Landscaping: Think ahead with fire-resistant plants

I recently came across this article which was written a few years ago but is (unfortunately) again appropriate. It provides some guidance on the risk of forest fires. VV

With smoke-filled summers on your mind, why not consider landscaping plans to protect your own property? There’s nothing more terrifying than the roar of a forest fire – but one that threatens your home is the most terrifying of them all.

The theme of fire retardant landscaping is vast and involves planning from the actual construction and placement of your home. For most of us, however, a few steps taken during garden planning can provide some protection in the event of a fire.

An excellent resource is the University of Idaho’s expansion brochure, “Protection and Landscaping of Homes in the Wildland-Urban Border” – a valuable resource for home builders, landscapers and home gardeners seeking a fire hazard advantage. An Idaho Forest, Wildlife and Range Experiment Station publication available from Forest Service and / or Extension Offices as Station Bulletin # 67, Entry # 844.

Today’s column covers some of the pertinent information as the fall plantings are in progress and spring plans are in the works as well.

Refractory plants have the following characteristics: high moisture content in their leaves; little or no seasonal accumulation of dead vegetation; low volume of total vegetation; an open, loose branching habit; grow slowly.

A non-exhaustive list of possible choices includes a variety of native and native ornamental plants and ground covers:

Ajuga, Allium, Aquilegia (Columbine), Arabis (Cress), Kinnikinnick, Artemisia, Asarum (Wild Ginger), Aster, Bergenia, Campanula, Chrysanthemum, Coral Bells, Coreopsis, Cotoneaster, Daylily, Delphinium, Dianthus, Echinacea, Gaillardia (sweet woodruff ), Geranium (hardy crane’s beak), grapes, honeysuckle, iris, lilies, lupine, mahonia (Oregon grape), poppy seeds, penstemon, phlox (creeping varieties), roses, rudbeckia, salvia (sage), sedum, vinca, violets, Wisteria.

Succulents: hen and chicks are the ideal refractory plant. With other succulents like rock cress, moss rose, sedums like stonecrop can fall between rocks to find pretty garden spots that don’t attract fire.

Shrubs include serviceberry (pictured), barberry, burning bush, butterfly bush, chokecherry, cornus (red and yellow), coriander, currant, elder, forsythia, lilac, ninebark, ocean spray, pachistima (mountain lover), wild strawberry, raspberry and Blackberry, rhododendron, snowberry, sumac, syringa, viburnum.

Trees: maple, horse chestnut / horse chestnut, alder, hawthorn, ash, apple / crab apple, aspen. Poplar and poplar, grasshopper (black and honey), mountain ash, prunus (cherry, plum, plum), willow.

Grasses: wheatgrass, buffalo grass, orchard grass, fescue, ryegrass, bluegrass. Green lawn is very fireproof. So if you have lawn area, keep it well watered all summer or keep it low, especially near the house.

Points to Consider: When caring for your landscape, you need to actively reduce fuel build-up through regular pruning, mowing, raking, and removal. The less accumulated plant debris that accumulates, the slower a fire will spread and the lower your spot fire potential. Pay special attention to flammable materials that touch the house. Keep the roof and gutters away from needles and other foreign objects. Don’t let wind deposited plant debris build up in corners or on the foundation of the house.

If trees have only a few branches 10 to 15 feet apart, trim them back. If many branches are crowded together on neighboring trees, it may be time to thin out a few more trees. This will also improve the health of the remaining trees. Prune dead branches as needed. Regularly trim or pull the seedlings after they appear in the undergrowth. Water directly and deeply the trees you hold. Lawn irrigation usually does not penetrate the sward to the tree roots.

In relation to the entire landscape, remember to keep the basics in mind: clean the roof and yard of dirt frequently, concentrate plant material on “islands” surrounded by non-flammable walls (rocks or bricks) and well-watered or short lawn . Prune trees from the base six to 15 feet and treat a minimum of 100 feet around your home by removing or replacing easily flammable brushes, shrubs, and dead trees.

In the summer, in the event of impending wildfire, be ready at all times: keep fire authority numbers near your phones; Have emergency food, water, clothing, pet supplies and transportation to hand for evacuation – including horses and other livestock; Always park in the direction of escape with an additional ignition key that is always close at hand. If there is time, moisten decks, siding, lawns and roofs, cover attic and basement vents, turn off gas supplies, and remove gas grills from structures. Turn on all indoor and outdoor lights to make it easier for firefighters to find your home in the dark.

Hopefully this last paragraph will be contentious. But being prepared is always the best way to go. The brochure warns that in the end “there will be no refractory plant materials. Landscaping and plant care (pruning and watering) are far more important than choosing refractory or fire-endangered plant materials.”

Valle Novak writes the Country Chef and Weekend Gardener columns for the Daily Bee. She can be reached at or by phone at 208-265-4688 between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m.

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