Prevent potting soil fires

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The potted juniper on your front porch hardly looks like a fire hazard. Ditto for the half-used bag of potting soil stashed in your basement or shed.

In recent years, however, potting soil has been the culprit in a number of house fires. Today’s potting soils contain large volumes of peat moss; when peat moss gets too dry, it becomes highly flammable. On top of that, you’ll often find shredded wood, bark, Styrofoam and vermiculite in potting mix. Like peat moss, all of these ingredients ignite easily under dry conditions.

Sometimes the spark comes from a cigarette stubbed out in the potting soil. At other times, the sun’s heat is enough to start a fire. Either way, once the soil ignites, fertilizers in the mix will accelerate the flames.

A few simple precautions will help to keep your home safe:

Water potted plants regularly. Make sure the soil around your potted plants stays moist. Keep in mind that the soil in pots dries out more quickly than soil in garden beds, so plan on more frequent watering.

Keep ashtrays handy. While regular garden soil may extinguish a cigarette, the same isn’t true for potting soil. Make sure smokers have a safe place to dispose of their butts, indoors and outdoors, so they aren’t tempted to use your pot of geraniums instead.

Use clay pots where possible. If a fire breaks out, a clay pot will keep it contained better than other types of pots.

Keep potting soil away from combustible materials. Keep potting soil and potted plants away from things that ignite and burn easily, such as firewood, stacks of old newspapers, aerosols, paint solvents, gasoline and cleaning products.

Dispose of unused potting soil carefully. Unused soil can dry out quickly and become a fire hazard. Whether you’re planning to re-pot your Boston fern or start your tomato seeds, buy only as much potting mix as you need for the job. If you have any left over, spread it on your garden beds.