With proper planning and placement of the landscape, known as firescaping, homeowners can create a defensive space in their landscapes to deter and suppress fires.
In fire prone locations, gardeners can use firewise gardening techniques to create a defensive space around their homes that will prevent the spread of fires.
Just as no plant is 100% pest, disease or deer proof, no plant is 100% fire proof. Any plant will burn in intense heat. However, some plants burn better than others. Plants that contain high resins or oil contents which make them extremely flammable, are known as Pyrophytic plants. These pyrophytic plants include juniper, pine, spruce, and fir. The natural oils and resins in conifers makes them burn quickly and easily. The shape and spread of conifers also creates what is known as a fire ladder, a route in which a wildfire climbs and spreads. A large evergreen engulfed in flames will spread to other nearby trees and shrubs, and generate high heat that will cause even less flammable plants to burn.
All trees can add fuel to a fire. In firewise gardening trees are carefully placed away from homes, structures and other plants. In fire prone regions, large trees and conifers are placed at least thirty feet away from the home. Deciduous trees should also be spaced so that their canopies do not touch. These pyrophytic plants can be separated even more from the home landscape by strategically placed fire barriers, such as stone or rock walkways, walls, or creek beds. Ideally when a wild fire comes to a fire barrier, it will not be able to spread passed the barrier, in to the home landscape. Shrubs can still be used in the landscape, they too will just need to be spaced away from each other, far enough to prevent flames from easily jumping from one shrub to the next.
Low growing groundcovers can also be used as natural fire barriers. In fire prone areas, groundcovers, especially of the succulent nature, are recommended for planting in the area immediately surrounding the home or other structures. Because of their short stature, groundcovers do not create fire ladders for the flames to travel up towards the home. Most groundcovers also contain high moisture levels, low volatile oils and do not generate a lot of dry flammable litter. Groundcovers are planted in landscape beds closest to homes and structures, in widely spaced beds or rows to deter fire. Sedums or stonecrops are especially effective as fire barriers. Again these planted beds can be separated by rock or stone to further reduce the risk of fire. In areas that experience the frequent threat of wildfires, rock mulches are recommended for home landscapes over other more flammable mulches. Pine bark or pine needle mulches are exceptionally flammable and should be avoided.
Proper landscape maintenance is also essential to preventing fire. All plants in the landscape should be kept regularly watered and healthy. Dried out, wilting or dead plants can be a fire hazard. All plants in the landscape should also be regularly pruned, trimmed and deadheaded to remove dry, dead, flammable plant material. Landscape beds should be kept clean and free of garden debris and litter. Using tight, compact shrubs and perennials in the landscape can not only reduce the amount of plant maintenance, they can also prevent fires. Large, sprawling unkempt shrubbery can be more vulnerable to fire than small, tight, compact shrubs. Any overgrown, unruly plant life within 30ft of a structure can be a fire hazard by producing significant heat that can cause structures to ignite.
Below I have listed plant types from most fire resistant to least fire resistant. The most fire resistant plants can be planted closer to homes and structures, while less fire resistant plants should be spaced out farther away in the landscape. Plants that are salt tolerant and drought tolerant also tend to resist or survive fire better. It is important to note that certain plants may be more susceptible to fires at different times of the year, because of higher moisture or oil content in the plant tissues during different seasons.
6. Deciduous Trees
Using native plants in the landscape can help create a defensive space around homes in fire prone areas. Fire is a natural method of cleansing, killing off diseases and pests. Certain wild flowers even depend on fire to aid in their germination. Natural fires also release many immediately available nutrients in to the soil. Many native plants are accustomed to occasional natural fires and have better resistance. Some examples of fire resistant native plants are: columbine, violet, creeping phlox, evening primrose, Jupiter's beard, and desert four o'clocks.
Wildfires can be dangerous and deadly. A firewise landscape can help prevent much of the destruction from out of control natural fires. Even plants that are less prone to fire can quickly burn out of control in intense heat. Proper spacing of plants, regular maintenance and strategically placed fire barriers can go a long way to protect your property and your family's well being.