Landscaping for wildfire prevention

By Vawn Himmelsbach

While choosing annuals for your garden this year, you may want to think about how landscaping could help your home become more resilient to forest fires and fires from nearby properties.

Whether you’re doing garden maintenance or a major landscape renovation, consider “fire-smart” options such as planting fire-resilient trees and, wherever possible, using your driveway, lawn and gravel to create a fuel break—a cleared area that diminished the risk of fire spreading.

Selecting fire-resistant plants and materials can improve the likelihood of your home surviving a wildfire, according to the folks at FireSmart Canada, a national program that helps Canadians increase neighbourhood resilience to wildfires and minimize negative impacts. FireSmart recommends planting low-density, fire-resistant plants and shrubs within 10 metres (about 33 feet) of your home. (For more tips and information, download the FireSmart Guide to Landscaping.)

Examples of fire-resistant plants—which have supple leaves and water-like sap or a low amount of sap and/or no resin material—are maple, silverbush and climbing rose, and grasses like fescue or sedge. In contrast are highly flammable plants, which have aromatic leaves or needles and papery or flaky bark. Plants to avoid include cedar, juniper, pine and spruce trees, as well as tall grasses. And opt for gravel or crushed-rock mulch (avoid bark and pine-needle mulches) and don’t pile firewood against the house.

Mowed grass, however, is fine. A mowed lawn is a fire-resistant lawn, according to FireSmart Canada, and grass that’s under 10 centimetres (four inches) in height is less likely to burn intensely.

Bringing Biodiversity

While you’re landscaping for fire safety, it’s also worthwhile choosing plants that thrive in Alberta and help the province’s most prevalent garden species: bees. Megan Evans, president of the Alberta Native Bee Council, recommends native flowering plants that have evolved and adapted to the local environment.

“Native plants are perhaps a little bit daunting for folks to incorporate into their landscaping initially,” Evans says, “because it’s a different world [compared to] ornamentals and plants from a greenhouse or nursery.”

Incorporating native plants into your landscaping offers the most diversity in support of native bees.

There are 375 native bee species in Alberta alone, ranging from generalists (bees that forage on pollen and nectar from any plant) to specialists. Evans notes some of the specialist bees are “what we call super specialists, [which] only forage on a single plant species.”

For a complete list of native plant species, visit the Alberta Native Bee Council.