress, provide preventative treatments when necessary, and keep your trees well-watered, properly pruned, and maintained.

Water Your Property

Many grasses and groundcover plants are removed during fire mitigation, which leads to the ground becoming desiccated (dried out) more quickly.

Watering or irrigating areas near structures has always been an important part of the defensible space, but it is especially important right after groundcover plants or grasses have been removed. Watering will also help to establish native firewise plants.

Watering your trees becomes even more important, therefore, as there is less moisture in the area overall. Winter watering (including the winter watering that LAM Tree Service provides, where water is injected near the roots) is also important to prevent drought conditions.

And don’t forget, drought conditions attract pests. By watering your remaining trees and plants, you are preventing future issues.

Plant Native Flowering Shrubs and Grasses

Did you know that Colorado has lost many native songbirds? The past 80 to 100 years of fire suppression led to many conifers shading the ground. The shade inhibited the growth of many of our native fruiting and flowering shrubs. Those shrubs were an important food source for native songbirds, and their loss has contributed to the population decline.

Planting native flowering and fruiting shrubs can bring back some songbirds. As long as you follow the firewise landscaping rules, adding shrubs to your property shouldn’t be an issue. The shrubs will also improve the landscape with their spring flowers, summer fruits, and fall colors.

Another problem that has arisen is that some of the lands are eroding when trees, shrubs, plants, and grasses are being removed in large quantities. When these natives are removed, many noxious weeds are quick to take their place.

Ironically, this leads to worse wildfire outcomes, as most noxious weeds grow larger, adding fuels that burn hotter than our native grasses and wildflowers.

We recommend planting a blend of native grasses. Most local hardware stores will have a “Colorado native mix” or sometimes different blends for different conditions. One of the best times to “plant” the native grass is to sow the seed right before a snowstorm – the snow will naturally push the seeds into the ground.

If you’re worried about the fire implications of planting shrubs or grasses, keep in mind that deciduous plants are a much lower fire risk than conifers. Having shrubs and grasses will also reduce the chances of beetle infestations because the moisture level of your soil will be higher.

LAM employees spraying conifer trees to prevent beetle infestations.

Prevent Beetle Infestations

Some fire mitigation companies will chip cuttings and leave them on the forest floor. We don’t recommend this practice, as the smell of cut wood can attract mountain pine and Ips beetles.

Planting native plants and trees, keeping the moisture level high on your property, properly pruning your trees, and removing debris on the ground are all ways that you can prevent beetle infestations (and fire), some of the biggest issues impacting our forests today.

Besides that, we recommend that you schedule regular inspections of your trees (whether you do this yourself or hire a professional such as LAM Tree Service), spray to prevent beetle infestations, and maintain your trees to ensure that they are kept healthy and stress-free.

A LAM Tree worker removes a tree near a building in Evergreen, Colorado as part of fire mitigation services.

LAM Tree Service Can Help

The practice of fire mitigation is still new to many people, and there can be conflicting information about what the best practices are.

We hope this article has answered some of your questions about fire mitigation and how to help your property and our area thrive despite the threat of wildfires.

If you have any questions about our fire mitigation services, tree removals, tree pruning, winter watering, pest prevention, or other tree care services, contact us to learn how we can help you keep your Colorado foothills property healthy, firewise, and beautiful.