Smart landscaping choices crucial to home defense |

Smart landscaping choices crucial to home defense

JoAnne Skelly

Nevada Wildfire Awareness Week is over. Unfortunately, wildfire season never ended this past year with the Caughlin and Washoe fires destroying homes in the fall and winter. We have to face it: we live in a hazardous wildfire environment all year long. Since there will never be enough fire trucks to defend each and every house, we homeowners have to take responsibility for our home’s survival. Actions we take before the fire to reduce and modify fuels (which includes our ornamental and native plants) can make a difference.

As gardeners we can contribute to improving the fire safety of our homes by modifying our landscapes to make them less ignition prone and less combustible. Our goal in landscaping should be to develop a landscape with a design and plant choice that offers the best defensible/survivable space while enhancing the aesthetics of our property. This is firescaping, the combining of fuels management with landscape design.

Sometimes people express concern that changing out a landscape to one that is more focused on wildfire defense means bare ground and that it will be ugly. A well-done firescape doesn’t need to look any different from a traditional landscape design; in fact, it can look better. We can easily have beauty and reduced fire risk.

Firescaping might add more noncombustible hardscape such as patios, boulders, walkways, walls, etc. It may include noncombustible mulches such as pea gravel, decomposed granite or rock. It can create fuel breaks and may use water features. It eliminates tall plants along the foundation, particularly the junipers that often make up a traditional landscape. It replaces them with lower-growing, herbaceous (non-woody) perennials right next to the house. This and other practices can reduce ignition potential from flying embers and slow a fire’s spread.

When you plan your firescape, think, “Lean, Clean and Green” within 30 feet of your home. Lean means shorter plants, less than two feet tall with small leaves. Clean means nothing dead in, under or around the plant. When green, healthy and moist, herbaceous plants, such as flowers, are better choices than woody trees and shrubs. Create a noncombustible area three to five feet from the house. Keep it free of woodpiles, wood mulches, dead plants, dried leaves, needles and debris. Cut tree limbs back from chimneys and the roof.

In your landscaping plans this year incorporate firescaping, because, as this year’s Wildfire Awareness Week theme states: “Wildfire survival takes a community. You can make a difference!” For more information on firescaping or defensible space, go to part of University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

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JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at or 887-2252.

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