Many in the Colorado foothills area have been surprised to learn that you can have a landscaped yard and still be firewise – it just takes a little knowledge and know-how to protect your property from wildfires.
Others are shocked to learn that just because a plant is native, doesn’t mean that it is fire-resistant or appropriate for use in a firewise landscape. In fact, all plants are flammable at different times of year and in different locations, so careful planning is necessary.
As other resources have noted, one of the basic firewise principles is to keep your landscape “lean, clean, and green.”
Lean, Clean and Green: Firewise Landscaping Principles
Ensure that there is space between plants, shrubs, and trees. Space plants further apart from each other and plant in small gatherings rather than all together. This will help prevent any fires from spreading rapidly.
Loose twigs, branches, flowers, and pine needles are straight-up fuel for fires. Sweep, rake, prune, mow, and remove any of these potential fuel sources whenever you notice them.
Choose plants that retain water and be sure to keep everything well irrigated. Dead plants are easily combustible so remove annuals at the end of the season, keep grass mowed, and keep an eye open for any damaged plants that show signs of die-back.
Drought- and Salt-Resistant Plants
Drought-resistant and salt-resistant plants are often also fire-resistant. Plants that can survive drought conditions often have a high moisture level and don’t work well as fuel for a wildfire (think of succulents, for instance).
Similarly, plants that remain hardy after being exposed to salt tend to fare better in firewise landscapes. This is not always the case, but it is a good place to start, especially with the long-lasting drought conditions that have plagued our area and with all the salt that is used to melt ice in the winter.
Deciduous trees are more firewise than conifers. This is because conifers contain a lot of oil or resin (read: fuel), while deciduous trees’ leaves contain more water. During the winter, the loss of leaves and the higher moisture content means that deciduous trees remain less of a fire hazard (but remember to remove the leaves from the ground!)
This doesn’t mean that you need to cut down all of your evergreen trees immediately, however. Ensure that they are a fair distance apart to reduce the chance of fire spreading, and keep them properly pruned.
If you’d like to add conifers to your property, choose a type with thick bark, long needles or a type that loses it’s lower branches naturally, often referred to as self-pruning trees. It’s recommended that they be at least 15 feet from any structures (we recommend conifers should be no closer than 30 feet from each other) and that dead needles are removed as often as possible. Use gravel mulch instead of highly flammable pine bark, and make sure any pine needles are removed from your gutters (more information here).
Choosing Firewise Plants
When choosing plants for your firewise landscape, pick those that:
- don’t shed a lot of branches or leaves,
- grow slowly and need little pruning,
- remain close to the ground,
- have high moisture content, and
- have open, lose branches and not a lot of vegetation.
Below are some examples of fire-resistant plants that generally do well in our area and are readily available.
Herbs & Perennials
- Native or woolly yarrow
- Whiplash daisy/trailing fleabane
- Blanket flower
- Bearded iris
- Silver lupine
- Prairie coneflower
- Broom groundsel
- Smooth goldenrod
- Little-leaf mountain mahogany
- Redtwig dogwood
- Apache plume
- Cliff/rock spirea
- Wax flower
- Creeping grape holly
- Western sand cherry
- Antelope bitterbrush
Large Shrubs & Trees
- Rocky mountain maple
- Thinleaf alder
- Flowering plum
- Western Mountain Ash
If you’re not sure where to start, we can create a firewise landscape for you, starting with ensuring that there’s sufficient defensible space around your home to keep you safe.
For more details, check out all of our fire mitigation services.
We hope we’ve helped you understand that you can have an attractive, landscaped AND firewise yard with a little planning and upkeep.