Plan, plant and maintain for drought-tolerant & fire resistant landscaping
Colorado is a popular place to live with many people relocating here on a monthly basis. Wildfires can happen at any time in Colorado even in Urban areas. It is vital that we all understand (even the new Coloradans) the dangers of wildfires and how to keep your family and property safe. Planning, planting, and maintaining are three extremely important steps to implement that may help you avoid the destructive effects of a wildfire.
In our state alone, wildfires have burned through thousands of acres of land making fire mitigation and fire-resistant landscaping more important than ever. Many of the blazes can largely be attributed to the dead, dry, vegetation created by the high desert climate, beetle kill from invasive pests, and the fact that we have been experiencing a mega-drought for over two decades leading to an abundance of dry fuels prime for burning.
While you might not be able to prevent the spread of a wildfire to your area, you can utilize proper planning to help save your home. Designing your landscaping to be drought-resistant – and designing with protection in mind – can be a literal life-saver. Here’s a more in-depth look at how to implement fire-wise practices and drought-tolerant landscaping around your home. Keep in mind that even though these tips will aid in fire mitigation, landscaping is not “fire-proof.”
Design for Defensible Space
If you’re fortunate enough to start with an empty slate, start with your landscape design. This is where the “plan” portion of landscaping comes into play. You want to create what’s called a defensible space around your property. Defensible space means two things: designing your home’s landscaping in a way that allows firefighters to easily move in and choosing the right plants and trees to help prevent fire danger. Designing with defensible space in mind could save your home from being engulfed in a wildfire. Here are a few tips about designing for defensible space:
- Any plants near the home should be widely spaced out and low-growing. The wider they’re spaced out, the harder it is for a wildfire to move from plant to plant.
- Many homeowners line their fences with plants. This is a “don’t” when designing for defensible space.
- Trees should be spaced so that when they reach a mature stage of growth, their crowns are spaced 10-15 feet apart.
- Add rock and paver/cement pathways in and around your yard among different plants. These flame-resistant barriers can prevent fire from spreading.
Create a defensible zone around your property to protect your family and home. There are different ignition zones that require maintenance year-round to give your home the best chance of surviving a wildfire. According to the Colorado State Forest Service, each zone is measured by the amount of feet from your home/structure.
- Zone 1 (0-5 ft. from your home/structure)
- Zone 2 (5-30 ft. from your home/structure)
- Zone 3 (30-100 ft. from your home/structure)
Additional guidance on creating a defensible space and the importance of fire mitigation around your property is below.
If your property has a sloped yard, keep in mind that wildfires tend to “ladder” up from the ground, which causes the fire to grow faster as it moves up a slope/mountainside causing more damage. Planting ground covers such as sedum and ice plant, whose leaves and stems retain water, can help hinder the spread of a wildfire moving uphill or spreading plant to plant.
Fire-resistant plants are just as important as the right landscape design. Conditions can be so dry in wildfire-prone areas that just a spark can ignite a blaze. In such conditions, dead vegetation helps it spread. So, in order to prevent wildfire from spreading to your home, you’re going to want to plant drought and fire-resistant plants. While no plant can be defined as truly fire-resistant, those that are flush and healthy – and not dry and dying – are more resistant to the spread of fire.
Native species like bigtooth maples and sand cherry trees, usually serve this purpose the best, as they’re more apt to grow and flourish in the specific conditions. There are also non-native species like ice plant, rock rose and aloe that are considered fire-resistant and can tolerate Colorado’s environment.
Also, don’t be negligent about this one: plant different species of plants, because certain pests and diseases may affect certain species of plants more than others. Variety in your plant pallette ensures that you will never lose a whole garden due to one problem. If all your plants are the same and happen to become diseased, you will have a yard full of dead, dry plants. As we mentioned above, dead, dry vegetation = increased flammability.
flowers & ground cover
Hardy Yellow Ice Plant
You’ve optimized your landscaping design to be more fire-wise, and you’ve planted all the right things. Done, right? Not so fast.
Routine maintenance is critical. It is important to consider things like moisture intake, seasonal inspections, fertilization, mowing, and pruning to ensure your landscape is not only thriving but aids in protecting your home or business. Suggested routine maintenance duties:
- Rake up leaves and debris as they accumulate on your lawn throughout the year.
- Water your plants in the winter months (on days over 40 degrees).
- Mow grass short around shrubs and plants. Grasses should be no more than 4 inches in height.
- Prune plants and shrubs regularly. The more leaves a plant has, the more vegetation a fire has to spread, so don’t let your plants become overgrown.
- Fertilizing your plants will help them grow strong and keep them healthy. The less dead vegetation a plant has, the stronger its chance at survival.
- Remove and thin dead branches and shrubs.
- Leave 15 feet of clearance around your structure that is clear of any trees or plants can give your home a better chance of surviving a fire.
- Remove any debris in rain gutters or window wells like pine needles, branches, and leaves, which can reduce the risk of your home going up in flames.
- Add rock 1-3 feet entirely around your home/structure can act as a barrier from flames if they are growing rapidly.
- If you have a deck, avoid using the space below the deck for storage. Keep the area underneath clean and clear of any flammable material and consider using rock/gravel underneath as an extra fire protectant.
Plan, plant, maintain…then what? There are a few other things you can do to decrease your yard’s flammability and protect your home from wildfire spread.
City Fire Restrictions
Always know your city’s fire restrictions as these can change daily. When a fire ban is in place, people should not be building campfires or using a charcoal grill. We may not be able to control Mother Nature’s gusty winds or lightning strikes, but we can do our part by following fire ban rules.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, there were 52,641 human-caused wildfires in 2021 across the United States, totaling 3,023,759 acres of land and forests that will take years and years to grow back. We can all do our part by practicing fire safety and respecting the fire bans when they are in place.
Due to our diverse climate, Colorado residents know that wildfires can occur at any time of the year. Keeping fire-wise guidelines with your landscaping in mind and prepping your yard for drought will give you some peace of mind – and some curb appeal, to boot.
If you want help designing drought-tolerant, fire-resistant landscaping, get in touch with us today.