Fire-Safe Landscape Design Explained

A fire-safe landscape is not a barren landscape.

“When a wildfire comes through your neighborhood, could your house survive on its own?” A dramatic question, but one we need to consider when living in an environment where wildfire is a common occurrence. “fire-safe landscape design” is a landscape that reduces house and property vulnerability to wildfire. The goal is to develop a landscape with a design and choice of plants that offers the best fire protection and enhances the property. The ideal is to surround the house with things that are less likely to burn. It is imperative when building homes in wildfire-prone areas that fire safety be a major factor in landscape design. Appropriate manipulation of the landscape can make a significant contribution toward wildfire survival.

LINK:LivingWithFire.info: What Can Homeowners Do Right Now?

A fire-safe landscape design integrates traditional landscape functions and a design that reduces the threat from wildfire. It does not need to look much different than your traditional landscape. In addition to meeting a homeowner’s aesthetic desires and functional needs, such as entertaining, playing, storage and erosion control, a fire-safe landscape also includes vegetation modification techniques, planting for fire safety, defensible space principles and use of fire safety zones.

FireSafe Demonstration Garden

Through proper plant selection, placement and maintenance, we can diminish the possibility of ignition, lower fire intensity, and reduce how quickly survivability. In fire-safe landscape design, plant selection is primarily determined by a plant’s ability to reduce the wildfire threat. Other considerations may be important, such as appearance, ability to hold the soil in place, and wildlife habitat value. The traditional foundation planting of junipers is not a viable solution in a fire-safe landscape. Minimize use of evergreen shrubs and trees within 30 feet of a structure, because junipers, other conifers and broadleaf evergreens contain oils, resins, and waxes that makes these plants burn with great intensity.

Use ornamental grasses and berries sparingly because they also can be highly flammable. Choose “firewise” plants. These are plants with a high moisture content. They are low growing. Their stems and leaves are not resinous, oily or waxy. Deciduous trees are generally more fire resistant than evergreens because they have a higher moisture content when in leaf, but a lower fuel volume when dormant.

Simple diagram showing plants and vegetation for a fire-safe home

Placement and maintenance of trees and shrubs is as important as actual plant selection. When planning tree placement in the landscape, remember their size at maturity. Keep tree limbs at least 15 feet from chimneys, power lines and structures. Specimen trees can be used near a structure if pruned properly and well irrigated.

A fire-safe landscape uses driveways, lawns, walkways, patios, parking areas, areas with inorganic mulches, and fences constructed of nonflammable materials such as rock, brick, or cement to reduce fuel loads and create fuel breaks. Fuel breaks are a vital component in every fire-safe landscape design. Water features, pools, ponds or streams can be used also as fuel breaks. Areas where wildland vegetation has been thinned or replaced with less flammable plants are the traditional fuel break. Remember, while bare ground is an effective fuel break, it is not generally recommended as a fire-safe landscape element due to aesthetic, soil erosion, and other concerns.

A home located on a brushy site above a south or west facing slope will require more extensive wildfire safety landscape planning than a house situation on a flat lot with little vegetation around it. Boulders and rocks become fire retardant elements in a design. Whether or not a site can be irrigated will greatly influence location of hardscape (concrete, asphalt, wood decks, etc.), plant selection and placement. Prevailing winds, seasonal weather, local fire history, and characteristics of native vegetation surrounding the site are additional important considerations.

The 30 feet closest to a structure will be the highest water use area in the firewise landscape. This is an area where highly flammable fuels are kept to a minimum and plants are kept green throughout the fire season. Use well-irrigated perennials here. Another choice is low growing or non-woody deciduous plants. Lawn is soothing visually, and is also practical as a wildfire safety feature. But extensive areas of turfgrass may not be right for everyone. Some good alternatives include clover, groundcovers, and conservation grasses that are kept green during the fire season through irrigation. Rock mulches are good choices. Patios, masonry and rock planters are excellent fuel breaks and increase wildfire safety. Be creative with boulders, riprap, dry streambeds and sculptural inorganic elements. When designing a landscape for fire safety remember, less is better. Simplify visual lines and groupings. A firewise landscape lets plants and garden elements reveal their innate beauty by leaving space between plants and groups of plants. In fire-safe landscape design, the open spaces are more important than the plants.

