Vail Landscape Logic column: How to make your landscape firewise
When selecting plants, look for firewise plants with the following qualities recommended by Colorado State University. Many of these plants are also xeric, which makes the property owner both firewise and water conscious. Plants should:
• Grow without accumulating large amounts of combustible dead branches, needles or leaves, like aspen.
• Have open, loose branches with a low volume of total vegetation, for example currant and mountain mahogany.
• Have low sap or resin content, like many deciduous species.
• Have high moisture content, like succulents and some herbaceous species.
• Grow slowly and need little maintenance or pruning, like sedums, speedwells, thymes and ice plants.
• Be short and grow close to the ground, like some wildflowers and ground covers.
• Can re-sprout following fire, thus reducing re-landscaping costs, again, like aspen.
Destructive wildfires this week in eastern Colorado mark the beginning of fire season along the Front Range and are a reminder to property owners statewide they should always be vigilant. Being firewise is especially a smart move for property owners in the high country, where wildfires represent an ongoing threat. In addition to creating defensible space by removing fuel plants around homes and other structures, landscaping choices can help mitigate the danger.
The No. 1 cause of structural loss is attributed to embers launched a quarter to a half mile ahead of the fire front. During really large wildfires, they can be launched as far ahead as a mile. Selecting more firewise vegetation and placing it strategically around structures can work against these embers igniting and setting off more fires.
Guard your structures
Here are guidelines — endorsed by the Colorado State Forest Service — to follow within 30 feet of structures.
• Emphasize low-growing herbaceous (non-woody) plants that are kept green during the fire season through irrigation, if necessary. These herbaceous plants include turf, clover, groundcovers, bedding plants, bulbs, perennial flowers and conservation grasses.
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• Mulches should include rock and non-combustible hard surfaces, such as concrete sidewalks, brick patios and asphalt driveways. Areas abutting the foundation and any vertical elements such as fences and decks should have a 5-foot, non-combustible buffer or border.
• Shorter deciduous shrubs are preferred, but if you use larger varieties, plant deciduous ornamental trees and shrubs only if they are kept green and free of dead plant material. Ladder fuels must be removed, and individual plants or groups of plants should be arranged so that adjacent wildland vegetation cannot convey a fire through them to the structure.
• Avoid or minimize the use of ornamental coniferous shrubs and trees, such as juniper, arborvitae and mugo pine and tall exotic grasses, like pampas grass.
• Become familiar with local requirements before removing wildland vegetation. In some areas, substantial removal of wildland vegetation may not be allowed. Where permitted, remove most wildland shrubs and trees from this 30-foot zone and replace them with more desirable alternatives. Individual specimens or small groups of wildland shrubs and trees can be retained if they are kept healthy and free of dead wood, are pruned to reduce the amount of fuel and kept clean of ladder fuels.
Firewise landscaping is precautionary and protective. And, such as any landscaping, represents an investment in the ongoing value and curb appeal of our homes and businesses.
Becky Garber is a member of the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado, of which Neils Lunceford, a landscaping company, is a member. You may contact them at 970-468-0340.