by High Country Gardens
Creating Non-Burn Zones Around Your Home: Learn Which Plants Burn Easily and Which Are Fire Resistant Plants
The Southwest seems to have five seasons now: spring, summer, fall, winter and unfortunately the fifth is coming up: fire season. For those of us who live in the mountains or foothills of not only the Southwest but throughout the western US, periodic and prolonged droughts have changed our lifestyle. It now requires a keen eye to keeping property trimmed and cleared.
Firescaping is a relatively new term in the field of landscaping. It means creating non-burn zones around your home. If a wildfire is coming through, it'll take what's in its path—including houses—unless there is no path for the fire to follow. The basic idea of firescaping is: the closer to your home, the less vegetation you want.
Ideally, there are three defensible zones that make up the principles of firescaping:
Zone One involves clearing a 30-foot area surrounding a house. Concrete or brick patios in this area are ideal as well as low growing perennials, annuals, groundcovers and irrigated lawns. If trees are to be planted in this first zone to provide shade, they need to be deciduous, as deciduous trees have higher moisture content in their leaves and don't contain flammable oils. Do not plant evergreen trees and shrubs such as pines, junipers and cedars. And it's best to cut down established evergreens close to the house. especially if there are branches overhanging the roof. Many broadleaf evergreens (Manzanita) and especially conifers (plants with needle-like leaves) are full of highly flammable oils that burst into flame with extreme heat. Also be sure to remove branches within 15 feet of chimneys and stovepipes.
- Low-Growing Perennials For Zone 1 - Beardtongue (Penstemon), Evening Primrose (Oenothera), African Daisy (Gazania), Orange Carpet® Hummingbird Trumpet (Zauschneria), Sonoma Coast Yarrow (Achillea millifolium)
- Groundcovers For Zone 1 - Thyme, Silver Carpet Lamb's Ear (Stachys), Silver Nailwort (Paronychia), Sedum, Cold Hardy Iceplant (Delosperma), Creeping Golden Buttons (Cotula), Deadnettle (Lamium), Snow-in-Summer (Cerastium) and Partridge Feather (Tanacetum)
- In general, deciduous trees and shrubs are much less flammable than broadleaf and needled evergreens (pines, spruces, junipers, fir etc.). In mild winter regions, Eucalyptus and Acacia are also to be avoided.
- Avoid plants like large growing herbaceous ornamental grasses and other big growing perennials that die back to the ground in winter and leave a lot of combustible dried leaves and stems above ground. (If you do plant them, you must always cut them back to just above the ground in the fall.)
- Utilize irrigated lawns (Legacy® buffalo grass and Dog Tuff®, two waterwise lawn grasses) and groundcovers (especially succulents like groundcover Sedum, Ruschia pulvinaris and Delosperma) on slopes and hillside and up close around buildings to suppress fast moving ground fires.
Purple Form Creeping Sedum (Sedum hispanicum var. minus), also called Little Blue Spanish Stonecrop, is a small-growing groundcover enjoyed for its attractive evergreen foliage that ...Learn MorePurple Form Creeping Sedum Little Blue Spanish Stonecrop Sedum hispanicum var. minus Purple Form$8.99 Sale $6.74Sale Price I Save 25%Per Plant - 2.5" PotPurple Form Creeping Sedum (Sedum hispanicum var. minus), also called Little Blue Spanish Stonecrop, is a small-growing groundcover enjoyed for its attractive evergreen foliage that forms tidy, colorful mounds. The tiny succulent leaves assume various colors in the sun, displaying shades of blue, purple, and bronze, especially during the cold winter months. The plant blooms with a profusion of tiny pink flowers in late summer and is xeric once established.
Old Man’s Bones Sedum (Sedum globosum) is an outstanding low-growing sedum with uniquely rounded, chubby leaves held on short spreading stems. Evergreen succulent foliage often...Learn MoreOld Man's Bones Sedum Old Man's Bones Stonecrop Sedum globosum 'Old Man Bones'$11.99 Sale $10.19Sale Price I Save 15%Per Plant - 3.5" PotOld Man’s Bones Sedum (Sedum globosum) is an outstanding low-growing sedum with uniquely rounded, chubby leaves held on short spreading stems. Evergreen succulent foliage often develops a bronze tint in summer and flushes shades of purple, pink, red, and bronze over the winter. Perfect for groundcover, rock gardens, edging pathways, and spilling over the edges of raised beds or containers. It blooms in summer with clusters of small, bright yellow, star-shaped flowers.
Agave havardiana (Havard‚s Century Plant) grows to an imposing size (30„ tall x 36„ wide) at maturity! Native to the Glass Mountains of west Texas, this succulent h...Learn MoreHavard's Century Plant (Agave) Havard's Century Plant Agave havardiana (Glass Mts, TX Form)$10.99 Sale $9.34Sale Price I Save 15%Per Plant - 2.5" PotAgave havardiana (Havard's Century Plant) grows to an imposing size (30" tall x 36" wide) at maturity! Native to the Glass Mountains of west Texas, this succulent has proven itself to be very cold-hardy. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).
