The Bay Area has already seen numerous destructive wildfires in 2020, and there are still several weeks of hot, dry weather ahead of us. As wildfires become an increasingly common threat to the region, many homeowners are turning to “firescaping,” which is the coordinated use of fire-resistant plants and building materials around the home. With the right plants and hardscaping features, you can make it harder for wildfire to take hold and spread. Firescaping is a type of landscaping, which means you still have many options to create a garden that reflects your personal style. Aside from improving safety and adding beauty, firescaping can increase the value of your home.
Choosing the right plants for firescaping
Even homeowners who don’t live next to open spaces would be wise to choose plants and landscaping materials that reduce their homes’ wildfire risk. While no plant is fireproof, certain species are more prone to ignition because of the oils or resins they contain, because they produce a significant amount of dead leaves or needles, or because they can lose moisture rapidly.
When firescaping your property, you should consider removing any eucalyptus, fir or pine trees located close to your home, as these varieties are known for having poor fire resistance. Similarly, juniper and rosemary should not be planted close to homes, outbuildings or driveways because they contain particularly combustible oils. Bamboo is a popular option for privacy screening because it grows dense quickly. But bamboo also dries out easily and frequently sheds its leaves, which means it could easily catch fire in red flag conditions.
You have many options for more fire-resistant plants when planning your garden. Trees are important because they help shade a property and keep it cooler in summer months. Hardwoods like maple, poplar and cherry are better at withstanding fire (although no tree is flameproof). For groundcover, you can easily find plants that are both fire-resistant and attractive. Plants and shrubs to consider include French lavender, ice plant, aloe, sumac and hedging roses, which are better at holding in moisture and resisting ignition. As an added benefit, many of these plants are also drought-resistant, which allows them to thrive during the Bay Area’s long dry season. CAL FIRE maintains an extensive list of fire-resistant plants.
Firescaping and hardscaping
The plants and trees you choose aren’t the only factors that will determine how fire may affect your property. The materials you use for pathways, groundcover or retaining walls near your home (the hardscaping elements) can help or hinder a progressing wildfire.
Mulch is commonly used to protect plant beds and keep the ground cool. However, very fine or stringy mulch dries out easily and turns into tinder. Firescaping guidelines recommend using large chip mulch varieties for groundcover, but they also state that homeowners should avoid using any kind of mulch adjacent to the home. Instead, consider placing gravel, flagstones or pavers—these options are ember-resistant and may act as a buffer around your home. Similarly, a stone walkway, a patio or even a deck can help create an ignition-resistant zone next to your home.
If your property is located on a sloped lot, you may have a retaining wall to help mitigate erosion. A stone wall can also act as a firebreak on your property. Retaining walls push back against the airflow of a wildfire, slowing the spread of embers and flames. A qualified landscape contractor can create hardscaping elements that enhance the beauty and safety of your property.
Firescaping and garden maintenance
A central aspect of firescaping is consistent garden maintenance. The plants close to your home should be well-irrigated and regularly cut back. Garden maintenance prevents the accumulation of dry, dead leaves and the incursion of weeds, which can help fuel a wildfire. Similarly, it’s important to keep tree branches at least five feet from the roof of your home or any structures on your property. Find a top rated landscape maintenance company in your area to keep your garden green, healthy and fire-resistant.