As more people move into forested and rural areas, interest in designing an attractive landscape that doubles as a fire barrier is on the increase. The challenge is to create a so-called “defensible space” around your home. This is an area from which common wildfire fuels – grasses, brush, trees, other flammable material– are removed and replaced with plants and hardscape elements that can slow and even stop a fire.
A well-designed defensible space also gives firefighters a safe area in which to battle a fire if one approaches. Local safety authorities often warn homeowners in wildfire-prone areas that they cannot send emergency workers in to protect a home without a defensible space.
Creating a defensible space around your home doesn’t mean you have to pave over your yard or in any way sacrifice a beautiful garden for your family’s safety. Here are some tips on creating a defensible space that is both attractive and an effective barrier against wildfire.
1. Surround Your House with Non-flammable Material
Make the first three to five feet around your home flagstone, gravel, or other non-flammable material. Though it’s ideal not to have any wide swaths of plant material in this perimeter, there is much you can do with the creative use of containers and hardscapes like paths, seating, artworks, and decking made of fireproof material.
2. Don’t Crowd Plants Close to Your Home
The closer plants are to your house, the lower growing and wider spaced they should be. Don’t ever plant in large bunches. Instead, spread out your greenery in small clusters broken up by decorative rocks, paths, nonorganic mulches, or leaf mold.
3. Use a Variety of Fire-resistant Plants
Use a wide variety of plants, so that disease or insects won’t cause damage (making the plants drier and more likely to act as kindling) across your whole landscape. Favor native plants that stay healthy in your local conditions and look for plants known to be fire-resistant.
Here are a few of our favorite fire-resistant plants:
|Columbine||Hens and Chicks||California Lilac|
|Ice Plant||Shrub Rose||Sedum|
|Saponaria||California Poppy||Lily of the Valley|
|Red Valerian||Ornamental Onion||Alpine Strawberry|
4. Keep the Area Around Your House Free of Combustible Materials
Make sure your defensible space stays clear of brush, weeds and other garden waste. Keeping up with your yard work is always important for the health and beauty of your landscape. But in a wildfire-prone area, a tidy garden is also vital to protecting your home.
If you live in an area that sees even the occasional wildfire, you have an obligation to your family, your community, and the first responders who risk their safety to protect you to create a defensible space around your home. But you don’t have to sacrifice a beautiful landscape. Get creative with rock gardening, planters and containers, and native plantings for a gorgeous – and safe – fire-smart outdoor area.