of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
Dr. Leonard P. Perry, Extension Professor
Although landscapes in the East aren't as prone to fires as those in
the West, by paying attention to certain garden practices you can make
your landscape less prone to fires. The keys are to reduce potential
fuel for fires, and to interrupt paths fires may take.
Even in eastern states, especially in hot and dry summers, having a
landscape that is fire resistant can minimize fires starting through careless
or accidental means. And it can help minimize a fire spreading, especially
if in a neighborhood with other houses close by, should a fire begin in
a building. A fire-safe landscape can increase property values, conserve
water, and perhaps lower insurance rates.
Creating a fire-safe landscape isn't expensive, relying on your choices
of landscape materials, and the design. It is more important "how"
you plant, than "what" you plant.
Many western sources downplay fire-resistant plants, as any plants will
burn. Some plants, though, are prone to igniting more quickly.
When choosing plants for a fire-resistant landscape, select those with:
If you use wood for heating, don't store firewood next to the house or
garage, even though you may be tempted due to the convenience.
Avoid using lots of bark mulch in beds near structures. If a flower
bed, plant the flowers closely so little or no mulch is needed. If
a shrub bed, you can use a woven cloth landscape fabric, covered with a
thin layer of mulch for aesthetics. Fine mulch burns more quickly than
that in large chunks.
Shrubs should not touch each other (this helps prevent fires spreading),
and be at least three feet from the sides of home or buildings.
Keep nearby trees pruned so they don't overhang roofs, preferably ten feet
away, nor touch each other.
If trees are over 18 feet tall, prune branches at least six feet from the
ground. This will help prevent lower branches from igniting should
there be a low ground fire and spreading upward-- the "fire ladder" effect.
Also keep shrubs from the base of trees.
If in a wooded area, try and keep trees and native vegetation cleared within
50 feet of the home or structures-- the "fire safe" or "defensible" space.
Beyond that, it may be good to thin the vegetation by 50% the next 50 feet.
This may be through uniform thinning out, or removing plants in patches
while leaving others. The latter may be more useful to wildlife which shares
Having a fire-safe landscape doesn't mean bare earth! Keep trees
furthest from the house, shrubs closer, and flowers or lawn nearest the
Plant choice isn't as important a factor in the East as in the West, but
what is important is to keep plants near buildings from drying out.
This keeps them more attractive, healthy, resistant to pests and diseases,
and of course less prone to burning should there be a fire. All plants
will burn, but healthy ones burn much slower. You may install irrigation
in this area. This could be as simple and inexpensive as a drip hose
through the beds. Adding plenty of compost and peat moss to beds
increases their water-holding capacity, so helps keep plants from drying
Keep dead twigs pruned from shrubs and trees, and of course remove dead
plants that will only dry up and create potential fuel for fires.
Similarly, keep fallen leaves raked from under plants, especially near
homes. This is especially true for evergreens and conifers such as
pines and spruces, which shed many dry needles that will burn quite easily
Keep mulch and compost piles at least 30 feet away from homes if possible.
This is especially true if they are large, if a dry season, or if they
contain much dry material. Turning them every few days keeps the heat from
building up too much on the inside, and helps speed up the composting process.
Use caution when using fire outside, whether this be flame weeders (definitely
don't use near or on bark mulch!), grills, or smoking. If burning
old grass and vegetation, do so only when safe weather conditions, and
according to local laws and permits.
Don't mow dry grass. This not only helps the grass survive, but avoids
the potential for sparks from mowers to ignite dry grass and thatch.
Don't park on lawns. This helps in many ways besides just helping
the grass survive. It avoids compaction of soils, so water in heavy
rains can be absorbed and not all run off, possibly straining town sewers
or polluting waterways. It avoids gas and oil leaks, which will kill
grass and provide potential fuel for fire.
Keep a shovel, sand, and fire extinguisher handy, just in case.
Some examples of hardy, fire-resistant plants to consider for northern
the least seasonal (usually fall) dropping of leaves or needles for conifers
open branching habits (they provide less fuel for fires)
non-resinous sap (that is those without thick, sticky sap such as junipers,
pines, spruces, and firs)
less total branches and leaves (again, less fuel for fires)
high moisture content in leaves (these burn and ignite more slowly); avoid
ornamental grasses next to homes
slow growth, so less pruning (to keep open as noted above)
lawns, annuals, and bulbs--all
perennials--many, including yarrow, bergenia, coreopsis, coralbells,
daylilies, hosta, iris, perennial geraniums
groundcovers--ajuga, bearberry, pachysandra, creeping phlox, sedum
shrubs (deciduous)-- burning bush, mockorange, spirea, snowberry, lilac,
shrubs (evergreen)--cotoneaster, Carol Mackie daphne
trees (tall)--many deciduous such as maples, beech, ash, mountain ash,
trees (short)-- serviceberry, birch
A home is perhaps the largest investment most make in their lifetimes.
Landscape lean, clean, and green to create a fire-safe landscape.
Return to Perry's
Perennial Consumer Page
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