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Fire-wise Landscaping

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By Kurt Stüber [1] [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons By Kurt Stüber [1] [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

With hot days and lightning, it's time to take a look at what's growing around your home

Our little slice of America has been very fortunate this year to avoid the intense summer drought that has plagued other parts of the country. The combination of high winter snowpack and high amounts of spring rain has left us with a comfortable buffer against raging forest fires. As a homeowner however, we should always be vigilant about firewise landscaping that creates a defensible space, the final piece in protecting families and houses from wildfires.  

Many used to look at this as merely a “deep forest” dwelling issue. But looking at the recent devastation that engulfed residential developments in suburban Colorado, it’s proven that under the right conditions, any wooded area is vulnerable to the sparks of lightning,  a careless camper, smoker, even an automotive accident that could set your patch of paradise on fire.

Fortunately, you can personally make many changes to your landscape to reduce your susceptibility of a home lost to wildfire. What you choose to plant and what you choose to remove from your landscape has been proven to make a huge difference in which houses remain standing after a fire.  

Consider the 100 foot circle around your home as your last line of defense against a firestorm. If you live on a slope or windy exposure, you should aim for a 200 foot buffer. Select and maintain all plants around your foundation with care, keeping them trimmed low, eliminating dead branches and leaves, and keeping them well watered during the dry months. Stay away from junipers or plants that dry out easily and look to the native plants to serve you well in a beautiful landscape that is also fire resistant.  Rhododendrons,  lilacs, mockorange, and viburnums are just a few of the gorgeous shrub choices available to plant because their leaves and branches retain a high moisture count, yet require very little water once established and kept healthy.  

You can still shade your house, choosing from maples, mountain ash, hackberry, aspens and oaks spaced and trimmed at least 10-15 foot away from each other or the house after full growth occurs. Keep only the evergreen trees with thick bark and long needles around your house. Prune all mature tree limbs 6–12 feet up off the ground to keep any low grass fire from climbing up a tree and then crowning.  Building raised beds with block, rock or brick around the house or edging your 100 foot perimeter with these hardscapes will actually slow the march of fire and serve as a welcome mat of colorful easy care perennials. Even if you have a shallow well, have enough hose or sprinklers installed to keep this essential 100 foot radius from getting dried out.  

For more information, pick up The University of Idaho Extension free publication : Protecting and Landscaping Homes in the Wild/Urban Interface or go online to read it and many more construction/remodeling hints through  www.firewise.org.

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Author info

Nancy Hastings Nancy Hastings grew up on a 300+ acre farm and is co-owner of All Seasons Garden and Floral in Sandpoint, She and her husband John have been cultivating community gardens and growing for 15 years in North Idaho. You can reach them with garden questions or sign up for classes atllseasonsgardenandfloral(at)gmail.com.

Tagged as:

landscaping, Get Growing, wildfire, firewise

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