Wildfires are a part of life in the great American west. You can greatly reduce the risk of wildfire burning your home by practicing "firewise landscaping." This is the practice of creating a "defensible" space" around your home and across your property, as much as 60 to 100 feet from the house. The Bureau of Land Management and municipal fire agencies have put some guidelines and safety tips for homeowners. Create Zones of Defense
Zone 1, from the house outward, 30 or more feet: use fire resistant plants only (list follows). These are primarily low-growing, fire resistant plants, particularly ground covers and vines. Keep plants and the area near the house well maintained, removing "duff" or dead plant material . Keep grasses mowed and well irrigated. A gravel mulch is recommended and has several benefits: it will reduce water loss, keep plant roots cool, and discourage weed growth. Break up the plantings near the house with stone patios and walkways – this minimizes the ability of fire to run along continuous fuel sources. Be certain to clean out gutters and rake up leaves.
Zone 2, 30-60 feet from the house or farther: reduce plant density. Use only low-growing and fire resistant plants and shrubs. Keep tall grasses and shrubs well groomed and space them. It is recommended they be planted two times their height apart. For instance, a shrub that will reach 10 feet of height at maturity should be spaced 20 feet from its neighboring shrub.
Zone 3, 60-100 feet from the house: thin and prune existing plants. Prune tree limbs 6-10 feet up the trunk of the tree and minimize overlapping branches between trees and shrubs.
Fire Resistant Plants
All plants are flammable, but some plants are more fire resistant than others. They have high moisture content, are low growing, with high salt or soap content and are non-resinous. They will generally have large leaves and green stems, too.
Avoid sage, pine and juniper which are high in resins and volatile oils making them extremely flammable. Plants which are deciduous are preferable to conifers. Drought tolerant plants (most of which are listed in this book), have thick succulent leaves.
In the list below, the plant groups are from the top to bottom, the most flammable to more fire resistant. <strong>Note that conifers and grasses are at the TOP of the list and can be dangerous.</strong>
Conifers (least fire resistant)GrassesShrubsDeciduous treesPerennialsAnnualsVinesGroundcoversSucculents (most fire resistant)
Note that fire resistant vines and groundcovers are generally inexpensive and relatively easy to maintain. Vines can be trained on metal fences to create a "green fence" which may stop or at least slow down a wildfire.
Fire resistant ground covers
Ajuga -Ajuga reptansBasket of Gold - Aurinia saxatalisBearberry or Kinnikinnick -Arctostaphylos uva-ursiCaucasica sage - Artemisia caucasicaCreeping phlox - Phlox subulataCreeping thyme - Thymus praecoxGiant flowered soapwort -Saponaria x lempergiiGreen mat penstemon- Penstemon davidsoniiGround cover rose - Rosa hybridHardy iceplant - Delosperma spp.Hardy plumbago -Ceratostigma plumbaginoidesHens and chicks - Escheveria spp.Hummelo lamb's ear- Stachys monieri 'Hummelo'Japanese pachysandra- Pachysandra terminalisLamb's ear-Stachys byzantinaLily of the valley-Convallaria majalisMat penstemon-Penstemon caespitosusMother of thyme - Thymus serphyllumPoppy mallow - Callirhoe involucrataPussytoes-Antennaria spp.Rock soapwort - Saponaria ocymoidesRockcress-Arabis spp.Silver-edged horehound- Marrubium rotundifoliumSnow in summer - Cerastium tormentosumTurkish speedwell - Veronica liwanensis
Fire resistant vines
Chocolate vine - Akebia quinataClematis -Clematis spp.Climbing hydrangea- Hydrangea anomala petiolarisDragon Lady crossvine- Bignonia capreolata 'Dragon Lady'Grapes -Vitis spp.Honeysuckle-Lonicera spp. and hybridsHops vine-Humulus lupulusKiwi vine-Actinidia kolmikta Matrimony vine* - Lycium barbarumPurple Leaf Grape-Vitis viniferaSilver lace vine*-Polygonum aubertiiSweet Autumn clematis- Clematis ternifloraSweet pea-Lathurus latifoliusTrumpet honeysuckle- Lonicera sempervirensTrumpet vine-Campsis radicansVirginia creeper* - Parthenocissus quinquefoliaWisteriaWisteria spp. -*Can be invasive
Fire resistant shrubs and trees
Aspen - Populus tremuloidesBirch - Betula spp. Buckthorn- Rhamnus spp.Buffalo berry- Sheperdia spp.Currant- Ribes spp.Lilac - Syringa vulgarisMaple Acer spp.-Mountain Mahogany- Cercis ledifoliusService berry- Amelanchier spp.Skunkbush sumac -Rhus tribolataSnowberry - Symphoricarpos spp.Western Sandcherry- Prunus basseyiWillow - Salix spp.