Pamplin Media Group – GARDENING JOURNEYS: Focus on fire resistant landscaping

What can we do to save our property and our lives as we enter the hot, dry months of this coming summer?

May is Wildfire Preparedness Month. The recent catastrophic fires in Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada that wiped out residential developments really caught my attention. With our strong winds, I worry, could we be next? What can we do to save our property and our lives? Surprisingly, our landscaping choices can make the difference.

First, create a defensible space around your house. Three components include: using fire-resistant building materials, reducing natural fuels around your home, and using fire-resistant plant materials in your landscape.

Defensible space: Within five feet of your home, limit plants to low-growing, non-woody varieties. Keep trees and shrubs (scale fuels) away from your home. Use decorative cobblestones and crushed stone or gravel in place of bark chips around the house. Within 30 feet of your home, prune trees at least 10 feet apart and keep them at least 10 feet apart. Rake and remove fallen pine needles, cones and leaves. Within 100 feet, maintain grooming of trees and shrubs and don’t plant them so densely.

Your plant material choices can also slow or encourage a fire. Characteristics of flammable plants are those that contain dead or dying twigs, needles, and leaves, have waxy or oily stems and leaves, have exfoliating bark, or emit a strong odor when crushed. Junipers or shrubs are extremely flammable. Virtual torches. Other flammable shrubs include arborvitae and mugo pine.

Fire resistant plants: Are those that do not ignite easily from a flame or embers. Shrubs and trees with very wet, soft and breakable leaves. They contain very little dead wood, do not accumulate dead matter in the plant, and the sap is very watery. For more information, you can consult the Oregon State University publication “Fire-Resistant Plants for Home and Landscape”, No. PNW 590. Available online or in print.

Last month I wrote about aquatic plants. Oregon State University Publication No. EM9136, “Water-wise Gardening in Central Oregon,” includes trees, shrubs, and perennials, some of which are also susceptible to fire. Reviewing both lists of plants, I picked out some of my favorites that meet both criteria and are deer resistant. (Yes, they exist!) They are listed below.

Plants resistant to fire, water and deer:

Ornamental trees include red and sugar maple, hawthorn, serviceberry, Autumn Purple® ash, green ash, honey locust and pin oak.

Shrubs and vines include Oregon Grape Holly, Yucca, Elderberry, Willow, Silver Lace Vine, Cotoneaster, Spirea, Barberry, Fragrant Abelia, Fothergilla, Snowberry, Lilac, Mockorange, Rose of Sharon, Serviceberry, Kelsey Dogwood, and Viburnum (lantana, trilobum and lentago).

Great ground covers include Deadnettle, Dianthus, Aubretia, Hardy Cactus, Hens & Chicks, Ice Plant, Sea Thrift, Snow-in-Summer, Soapwort. Speedwell, Woolly Thyme, Thyme and Arabis (Rock Cress) species.

Perennials are those that overwinter here and bloom again the following year, and include Basket-of-Gold, Blanket flower, Columbine, Coneflower, Coreopsis, Delphinium, Blue Flax, Bergenia, Bearded Iris, Lavender, Pineleaf Penstemon, Red-hot Poker, and yarrow.

All of the plants listed above are hardy for central Oregon and make many beautiful and colorful additions to any garden.

For more information on how to prepare your home for fire season, you can check with your local fire department to see if they can offer on-site tours. For those with access to a computer, see, or Defensible Space Cal Fire, PRC Publication 4291. Jefferson County landowners with acreage in specified areas may also apply for a Defensible Space Grant and receive $500 to help clean up your land.

After studying this subject, I have work to do. My Mugo Pine and Shrub Juniper are heading to the recycling pile. More gardening tips next month.

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