PUBLISHED IN THE RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL
By Ashley Andrews and JoAnne Skelly
The USDA designated nine counties in Nevada, including Washoe County, as primary natural disaster areas due to our moderate to severe drought conditions. These conditions have increased our ever-present fire danger. As gardeners, we can take precautions now to prevent and reduce wildfire damage this season by employing a landscape design technique called firescaping.
Firescaping involves selecting and placing plants and landscape accents in a way that protects the property while beautifying it. Plant selection is a key component of firescaping. While there are no fire-proof plants, some are slower to ignite and produce shorter flames and less heat if ignited. When working in the landscape this season, select those safer plants. They have high moisture content, are low growing and lack flammable compounds. High moisture content plants are herbaceous, succulent and green. They are non-woody and include grasses, flowers, bulbs and some groundcovers. These plants burn only after exposed to enough heat for the tissue to dry out, and they burn more slowly and less intensely than low moisture content plants. Low-growing plants are safer choices in the landscape than taller plants because they produce shorter flames and have less biomass to burn than taller plants. Many evergreens are not safe landscape choices. They contain flammable oils, resins and waxes that turn into combustible gases that burn very intensely once ignited. However, deciduous plants, or plants that lose their leaves in the fall, are good choices because they tend to lack these chemicals.
Drought-tolerant plants that work well in a firescape include:
- Flowers– Achillea species (Yarrow), Coreopsis species (Coreopsis), Echinacea purpurea (Echinacea), Hemerocallis species (Daylily), Iberis sempervirens (Candytuft), Oenothera species (Evening primrose), Penstemon species (Penstemon), Sedum species (Stonecrop).
- Groundcovers and Conservation Grasses– Agropyron cristatum (Crested wheatgrass), Cerastium tomentosum (Snow-in-summer), Delosperma cooperi (Hardy iceplant), Helianthemum nummularium (Sunrose), Thymus species (Thyme), Vinca minor (Dwarf periwinkle).
- Shrubs– Berberis species (Barberry), Euonymus species (Euonymus), Forsythia species (Forsythia), Hibiscus syriacus (Rose-of-Sharon), Mahonia aquifolium ‘Compacta’ (Dwarf Oregon grape), Prunus species (Bush cherry), Rhus species (Sumac), Rosa species (Rose), Spiraea species (Spiraea), Syringa vulgaris (Common lilac).
- Trees– Acer ginnala (Amur maple), Catalpa species (Catalpa), Celtis occidentalis (Hackberry), Fraxinus species (Ash), Malus species (Apples and crabapples), Prunus species (Plum or cherry), Quercus species (Oak).
In addition to plant selection, plant placing and landscape accents are also important to firescaping. One easy-to-remember plant placement rule is “Lean, Clean and Green” within 30 feet of your home. Lean, clean and green landscapes feature short, small-leafed, herbaceous plants and are free from dead vegetation and debris. Landscape accents that work well in firescaping include water features; noncombustible hardscapes like patios, boulders, walkways and walls; and noncombustible mulches like pea gravel, decomposed granite or rock. These accents make the landscape a more inviting space while creating fuel breaks. It is a myth that firescapes have to be boring or barren. To learn more about creating a beautiful firescape for your home, visit www.livingwithfire.info.
Ashley Andrews is the Horticulture Assistant and JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension Educator with Cooperative Extension. For more information about gardening and landscaping in Nevada, contact a Master Gardener at 775-336-0265 or firstname.lastname@example.org.