Washington State University Extension

Garden Tips


GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Published August 7, 2016

Kudos to our firefighters for their hard work in fighting the recent wildfires and successfully protecting local homes. Since they do their part in keeping us safe, local home owners should help in the protection of their properties with fire-resistant landscaping. In the short term, there are some easy steps you can take to provide some protection to your home. If your home is situated in an area vulnerable to wildfire, the longer term actions of designing and creating a fire-resistant landscape should be undertaken.

Mulches: Many of you know I favor bark mulches in the landscape because they add organic matter to the soil as they decompose, conserve soil moisture, control weeds, and keep the soil cooler than rock mulches. However, when working to create a fire-resistant landscape, the use of bark or wood chips should be eschewed in favor of non-flammable gravel or rock mulches. Gravel or rock mulches are best especially when mulching any areas that are close to buildings, fences, wood decks, or other wooden structures.

Raised Beds: Raised beds are a big trend in gardening right now, but they are predominantly constructed out of wood. In fire-vulnerable areas, it is better to build raised beds with bricks, concrete blocks, rocks, corrugated metal, or other non-flammable materials.

Landscape Maintenance: While not everyone craves a neat and tidy landscape, yard cleanup and the removal of plant litter is one way to reduce fuel for potential wildfires. So get busy now raking up the layers of dead pine needles and arborvitae foliage beneath these evergreens, dry leaves that have piled up in nooks and crannies around the yard, or bunches of dry plant litter anywhere else. If pines or other needled evergreens are situated close to your house, regularly remove their litter that accumulates on the roof and in gutters.

Keeping potential sources of fuel in mind, be sure to store any firewood 30 to 100 feet away from structures and also keep vegetation away from area. Eliminate any piles of plant litter, such as grass clippings, you may be accumulating. Also, remove dead shrubs and tree branches in your landscape. Cut down weeds and brush in areas of your property that are not landscaped.

Lawns: In regions like ours where the supply of irrigation water is a constant concern, limited areas of lawn are advocated to conserve the amount of water needed to keep grass green during the heat of summer. However, green lawns do resist fire well and efforts should be taken to maintain this green space around your home. However this is not a license to apply water heedlessly. You should still water more deeply, less frequently to save water and promote a healthy green lawn.

Trees: Because I like trees and appreciate the cooling value of their shade, I have ten trees in my yard. If I was in a fire-vulnerable area, I would need to consider pruning off the lower limbs of my trees to remove this ladder fuel. Ladder fuel is plant vegetation, green or dry, that permits fire to ascend into the tops of trees. Pruning off limbs from 6 to 15 feet up is recommended. For the health of the trees, this is best done with proper pruning cuts when the trees are young.

Landscape Design: Creating a well designed “firewise” landscape is very important if your home is situated where it is vulnerable to wildfires, especially if in the wildland-urban interface area. You can help defend your home with sound firewise landscaping. For information on firewise landscape design, go to the University of Idaho’s publication “Protecting and Landscaping Homes in the Wildland/Urban Interface” available at For a list of firewise landscaping plant materials go to:

Garden Tips, WSU Extension, Benton County, 5600-E West Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336-1387, 509-735-3551, Contact Us

WSU Extension, Franklin County, 1016 North 4th Ave, Pasco, WA 99301-3706, 509-545-3511, Contact Us
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