Landscaping with fire in mind

Fires are an essential part of landscaping considerations because they help maintain a healthy natural ecosystem. Fire agencies have played an important role in preventing fires and protecting homes, but there are actions an individual homeowner can take to reduce their lawn’s vulnerability to fire.

When it comes to lawns and wildfire risk, two important factors contribute to wildfire risk: surrounding land use and surrounding vegetation. Living in housing estates surrounded by households makes it unlikely that wildfires will reach homes. However, living in areas surrounded by undeveloped or forested land is the home of the greatest risk in the event of a wildfire.

The type, size, and density of vegetation in the surroundings near the yard determine the risk of wildfires such a yard might have. Important characteristics of fire resistant plants (low flammability plants) include high moisture content, broad and thick leaves, low chemical content, open and loose branching patterns and low amounts of dead matter.

Thin, needle-like leaves have a high probability of drying out and can easily catch fire. The presence of chemicals including oils in the leaves and branches of a plant are said to increase its flammability. Deciduous plants are considered less flammable compared to evergreen plants. The accumulation of dead matter, including leaves and branches, profoundly influences the flammability of a plant.

Reducing plant density on undeveloped land by professionals is perhaps one of the best ways to minimize the effects of wildfires on such land. Mechanical treatment and professional application of the prescribed burning treatment can help reduce plant density on a small plot of land. In addition, creating a zone of defensive space (zone of vegetation between natural spaces and dwellings) which breaks the continuity of vegetation and allows firefighters to access and protect a dwelling in the event of fire is essential.

In the absence of firefighters, defensive space also increases a house’s chance of surviving a wildfire. It is recommended to maintain at least 30 feet of an area extending from the house to low flammability plants for effective defensive space. In addition to defensive space, the driveway leading to a house should be maintained with 15 feet clearance from vegetation to facilitate the maneuvering of trucks.

The plants that make up the landscape need to be watered enough to maintain healthy plants and prevent water stress. In cases where the house is located in areas with prolonged dry seasons and droughts, a low water use landscape with drought resistant plants is strongly advised.

Do you want to know more? Call the UF-IFAS Plant Clinic at 321-697-3000 or send gardening questions to [email protected] Additionally, we are hosting a Plant Market on February 26 at Osceola Heritage Park; at the market we will have plant vendors, classes, activities for children and more. Parking and admission to our Marché aux Plantes are free.

Terri S. Tomasini