‚Blue Spruce‚ Creeping Sedum (Sedum reflexum) is a standout among low-maintenance Sedums. This easy-to-grow and eye-catching features succulent blue-green foliage, much l...Learn MoreBlue Spruce Sedum Blue Spruce Stonecrop Sedum reflexum Blue SpruceAs low as $8.99 Sale $7.64Per Plant - 2.5" Pot'Blue Spruce' Creeping Sedum (Sedum reflexum) is a standout among low-maintenance Sedums. This easy-to-grow and eye-catching features succulent blue-green foliage, much like little spruce needles! A pollinator favorite, it is covered with small star-shaped yellow flowers in summer for over a month. A great evergreen groundcover where low maintenance, drought-tolerant, deer-and-rabbit-resistant plantings are desired.
‚Cape Blanco‚ Creeping Sedum (Sedum spathulifolium ‚Cape Blanco‚) is sheer elegance with unusual pewter, powder-blue succulent foliage in a well-behaved groun...Learn MoreCape Blanco Sedum Cape Blanco Stonecrop Sedum spathulifolium Cape BlancoAs low as $8.99 Sale $6.74Per Plant - 2.5" Pot'Cape Blanco' Creeping Sedum (Sedum spathulifolium 'Cape Blanco') is sheer elegance with unusual pewter, powder-blue succulent foliage in a well-behaved groundcover. Clusters of tiny yellow flowers cover the plant in summer. Cape Blanco is an award-winning standout. Easy-to-grow and pollinator-friendly this North American native is a must-have!
Delosperma cooperi (Coopers Hardy Ice Plant) is covered with large magenta-pink flowers for much of the summer. A perfect groundcover where easy-care, high color is on the wish-list....Learn MoreCooper's Hardy Ice Plant Cooper's Hardy Ice Plant Delosperma cooperiAs low as $7.99 Sale $6.79Per Plant - 2.5" PotDelosperma cooperi (Coopers Hardy Ice Plant) is covered with large magenta-pink flowers for much of the summer. A perfect groundcover where easy-care, high color is on the wish-list. It grows vigorously, creating a succulent carpet of color.
Granita Raspberry Ice Plant (Delosperma Granita Raspberry) is a hybrid Ice Plant that blooms in late spring with stunning raspberry-red flowers. The plant is very cold hardy with eve...Learn MoreGranita® Raspberry Ice Plant Granita® Raspberry Ice Plant Delosperma Granita® RaspberryAs low as $9.99 Sale $8.49Per Plant - 2.5" PotGranita Raspberry Ice Plant (Delosperma Granita Raspberry) is a hybrid Ice Plant that blooms in late spring with stunning raspberry-red flowers. The plant is very cold hardy with evergreen stems and foliage.
This new cultivar of Texas Yucca blooms all summer with six-foot tall spikes of glowing coral-orange flowers. A cross between a yellow and red flowered variety, Hesperaloe parviflora...Learn MoreCoral Glow Texas Yucca (Hesperaloe) Coral Glow Texas Yucca Hesperaloe parviflora Coral Glow PP#29,626As low as $13.99Per Plant - 5" Deep PotThis new cultivar of Texas Yucca blooms all summer with six-foot tall spikes of glowing coral-orange flowers. A cross between a yellow and red flowered variety, Hesperaloe parviflora Coral Glow PP#29,626 has been an outstanding performer.
Zone Two moves out another 70 feet, called the mid-zone. This area is for orchards and gardens. Lower limbs of trees should be pruned to 15 feet off the ground. On steep slopes groundcover plantings, especially succulent groundcover Sedum, Ruschia pulvinaris and Ice Plant (Delosperma) whose leaves are filled with water will retard the spread of a wildfire up a hill. Mowed lawns (Legacy® buffalo grass and Dog Tuff® grass), when green and actively growing, will also slow the spread of flames across the ground and up hillsides.The basic idea of firescaping is: the closer to your home, the less vegetation you want.
Zone Three is no closer than 100 feet from the house. Trees need to be thinned so that crowns are separated by at least 10 feet. Prune branches up from the ground to a height of 10 feet. The goal is to keep a fire from "laddering" up from the ground. This is where brush underneath ignites lower branches that climb up a tree then jump to the crown or tree tops. When this happens, fires are out of control.
The basic idea of firescaping is: the closer to your home, the less vegetation you want. Create fuel breaks wherever possible with such items as pools, driveways and non-flammable fences. Lay rock, gravel, brick and paving in wide-open areas. Always use building materials with low flammability. For roofs in fire-prone areas, use tile, raised seam metal roof panels or flame resistant asphalt shingles. Never use wooden siding and cedar shingles as they are highly flammable and can be easily ignited by embers thrown up into the air by intense blazes.
And of course, keep propane tanks and fuel tanks well away from the house and outbuildings. And don't use a wood fence around fuel tanks to screen them from being visible from the house.
Specific plant recommendations for firescapes will vary greatly depending on the region where you live. The plant palette for coastal CA, OR and WA will be very different from colder, drier inland areas of the West and Southwest.
For CA residents, this is an excellent reference: California Wildfire Landscaping by Maureen Gilder (1994, Taylor Publishing).
For other areas of the West, Google your state's Cooperative Extension Service publications on firescaping for additional information and suggested fire-resistant plants.
Text By David Salman
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