What Can Landscape Managers Do to Help Honey Bees?

Most people have heard about the decline in honey bees during the last several years. Are there things that landscape professionals or home gardeners can do to help?

Better Nutrition, Fewer Pesticides

beepollen3

(c) Kathy Keatley Garvey

The actual cause of the honey bee decline is still uncertain. What is known is that a number of factors are probably involved. For instance, honey bees are in their most robust condition and able to best contend with stresses when they are well fed. In addition to water, honey bees require nectar sources for carbohydrates and a varied mix of pollens to provide proteins, lipids, vitamins, minerals, sterols, antioxidants, and other nutrients.
Pesticides can also be involved in bee decline, especially when applied to plants when they are in bloom and bees are foraging. Many insecticides are highly toxic to bees including virtually all organophosphates, carbamates, and pyrethroid materials.Drought, flooding, and conversion of former foraging grounds into large agricultural monocultures, highways, airports, developments, and so forth have led to honey bee malnutrition in many locations. Also, in the last 20 years beekeepers have been encountering a series of previously exotic pests that invade the hive and kill bees, such as the varroa mite; new honey bee diseases, including Nosema ceranae; and many RNA viruses.

If not killed in the field, pollen-foraging bees can collect residue-contaminated pollens and bring them back to the hive for immediate consumption or long-term storage. There are serious concerns over the chronic, sublethal effects of these residues on the physiology of immature and adult bees.

beepollen2

(c) Kathy Keatley Garvey

A newer class of insecticides, the nicotinoids, which include imidacloprid, clothianidin, and dinotefuran, also pose hazards for honey bees. These products are systemic materials that move through the plant and will be included in nectar and pollen of flowers when they bloom. Although the neonicotinoid residues may not kill bees immediately, they may have sublethal effects, such as the suppression of immune and detoxification systems, that cause bees to be more sensitive to other stresses.

Use Plants and Pesticides Wisely

There are several ways landscape managers can help protect bees. When designing
or replanting a landscape, consider honey bees and other pollinators in your plan. Include plants honey bees prefer, and try to ensure that several bee-friendly plants will be blooming throughout the year.

Also, avoid applying highly toxic insecticides, especially when plants are in bloom. Be aware that neonicotinoids tend to be stable compounds that can remain in the soil and in plants for months and still be present when the plants bloom.

Even when plants aren’t in bloom, use nonchemical management methods or pesticides with little or low toxicity to bees whenever possible, as pesticides may leave toxic residues or there may be flowering weeds or other blooms nearby.

For information about relative toxicity of pesticides to bees, consult How to Reduce Bee Poisoning from Pesticides at http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PDF/PMG/pnw591.pdf. Toxicity of many landscape and garden pesticides to bees is also listed in the UC IPM landscape and garden pesticide active ingredient database at http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/menu.pesticides.php.

 

Many thanks to the University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources for this wonderful article. Specifically, 

—Eric Mussen, Entomology,
UC Davis, ecmussen@ucdavis.edu

Special thanks to Kathy Keatley Garvey for the beautiful photos in this article. Kathy works at the University of California, Davis, with Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist in the Department of Entomology and Nematology

Signature Landscapes Summer BBQ Party – June 21st

Don’t Even Risk It… Join Us for Brisket!

It’s that time of year again… when the Signature Landscapes team brings the tables and tents to the front yard and feeds our extended family. And this time it’s special, being our 12th birthday and all!

bbq invite cp 2

Save the Date!

FRIDAY JUNE 21st
11:30 am – 1:30 pm

Signature Campus
in South Reno

3705 Barron Way
Reno, NV 89511

CLICK FOR MAP

 

Bring your team and make sure they’re hungry!

