When it’s time to burn…

large grass fire

Burning at Sundown

large grass fire

As the fire takes off.

When is the right time to burn? Prairies (savanas or woodlands) should be burned every several years… usually when the fuel builds up. This is usually thatch in the case of prairies.

The time of year plays a role in when you burn. You can burn almost anytime there is not snow on the ground, but season is something to take into consideration when deciding to burn. While you could burn in the summer few people do. A summer burn would be burning mostly green plants, resulting a very black smokey fire. The most common seasons to burn are spring and fall, with the majority of burns taking place in the spring. Spring burns encourage forbs (flowers) while fall burns encourage grasses. In an average spring the ideal time to burn is between April 15 and May 1, but you need to watch nature to know it’s time to burn. If you have very early flowers, as we do, you need to do spring burns very, very early… before the plants emerge.

When we first started to restore our 2 acres we were trying to set back Eurasian brome grasses. To tackle the brome grasses we burned when the grass was a couple of inches high. This set the brome back. While we have not totally eliminated the brome grasses it has weakened it in places enough to allow the prairie grasses to get established. Our hope is that eventually the native plants will be able to out compete the brome grass and push it out.

When deciding to burn you need to understand what you’re hoping to achieve with the burn. Do you want to encourage forbs or grass? Are you trying to target a specific problem?

Large grass fire. Smoke rises above the trees.

Smoke rises above the trees.

Once you’ve decided to burn you need to watch and wait for the weather to cooperate. Before burning, whether it’s on a large or small scale, you should check the fire danger. In Wisconsin the DNR has a great map that shows the danger by county, dnr.wi.gov/topic/ForestFire/restrictions.asp. To burn when conditions are not right would mean losing control of the fire. You don’t want strong winds. We most often burn our prairie in the evening. This is when the winds die down and the dew point is higher. This lowers our chance of losing control and burning though our neighbor’s field.

The burn pictured here is not our burn, but one we came across on the way home from work. It was conducted at night because currently Wisconsin’s fire danger is high… and the due point is higher.

As we watched this burn we could see how the fire had been set and how it was moving as planned. As we watched it was obvious that this was done by a knowledgeable crew. It was a thing of beauty!

After the burn more beauty is sure to come as plants grow in. Many native plants benefit from fire. Their seeds are often stimulated to grow by the fire. Some seed just sit around in the soil waiting for a nice fire to come through and open the seed coating. I’m sure this area will be beautiful this summer!

If you wish to see more photos of this burn… www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.331401076920280.75357.100001511711732&type=1&l=5772fc0294

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4 Responses to When it’s time to burn…

  1. sharon says:

    I was suspose to tell you on Sunday that Ann wanted to know if you do burns. I told her know but I would have you talk to her. When I looked they were not home. She wants to burn out the Garlic Mustard. love m

    • We do still burn, although not for a few years. I’m not an expert on garlic mustard. It’s not really a problem we have… it tends to grow in more woody areas. According to the DNR you an use what they refer to as a propane fueled weed torch to burn out small seedling. This is different from a drip torch which is used for controlled burns. We have a dragon if you want to borrow it and experiment. All that is need is a small propane tank like is used on gas grills. We have one of those, too, but I’m not sure if there is any fuel in it.

      The DNR has a nice handout on garlic mustard if you would like more info: http://dnr.wi.gov/invasives/publications/pdfs/GarlicMustardHandout.pdf

  2. Such dramatic images! Around here most burns are conducted during the day so I was very interested in what you had to say. Makes sense to wait for the dew point to rise. I remember seeing an area for the first time that had been burned. It was like Walt Disney and his magic paintbrush! Within just a week or two myriad wildflowers sprang up which had lain dormant for many years. And more recently, it was wonderful to see the results at Rollins when management was added, including fire. Immediately ground-nesting birds moved in.
    Thanks for the great post!


    • The other reason they were burning at night is that we were under a burn ban due to dry conditions. The only time they could legally burn was after 6pm. We usually start are evening burns at 4pm because need to take advantage of the lower dew point.

      Also I agree that it is amazing to watch the site transform after a burn.

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