Firewise

This image shows the different zones in a defensible space residents should be aware of for fire safety.  The area around our homes can be described as immediate — 0 to 5 feet, intermediate – 50 to 30 feet, and extended — 30 to 100 feet. Firewise landscaping suggests that we plant no trees in the immediate area.

During this time as we continue to take precautions from the pandemic of COVID-19, many of us are updating the landscape around our homes. After all of the rain we have had in the last few months, the memories of prior droughts are far from our minds. There are some things we might think about when selecting plants for our landscapes, particularly the area near our homes. Firewise landscaping could be considered when selecting plants to be placed near our homes.

You might think this does not apply to you, but if you live in an area close to an green space or area that is currently undeveloped or even any place that can catch fire (that just about covers all of us) this type of landscaping should be of interest to you. The landscape that surrounds our homes can become fuel for a wildfire.

Firewise landscaping is defined as a type of landscaping that reduces the vulnerability of a residence by selecting plants that that lessen the chances of a wildfire reaching and damaging your home. The premise is to choose the right plant for the right place.

The area around our homes can be described as immediate — 0 to 5 feet, intermediate – 50 to 30 feet, and extended — 30 to one 100 feet. Firewise landscaping suggests that we plant no trees in the immediate area, trees with eighteen feet spacing in the intermediate area and trees with 6 to 12 feet spacing in the extended area. This is a consideration when clearing property where a house will be built or where a home currently exists.

Texas A&M Forest Service provides an extremely helpful brochure that describes what homeowners should consider in creating a firewise landscape. There is no plant that is fireproof, there are plants that a more fire resistant than others. A Texas plant flammability list is easily assessable on the internet by googling “Texas plant flammability list” or checking out https://txmg-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/ellis/files/2012/03/Texas-Plant-Flammability-List.pdf.

Plants have characteristics that include fire resistance and growth characteristics. Fire resistance is how readily a plant will catch fire. Growth characteristics takes into consideration the growth rate and the growth pattern of a plant. A plant that grows quickly will produce more foliage or fuel to burn in case of a wildfire. Plants that grow quickly may create more work for the owner such as trimming and maintenance. Whereas, slower growing plant will lessen the maintenance work for the owner in addition to being more firewise.

According to the Texas A&M Forest Service (see tinyurl.com/y9felbh9), “low—growing plants that are less dense are good in Firewise landscapes because they help maintain the vertical separation of fuels and produce less material to burn. A dense (compacted) plant contains more fuel than light-structured and open-branched species.” A couple of example plants that would be acceptable planted within the first ten feet of a residence are columbine and primrose — these are low-growing and moist. A couple of plants that would be acceptable within the intermediate area are asters and bluebonnets — these are taller plants. An example of plants for the extended area are butterfly bush and Turks cap — these are shrubs.

Here is a checklist that every homeowner should take into consideration when maintaining or creating a landscape:

Overgrown vegetation that is continuous and close to the house

Move vegetation at least 3 feet from the foundation of the house.

Reduce, trim or replace larger plants.

Break up plant continuity with non-combustible materials, such as rock or lawn.

Plants are adjacent to deck, porch or siding

Move plants at least 3 feet from deck, porch or siding.

Use low-growing and/or moist plants.

Ladder fuels are present where fire can climb from lower to higher vegetation

Remove ladder fuels in the 30-foot defensible space that allow the fire to climb to larger fuel, including your home.

Laddering is acceptable in isolated islands or pockets away from structures or taller fuels.

Dead vegetation present, such as leaves and pine needles

Prune and remove dead branches.

Rake and remove leaves and pine needles from under vegetation.

Large trees and plants

If present, maintain crown spacing between larger trees.

Prune dead and overhanging branches over the roof.

Locate larger trees away from the home.

Trim lower branches of trees to at least 6 to 10 feet above the ground.

Dry /tall grass or dry plants are present

Remove dry and tall grass near your home.

Keep the defensible space green and healthy.

Learn more about protecting your home and property at www.firewise.org. There is an interesting segment of Central Texas Gardening at https://www.centraltexasgardener.org/episode/firewise-landscaping/.

Planting the right plant in the right place will make a big difference!