JoAnne Skelly: Tips for successful firescaping

Firescaping is landscape design that reduces house and property vulnerability to wildfires. The goal is to develop a landscape with a design and choice of plants that enhance the aesthetics of the property while creating a defensible, survivable space around the home.

The ideal is to surround the home with plants with a high moisture content that is less likely to ignite and burn; and hardscape, such as rock, cement, patio pavers, etc. It is imperative when building homes in wildfire-prone areas such as ours that fire safety be a major factor in landscape design. Appropriate manipulation of the landscape prior to a wildfire can significantly improve the chances of a home surviving.

Firescaping integrates traditional landscape functions with a design that reduces the threat from wildfire. It does not need to look different than a traditional design. It meets the needs for beauty, entertainment, play areas, storage and erosion control. It also includes planting for fire safety, modifying vegetation, using fire safety zones and incorporating defensible-space principles.

Firescaping minimizes the use of evergreen shrubs and trees within 30 feet to 100 feet of a home (defensible space zone). Instead, it incorporates plants with high moisture content that are low-growing, less than 2 feet tall and avoids plants with resinous or oily stems and leaves. Deciduous trees generally are more fire-resistant than evergreens. Fuel breaks are a vital component of firescaping. The use of driveways, lawns, walkways, patios, ponds, areas with inorganic mulches and walls constructed of nonflammable materials will reduce fuel loads and create fuel breaks.

Think about these four concepts when purchasing plants for wildfire threat reduction:

Shorter is better than taller.

Deciduous is better than evergreen.

Herbaceous (soft and green) is better than woody.

Avoid resinous native plants, such as sagebrush and bitterbrush, in the defensible-space zone.

Through proper plant selection, placement and maintenance, you can decrease the possibility of ignition, lower the fire intensity and reduce how quickly a fire will spread on your property. Incorporating firescaping techniques might not guarantee home survival, but it often will increase the chances of survival, with or without firefighters and make defending the home less risky for firefighters. There can’t be a fire truck in every driveway, so it is up to you to take action to reduce the fire threat to your home and property before the next wildfire occurs.

May is Wildfire Awareness Month and this year’s theme is “Wildfire Happens, Is Your Community Prepared?” For more information, go to

JoAnne Skelly is associate professor and Extension educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


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