We want you and your office to enjoy in the fun and celebrate our 12th Birthday with us. Everyone will enjoy tons of great food and drinks while jamming to the tunes on a beautiful sunny summer Friday.

Smoke ’em if you got ’em! 

Do you remember Gordon’s BBQ last year? Well, he’s back in the giant red mobile smoking rig with even more great smokey goodness to kick off the summer.  Come early to get your mitts on the secret snacks… The Smoked Jalapeno Bacon Poppers are truly amazing. If you didn’t try them last year, it meant you showed up late. They went fast.

RSVP Please 

Let us know you’re coming! Email Steve at steve@siglands.com and let us know who you are and how many are coming

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Signature’s Team Hauls Trash Out of Lemmon Valley

It was a great big day for trash. Somehow, it always seems to be a big day for trash. But on Saturday, May 11th, trash took a big hit from the Signature Landscapes team out at the Lemmon Valley trash pick-up site. The Signature team, their large dump truck, and about 20 other community heroes gathers together for the Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful Great Community Cleanup.

This site was just one of more than 10 sites designated as heavily trashed by the organization.  The KTMB Community Cleanup has been taking place for more than a decade, and the trash just keeps on coming.

Chemane Trimble, one of Signature’s owners can’t believe the amount of garbage that people just throw out in the open.

“Beds, carpets — there’s a Reno Gazette-Journal machine that I think someone gutted and threw out here,” Trimble said. “A Ski-Doo. And the tires — just dozens of them.”

This year’s cleanup netted 103 tons of waste.

Trash Talking at the Picnic

This is a great video highlighting many of the great folks who donated their Saturday to helping the Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful Great Cleanup a huge success. Give props to the Signature guys at the end!


2013 KTMB Cleanup - Lemmon Valley

Tires were the standout item this year. More than 500 were collected during the event. Firestone, Howard’s Chevron and Tires Plus will recycle them.

“Tires are one of the saddest items to see dumped because they only cost $2 to recycle, but by the time we organize a cleanup and haul them out, the cost is 20 times that amount,” Christi Cakiroglu, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “People think they’re saving a couple of bucks, but the cost to the community is immense, and they end up paying far more in other ways.”

UNR’s Resource Economics Department in 2009 found that a vast majority of Northern Nevadans are concerned about illegal dumping and would be willing to report it.  The hotline to report illegal dumping is 775-329-DUMP.

 

Signature helps wounded hero and family enjoy a new home

Defenders of Freedom Home

A Northern Nevada soldier & family enjoy new home in Somersett

Signature Landscapes Defenders of Freedom work

Signature crews installing landscape

In May of this year, a group of volunteers including Signature Landscapes raised the support walls for a Reno house being built for Sgt. Thomas “Trey” Humphrey and his wife, Lindsey.

Humphrey, 29, a graduate of Foothill High School in Henderson, suffered severe leg, arm, facial and brain injuries when he stepped on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in November 2010. His squad was trying to maneuver on an enemy machine gun position at the time.

The 1,739-square-foot home, valued at $275,000, is being donated to the couple as the first such project sponsored by the Reno chapter of the Texas-based organization Defenders of Freedom.

Some 40 local companies and individuals have donated more than $200,000 in cash, supplies and services for the Reno home to date.

houseduringconsructionDefenders of Freedom ~ Northern Nevada is a local organization that was formed to build fully compliant homes for our American heroes with physical challenges faced as they return home. Defenders of Freedom is a nonprofit (501c3) organization. All donations, grants, and in-kind services are 100% tax-deductible. One Hundred Percent (100%) of all monies contributed support construction of the homes.


 

 

Ten Questions About Defensible Space

TEN FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT DEFENSIBLE SPACE

A special post from local Living With Fire founder and fire prevention specialist,
Ed Smith, Natural Resource Management Specialist for UNCE

As northern Nevada communities grow, the likelihood of homes being threatened by a wildfire also grows. A critical factor in determining whether or not a home will survive a wildfire is the type, amount, and maintenance of vegetation surrounding the house. In the 1980’s, the term “defensible space” was coined to describe vegetation management practices aimed at reducing the wildfire threat to homes. This fact sheet addresses some of the frequently asked questions regarding defensible space.

