Regardless of how it starts, fire is a serious threat to homeowners and their house and garden. While it is always on the mind of homeowners in California, we have seen major wildfires occur in less likely places – states such as Alaska, New Jersey, Minnesota, and Maine have all suffered from massive fires at times. If you live anywhere near a forest, fire-resistant landscaping should be on your mind when you plan out your lawn and gardens.
The best way to provide fire resistance is to but a barrier between your lawn and garden and the flammable area further out. This is called a fire break, as it is a “break” or gap in combustible materials. It can include a trail or road around the edge of your property, a stone wall, a pool, a stream, or other non-flammable hardscaping features. The key is to create a distance of 20-30 feet between the outer forest and your property.
Another great way is to incorporate naturally fire-resistant materials in your landscaping. Use stone, cement, and concrete as much as possible when it comes to structures or features. Something as simple as a wide walkway made of large stones surrounded by smaller stones of a different color can be a striking and resistant feature.
Some plants are more fire-resistant than others although improperly caring for these plants will reduce their effectiveness. Consider the following plants when putting together your landscape:
- Trees: Hardwoods such as maple and poplar are the best in terms of resisting fire, while fir trees are particularly bad at it – firs have quite a bit of sticky, flammable sap, and dried fir needles are more flammable than the leaves that fall from deciduous trees.
- Shrubs: While shrubs are some of the most concerning to firefighters, as they add more fuel than other plants to the total fuel load, there are still some shrubs that could be wise additions to a fire-resistant landscape. Sumac, honeysuckle, and hedging roses retain water well, and are the most resistant shrubs and bushes when it comes to fires.
- Flowers: There are a number of flowers that are resistant to fire, and almost any flower is more resistant than a shrub. For the best of the bunch, look towards the daylily, poppy, and primrose families. Plants native to your area will also be fire resistant, but stay away from wildflowers – they tend to be drier and flammable.
There are actions you can take in the everyday care of your lawn and garden that will increase how resistant it is to fire.
- Mow grass particularly low within a few feet of your house, and make sure that this grass is well-watered.
- In dry weather, if you need to water plants, water starting from the house and moving away. A fire-resistant plant that is dried out will still be more flammable than one that is not fire-resistant, but is well-watered.
- Prune your plants often and make sure to clear dry and dispose of dry materials.
- Plant only in small, dispersed clusters of plants, not in large groups.
So if you live near a forest, or anywhere where there is the potential for a wildfire to threaten your home, look in to flame-resistant design and components for your landscape. Nothing can repel fire for good, but these can at least stall fires to provide time for emergency response or escape.