Fire-resistant plants for the home and landscape.
Suggestions for selecting plants (and landscaping ideas) that may reduce your risk from wildfires.
Native plants are often considered the first choice when landscaping a property for arid or fire-prone regions. This may make sense and they certainly provide a diversity of texture and color to the garden. Sadly this does not make them always the best choice for landscaping. Many South Western and CA. natives actually welcome fire to propagate. Further, some Like the California Bay have volatile oils that can make them extremelly dangerous.
It is further important that whatever plants you choose in your final landscaping that you understand that all of these plants Xeriscape or native have been grown in nursery containers and will need to become established before becoming that Xeriscape plant you think you can save watering costs with.
That said, picking plants that can survive arid conditions, either due to drought or other reasons will always be something to consider, but not always a reason to for a firescape landscape. My own mistakes would be a good example. I planted a Bay tree next to my house for cooking purposes. A Greek Bay tree nicer than the CA. Native but still explosive in a fire. Same for the Eucalyptus and other drought-tolerant plants such as rosemary and sage. (Add Mediterranean plants to be questioned!)
Fire-resistant landscaping also involves consultation with an architect, AND a landscape design specialist so one can design a habitat best able to survive a
wildfire. It had and continues to be my hope that fire stations redo their own landscaping to give such examples. My own fire station in Sequim WA is anything but that.
1. Basically, because it was boring.
Rhododendron stretch along its entire wall. Rhodies are not that bad a choice but any plant fuel source against a building is a bad idea.
Might as well store firewood against the building. I exaggerate here but I want to make a point. Fires need fuel and putting a buffer between a building/landscape is lesson one. Should a fire occur, keeping the fire from the building is number one. It also allows fire-fighters a chance to defend the building not deal with burning landscape material. On the next page, I will make a few suggestions as well as a list of fire-resistant plants.
2. Pick Fire-wise plants or use creative rockscaping! (Not to mean lava rock! ) The bottom picture is one suggestion. More on this to follow!
3. Do not have conifers or tall trees near the house. If they exist prune them to have at least 15 feet clearance from the ground and potential fire sources such as grasses. Pines and some other conifers are very flammable and should be avoided. Many broadleaved trees are less so.
4. Keep your large landscape plants away from the house, such as my Bay tree or Eucalyptus. All plants, are potential fuel so don’t plant shrubs or trees too close to the house.
5. Upkeep. My own failing…. Dead or dying grasses or shrubs near the house. Need I say more? YUP. I kept my woodpile near the house so I didn’t have to lug it so far. Keep flammables and fuels away from the house. This bay tree can be near explosive when burning!
6. Back to landscaping, space your larger plants with succulents or other low ground covers so a fire cannot jump from one to another.
7. Another item I had not really considered until I wrote this is to give firefighters access to your property. This I have done, removing a utility access line to my barn that was too low and might have prevented firefighters to pull into that area. Fences, trees and that less so.
8. Returning to # 5. Wood decks might be replaced with brick, slate or cement tiles and why would anyone put on cedar shingle roofs!
9. Maintaining a 25 – 30-foot defensible space around structures will help aid firefighters by creating a green zone of protection around your personal property.
Prevailing summer wind patterns, the proximity of other structures or trees will affect this.
I had thought to add a lot of plants and suggestions to this post but discovered a great site that has most of what I had to offer. I suggest you download and print it out before doing any landscape in fire-prone regions. If your landscaper does not understand the botanical names get another. If you live in the Pacific Northwest my link at the top of the page is a good start. My own more limited list for the Pacific Northwest is here.
Fire conditions and forest fires will get worse and funding for prevention have been lost to the costs of fighting them. A must read article.
I will add more items and pictures of plants that they have overlooked. In the meantime, you might check out Fireworks which set this off!
Sadly, other than using my NEXT list of fire-resistant plants for a Master Gardener program, neither the Fire Chief or the city ever took up my suggestion to make such a display garden.