1) WHAT IS DEFENSIBLE SPACE?
Defensible space refers to that area between a house and an oncoming wildfire where the vegetation has been modified to reduce the wildfire threat and which provides an opportunity for fire fighters to effectively defend the house. Oftentimes, a defensible space is simply a homeowner’s backyard.

2) WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN VEGETATION AND WILDFIRE THREAT?
Many people do not view the plants growing on their property as a threat. But in terms of wildfire, what is growing adjacent to their homes can have considerable influence upon the survivability of their houses. All vegetation, including naturally occurring native plants and ornamental plants in the residential landscape, is potential wildfire fuel. If the vegetation is properly modified and maintained, a wildfire can be slowed down, the length of flames shortened, and the amount of heat reduced, all of which contribute to a house surviving a wildfire.

3) WHY IS DEFENSIBLE SPACE NECESSARY? WON’T THE FIRE DEPARTMENT PROTECT MY HOUSE?
Some individuals incorrectly assume that a fire truck will be parked in their driveway and fire fighters will be actively defending their homes if a wildfire approaches. During a major wildfire, it is unlikely that there will be fire fighting resources available to defend every home. Even with adequate resources, some wildfires may be so intense that there may be little that fire fighters can do to prevent a house from burning. The key is to reduce fire intensity as a wildfire nears the house. This can be accomplished by reducing the amount of flammable vegetation surrounding a home.

4) DOES DEFENSIBLE SPACE REQUIRE A LOT OF BARE GROUND AROUND A HOUSE?
No. While bare ground would certainly provide an effective defensible space, it is not necessary and looks bad. Bare ground may also cause soil to erode. Many homes have yards that are both effective defensible spaces and attractive landscapes with little or no bare ground.

5) DOES CREATING A DEFENSIBLE SPACE REQUIRE ANY SPECIAL SKILLS OR EQUIPMENT?
No. For the most part, creating a defensible space employs routine gardening and landscape maintenance practices such as pruning, mowing, weeding, plant removal, appropriate plant selection, and irrigation. The necessary equipment consists of common tools like a chain saw, pruning saw, pruning shears, loppers, weedeater, shovel, and a rake. A chipper, compost bin, or a large rented trash dumpster may be useful in disposing unwanted plant material. Annual maintenance will likely be required to retain an effective defensible space.

6) HOW BIG IS AN EFFECTIVE DEFENSIBLE SPACE?
Defensible space size is usually expressed as the distance from the house in which vegetation is managed to reduce the wildfire threat. The necessary distance for an effective defensible is not the same for everyone, but varies by slope and type of native vegetation growing near the house. An example of defensible space distances is presented on the back page of this publication. Contact your local fire marshal for suggested defensible space distances specific to your area. If your recommended distance exceeds your property boundaries, contact the adjacent property owner and try to work cooperatively on creating a defensible space. The effectiveness of defensible space increases when multiple property owners work together.

7) WHAT SHOULD I DO TO MAKE MY PROPERTY DEFENSIBLE?

Within the recommended defensible space distance, conduct the following activities:

  • Remove dead vegetation (i.e., dead trees and shrubs, dried grass and flowers, dead branches, fallen leaves, etc.).
  • Remove lower branches from mature trees to a height of eight feet from ground level. Also, remove small trees and shrubs growing under mature trees.
  • Remove tree branches within 15 feet of a chimney or stove pipe. Keep vegetation clear of power lines and decks.
  • Remove the majority of native shrubs and trees within 30 feet of the house. Retaining a few well maintained native shrubs and trees within the 30 feet is acceptable. Avoid leaving native trees in front of large windows and adjacent to decks.
  • Beyond 30 feet, remove native shrubs to provide a separation between shrubs of approximately three times the shrub height (i.e., if shrub height is 2 feet, then 3 x 2 feet = 6 feet separation). Thin mature native trees to provide a separation of at least 10 feet between tree crowns.
  • Selectively thin and maintain remaining native vegetation at a shorter height through pruning.

