Ventura County Resource Conservation District
Step 2: Plan Defensible Space
Creating Defensible Space is one of the most fundamental aspects of a firescape. It acts as your last line of defense when it comes to wildfire. Keep the following in mind when you begin to plan and zone your property accordingly:
Zone 1: This areas should be within 30' of a structure.
- Great area for hardscapes such as gravel, rocks, dry rivers, and pathways.
- Eliminate all combustible materials such as dried vegetation/debris, wood chairs, litter in gutters, and wood stacks.
- Plantings here should be well maintained and short, especially near structures.
Zone 2: This is the intermediate zone, the distance should be between 30' - 100' of a structure.
- Plantings should be clumped and resemble islands with non-combustible material in-between.
- Incorporate fire breaks such as gravel, dirt, cobblestone and walkways/driveways.
- Chosen plants should remain uunder two feet (2’) tall, and grasses under four inches (4”) tall.
Step 3: Hardscape
Hardscaping is going to be your bread and butter, it is the foundation of your garden. It will not only act as a fuel and fire break, but effectively reduces maintenance needs over time.
Some common ideas when hardscaping include a rock river, crushed granite or rock pathways, retaining walls, stone pavers, stairs, and other landscaping made up of durable materials such as wood, stone, and concrete, as opposed to softscape.
A rock river is a great accent to any landscape; it can also act as an area of collection and infiltration for water. It isn't hard to do. Dig out an area that gradually declines to about a foot below grade. Line the hole with some sort of material that will retain the water. Put some boulders on top of the liner and fill the small gaps with crushed rock.
Step 4: Plantings & Maintenance
Choosing the correct plants are one of the most important factors when it comes to firescaping. Be sure to choose plants with high water content, low resin, and easy maintenance. When planting, make sure to plant in an island fashion, with plants being separated by spacious gaps. This will reduce the ability of wildfire to easily spread. Also, make sure that you follow the planting guidelines from step 3. Making sure to put the correct plant in the correct zone is very important. The closer to a structure, the smaller the plant. Keep in mind, this isn't a drought tolerant garden, it is a highly designed firescape; so hydrated plants will act as natural fire barriers.
Don't forget to check your soil and sun exposure before purchasing plants. You want to make sure you give plantings a fighting chance. Find out how long it takes for water to infiltrate your soil, then find a plant that has similar water needs. Additionally, learn how the sun crosses your garden throughout the day, track what parts have shade and for how long. Some plants can handle direct sun all day, others require a mixture of shade and sun, while some are shade only.
A maintained garden is a safe garden! A garden can be firescaped to meet every specification, but if it isn't properly maintained then the entire effort is wasted. Choosing plants with low maintenance needs and using hardscaping techniques can reduce the time it takes to maintain your garden. You want to make sure no dead debris is on the ground between plantings, that plants are properly spaced, and trees are trimmed 8'-10' from grade (and crowns are 10'-12' apart).
Creating a firescape garden plan
Creating a plan for how you want your garden to look and function is easier than you think. It not only saves you time, but money. Grab a pen and paper (preferrably graph paper) and take some notes, because you are about to get a crash course in what you can do when creating a firescape garden!
Follow these simple steps to plan YOUR garden today!
Step 1: Create a goal
Like anything else, before you start your project, consider the end goal. How do you want your garden to function and look like? Do you want to have an area for sitting, a dry river for accent, and pathways throughout for accessibility?
Once you have your goal in mind, start to think about the funadamental aspects of a firescape garden. Measure out the distance from your house to your property line, if you are more than 30 feet than you can create zones of defensible space. If you're within 30 feet no problem at all, you will have to stick with some fundamental principles but you will be able to get what you want done.
Photo Courtesy of CAL OES News
Photo Courtesy of Owen Dell
Zone 3: This is your wildland urban interface, it should be beyond 100' from a structure. Most property owners do not have the land to occupy this area. So don't worry if you can't meet this goal.
- Remove any small trees and woody debris that is in-between larger, mature trees.
- Ground should be free of plant debris and tree branches shouldn't overlap one another.
- Tree maintenance in this zone is essential. Prune tree understories eight to ten feet from the ground and choose deciduous trees and vegetation with small leaves that easily decompose.