With wildfires and record-high temperatures the cause of so much damage, we went to the experts for tips on how to beat the heat in the garden and help prevent wildfires. This trend is also known as “firescaping.” The fire-safe garden can be a rich and colorful landscape, offering year-round interest and beauty while doubling as an important tool in the fight against wildfires.
1. Remove Fire Hazards
While it may seem like a no-brainer, it’s important to continually check for and remove easily-flammable and ignitable materials on and around your house – especially anything within 30 feet. This means removing any dead or drought-stressed vegetation from your landscape, gutters and roof as well as plants, shrubs and trees that produce combustible materials like dead branches, needles, pinecones and leaves. Any trees within 100 feet of the home should have limbs removed up to 10 feet off the ground.
In high fire hazard areas if you’re mulching within 30 feet of your home, it’s preferable to use inorganic materials such as crushed stones or gravel rather than more combustible options like shredded rubber, pine straw or red cedar. Composted wood chips show the slowest fire spread rate of organic mulches.
2. Choose the Right Plants
When temperatures hit the high 90s and even three digits it’s wise to have some drought- and heat-resistant plants in your garden. Sedum, stonecrop, verbena, coneflowers, lantana, ornamental grasses, phormiums salvia, yucca and Festival® cordyline are all drought and/or heat resistant. Easy-care, drought-tolerant shrubs include potentilla, barberry, buddleia, cotoneaster, and witch hazel. Easy-to-grow annuals that survive in drought conditions include geraniums, ageratum, calendula, snapdragons and Dusty Miller.
Flower Carpet® roses are also drought tolerant once established. “Even though we had temperatures of 113 degrees for several days and no rain, all I did was water them very well once a week, and they performed beautifully,” reported Carrie G. of Howe, Oklahoma, a Tesselaar Plants home garden tester.
3. Open it Up
Another sure-fire firescaping strategy involves designing more open space into the landscape. Adding vegetation-free strips as fuel breaks can help to slow or stop a blaze. These can be decorative rock gardens, faux riverbeds, water features or even decomposed granite walkways. A bonus to opening up your landscape is that you’ll find you’ve simplified things. The breaks in vegetation can add interesting elements to the landscape and overall, it can become more peaceful and relaxing to look at and maintain.
4. Get in the “zone”
Consider creating fire-safe landscapes by dividing the area around your home into concentric zones. These self-designed zones provide a strategy for planning your landscape.
The closer the zones are to the structure, the stricter the fire suppression guidelines should be. For instance, Zone 1 would be the 30 foot area closest to the house and is the area where you need to be vigilant about vegetation, planting only the most fire resistant plants. Zone 2 is the next 30 – 90 feet and where you can plant agapanthus and low-growing succulents like jade plants, sedum and miniature ice plants to prevent or retard the ground fires from racing to Zone 1. Zone 3 should be a 40-50 deep area with drought-resistant reduced-fuel shrubs like rock rose and well-watered flowers like yarrow and California poppies. And finally in Zone 4 at 170 – 200 feet from the house, it’s important to remove fire-prone plants and stay vigilant in terms of brush clean up.
5. Keep it watered
As temperatures rise, keeping up with watering is the ultimate firescaping strategy. While we want to conserve this valuable resource, it can be helpful to use drip irrigation systems that are inexpensive to set up and that can get water where it matters most – right at the base of plant. This curbs fungal disease by keeping water off foliage. Also, since you’re only watering the roots, you aren’t encouraging weeds.
So remember – keep your landscape watered, lean, clean and green but don’t be afraid to experiment with color and texture and choose plants that offer you season-long interest.
For a few great tips on conserving water read our Free Water for the Garden post.