A Fire-Safe Garden resource guide

By: Dave Egbert
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Dave Egbert is both a firefighter and a gardener on the Big Sur coast of California. His experience as a…

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Fire Spinner ice plant (Delosperma ‘P001S’) makes a hardy, colorful, fire-safe groundcover. Photo: courtesy Plant Select

Fire-Safe Dos and Don’ts

DO:

  • Limb up trees 10 feet or more above the ground within the first 100 feet of the home.
  • Open up and exaggerate spaces between the natural landscape and cultivated plantings.
  • Remove old, dried-out, or drought-stressed specimens in favor of healthy, strong plants and clear dead material from mature trees and shrubs.
  • Control invasive weeds by keeping soil covered with mulch, gravel, groundcovers, bulbs, and wildflowers.
  • Keep areas closest to the house free of weeds, litter, and woodpiles and keep these areas mulched with gravel or other nonflammable materials.
  • Irrigate plants close to structures within the first 30 feet of the home—the so-called Lean, Clean, and Green Zone—to keep foliage moisture levels high in summer and fall.
  • Reinvigorate shrubs and perennials with regular pruning and remove old plants with dense masses of dry growth.
  • Choose built-in hardscape features like seat walls and low benches in place of flammable wood or plastic patio furniture.

DON’T:

  • Remove low-growing herbs and leaf duff to expose bare soil that encourages invasive weed growth.
  • Clear-cut areas down to bare soil, which promotes erosion and weed growth.
  • Replace native vegetation with highly flammable non-native plants such as juniper, eucalyptus, pine, acacia, and tall ornamental grasses.

Lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina), verbena, and euphorbia are ideal fire-safe perennials and are both deer-resistant and water-wise. Photo: Dave Egbert

Bibliography:

Firescaping by Douglas Kent, Wilderness Press 2005

Introduction to Fire in California, David Carle, University of California Press, 2008

Fire, Chaparral, and Survival in Southern California by Richard Halsey 2nd edition, Sunbelt Books, 2008

The New Sunset Western Garden Book, Edited by Kathen Brenzel  9th edition, Time Home Entertainment Inc., 2012

California’s Fading Wildflowers by Richard Minnich, University of California Press, 2008

Plant-Driven Design, by Scot Ogden and Lauren Springer Ogden, Timber Press, 2009

California Native Plants for the Garden by C. Bornstein, D. Fross, and B. O’Brien, Cachuma Press, 2005

Low growing rockroses (Cistus sp.) and Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas) thrive in the outer zones of the fire-safe garden. Photo: courtesty of Plant Select.

Plant Sources:

Annie’s Annuals, Richmond, CA.  www.anniesannuals.com

High Country Gardens, Santa Fe, NM. www.highcountrygardens.com

ForestFarm nursery, Williams, OR. www.forestfarm.com