A common misconception is that defensible landscape design calls for the stripping of visually appealing trees and plants, leaving a barren wasteland of a yard. But, plants—even severely burned ones—can provide stability to the land by way of their root systems, reducing the risk of erosion after a fire. Instead, you'll want to pay attention to:
Reduction of Plant Fuels
The excess and/or dead plants surrounding your home act as fuels when fire strikes. Remove them from your defensible space, replacing more flammable varieties with fire-resistant ones recommended by your local nursery.
Use native plants in your defensible space. "Native species—a good southwestern Colorado example is buffalo grass—are fire-adapted, which means that their tops may burn off in a fire, but the roots develop to such an extent that they are the first to regenerate after a fire," says Jeff Burns, a forester with the Colorado State Forest Service's Alamosa District. These plants offer the fire-wise trait of being easy to maintain, and strong root systems will reduce property damage from erosion. The fire-adaptive traits of native plants ensure the preservation of native species and allow for a landscape that is more likely to survive exposure to extreme heat.
Trees and shrubs can be used in all defensible space zones, including Zone 1, provided they are a safe distance from other plants and any structures (more on that below). The trees you select for your landscape should be low in resin and sap content, with no rough bark. Consider replacing shrubs with a less flammable groundcover.
Consider the litter that plants create in the off-season. Try to select plants that shed minimal amounts of needles, leaves, and other waste. Any area where the ground is thickly covered with pine needles is at high risk, since the presence of very aromatic, dry litter increases flammability in fire-prone locations.
Visit a local nursery and talk to a grower about which plants will work for your defensible space. You can also call your local fire authority or contact a Firewise Community/USA representative.
Incorporate fuel breaks like gravel and stone into your landscape. In the first 3 to 5 feet of Zone 1, replace all of the plants closest to the perimeter of your home with a bed of gravel. Replace mulch with flame-resistant landscaping materials by weaving gravel and stone pathways into your design. The use of these accents will provide visitors with safe passage to view your living collection and impede approaching flame in the event of a wildfire.