Firewise Landscaping

Regina P. Bracy, Owings, Allen D., Chen, Yan, Orr, Paul R.  |  12/2/2008 4:49:54 AM

A current effort at the Hammond Research Station is the development of a “firewise” landscape around the new office building. We do not hear a lot about this topic in Louisiana, but the firewise effort in home construction and landscaping needs to be considered.

The Louisiana Department of Agriculture (LDAF) has a public education program to raise awareness of the wildfire potential in wildland-urban interface areas. They have created brochures called "Fire Safe Homes in the Louisiana Wildland/Urban Interface" and “Prevention: A Home's Best Defense from Wildfire.” The LDAF incorporates firewise materials into Project Learning Tree, a training program for teachers, and community workshops put on by the Louisiana Urban Forestry Council. LDAF personnel attend parish fairs and festivals with an exhibit, and give out brochures. They also host prescribed burning and firewise workshops coordinated with The Nature Conservancy in southeastern Louisiana. Long-range plans include the possibility of two wildland-urban interface centers at Alexander State Forest in Woodworth, La., and at the LSU AgCenter’s Hammond Research Station in Hammond, La.

Some ornamental plants commonly used in Louisiana that would be recommended for “firewise” landscaping efforts would include:

  • Penstemon
  • Dianthus
  • Daylilies
  • Coreopsis
  • Echinacea
  • Gaillardia
  • Iris
  • Buddleia
  • Rudbeckia
  • Ajuga
  • Veronica
  • Salvia
  • Phlox
  • Sedum
  • Alliums
  • Yucca
  • Yarrow
  • Beech
  • Ash
  • Maples
  • Prunus
  • Vinca major
  • Roses
  • River Birch
  • Quercus
  • Crataegus
  • Honeylocust
  • Salix/Willows
  • Ligustrum
  • Dogwood
  • Viburnum

When designing and installing a firewise landscape, consider the following:

  • Local area fire history.
  • Site location and overall terrain.
  • Prevailing winds and seasonal weather.
  • Property contours and boundaries.
  • Native vegetation.
  • Plant characteristics and placement (duffage, water and salt retention  ability, aromatic oils, fuel load per area, and size).
  • Irrigation requirements

To create a firewise landscape, remember that the primary goal is fuel reduction. To this end, initiate the zone concept. Zone 1 is closest to the structure; Zones 2-4 move progressively further away.

  • Zone 1. This well-irrigated area encircles the structure for at least 30' on all sides, providing space for fire suppression equipment in the event of an emergency. Plantings should be limited to fire resistant species spaced at distances to account for mature plant spreads.
  • Zone 2. Fire resistant plant materials should be used here. Plants should be low growing, and the irrigation system should extend into this section.
  • Zone 3. Place low-growing plants and well-spaced trees in this area, remembering to keep the volume of vegetation (fuel) low.
  • Zone 4. This furthest zone from the structure is a natural area. Thin selectively here by removing understory plants and removing ornamental or naturalized plantings that are crowded in terms of needed space requirements based on mature plant size. Remove highly flammable vegetation such as pine trees, wax myrtles, ornamental gresses, etc. Also, brown leaf litter and pine straw needles should be removed.

Also remember to:

  • Be sure to leave a minimum of 30' around the house to accommodate fire equipment.
  • Carefully space the trees you plant.
  • Take out the “ladder fuels” — vegetation that serves as a link between grass and tree tops. It can carry fire to a structure or from a structure to vegetation.
  • Give yourself added protection with “fuel breaks” like driveways, gravel walkways, and lawns.

When maintaining a landscape:

  • Keep trees and shrubs pruned. Prune all trees up to 6' to 10' from the ground.
  • Remove leaf clutter and dead and overhanging branches.
  • Mow your lawn regularly.
  • Dispose of cuttings and debris promptly, according to local regulations.
  • Store firewood away from the house.
  • Be sure the irrigation system is well maintained.
  • Use care when refueling garden equipment and maintain it regularly.
  • Store and use flammable liquids properly.
  • Dispose of smoking materials carefully.
  • Become familiar w/ local regulations regarding vegetative clearances and green debris disposal. Follow manufacturers’ instructions when using fertilizers and pesticides.
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