Fire Away: Remember To Plant Fire-Resistant Plants, Not Just Drought-Resistant

Are you a homeowner who is hoping to re-landscape your home to add more drought-resistant plants? That's a responsible thing to do, especially if you live in the western United States or in an area where drought can happen easily. But you have to keep fire risk in mind, too. Drought-resistant plantings can still dry out when they don't receive adequate water. That increases the risk of fire consuming your home even if you follow "defensible space" rules.

Defending Your Space

Defensible space is the space that surrounds your home and is specially landscaped to reduce the risk of flames spreading to your house. So if there is a brush fire, and you have adequate defensible space surrounding your home, the flames from the fire should have a harder time spreading through the space. If a spark from the flames lands in the space, the spark will have a harder time igniting the plants in the area.

That doesn't mean the plants will never ignite, or that sparks won't land on your house and cause trouble. What you're trying to do is reduce the possibility of something happening. And the fewer flames there are erupting in your yard, the easier it will be for firefighters to put out existing flames.

Defensible space requirements change. For example, San Diego's concept of defensible space changed drastically after the 2003 Cedar fire. Now, all combustible vegetation within 100 feet of your house has to be cleared. If someone else's property line is closer than 100 feet, they have to clear the area. And local fire departments can, in writing, require homeowners to clear even more vegetation.

Landscaping Your Space

You can -- and should -- have landscaping in that 100-foot zone to prevent erosion. So that means you need to look into landscaping with those fire-resistant plants. If you want to plant a vegetable garden or things like rose bushes by your home, contact your local fire department and local landscaping companies to find fire-safe ways to do so. Gardens aren't banned -- you just need to be very smart about how you plant and care for them.

Fire-resistant/retardant plants (you'll find both terms) are available, and landscaping companies, such as ScenicView Landscapes, and nurseries have done a lot of research, along with local and state fire units, to identify excellent combinations of drought- and fire-resistant/retardant plants. Some excellent fire-resistant -- and drought-resistant -- plants include wild strawberry, California redbud, and coast live oak.

If you'd like more information on how to create a beautiful, productive, and fire-safe landscape in a drought zone, talk to local landscaping companies that have been working with drought restrictions. They can give you plenty of options for creating a lovely garden that conserves water and keeps your home safe.