Selecting ornamental plants for use in the defensible space should emphasize:

  1. herbaceous plants (i.e., non woody plants such as turfgrass, perennial and annual flowers, etc.) over shrubs and trees.
  2. shorter growing plants over taller plants.
  3. deciduous plants over evergreens

8) DOES HAVING AN EFFECTIVE DEFENSIBLE SPACE MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
Yes. Investigations of homes threatened by wildfire indicate that houses with an effective defensible space are much more likely to survive a wildfire. Furthermore, homes with both an effective defensible space and a nonflammable roof (e.g., composition shingles, tile, metal, etc.) are many more times likely to survive a wildfire than those without a defensible space and flammable roofs (i.e., wood shakes or shingles).

9) DOES HAVING A DEFENSIBLE SPACE GUARANTEE MY HOUSE WILL SURVIVE A WILDFIRE?
No. Under extreme conditions, almost any house can burn. But having a defensible space will significantly
improve the odds of your home surviving a wildfire.

10) WHY DOESN’T EVERYONE LIVING IN A HIGH WILDFIRE HAZARD AREA CREATE A DEFENSIBLE SPACE?
The specific reasons for not creating a defensible space are varied. Some individuals believe that “it won’t happen to me”. Others think the costs (i.e., time, money, effort, etc.) outweigh the benefits (i.e., improved protection for property). But some have failed to implement defensible space practices because of lack of knowledge or misconceptions.


Thank you to Ed Smith and Sonya Sistare For individuals wanting to learn more about defensible space, contact out YOUR LIVING WITH FIRE office or fire marshal.

Signature recognized by Nevada Chamber of Commerce

Community Spirit Award Finalist

The_Chamber_LogoSignature recognized as an exceptional business making a difference? You bet! And that’s really good news for the community.  Imagine coming to work to find Signature is one of the top three businesses recognized for this prestigeous award. The award notes we have demonstrated a sense of caring and responsibility for others that connects citizens and solves community problems.

View Signature’s Social Responsibility Page

Wow! Thank you to the Reno/Sparks Chamber, the non-profits we support, and the crews on staff that work hard to support our incredible community!


 

April showers, May flowers and June tomato towers

With water resources looking to be tight throughout much of northern Nevada, many of us are wondering what we should plant in our gardens this year – or should we plant at all.

If there are no April showers, should we scratch the May flowers?  Should we grow tomatoes or corn or petunias?  Mr. Vegetable, where are you?

Nasturtium

Nasturtium – colorful and edible.

First things first… get the garden off to a good and healthy start.  

  • Clean out the debris like leaves and dead plants that has collected over the winter.
  • Till the garden by double digging or even consider the new trend which is triple digging.  You have to dig down to the third shovel depth to till. This is done in Africa with amazing results in production.
  • Add compost.  Tilling plus adding compost will improve soil quality and help it hold more water.
  • Use mulch this season because it keeps more water in the soil and lowers evaporation.  Wood mulch, straw and even newspapers and grass clippings all do the job.

Be sustainable in your plant choices and practices.

Growing food is not a waste of water – it puts the most locally-grown food possible on your table.  Just do it wisely.

Here are some tips:

  • Grow more edibles than ornamentals.  Tomatoes have many uses on the menu and are easily consumed.  Pumpkins, on the other hand, are generally more ornamental and tend to overrun your garden if you’re not careful.  Scale back on the pumpkin patch and devote more resources to food crops.
  • Dress up your edible garden with companion flowers.  Nasturtium aren’t just pretty, they taste good in a salad.  Marigolds help deter pests.  Using dual purpose flowers like these in your garden gives more bang for your water buck.
  • Plant in blocks, rather than in rows.  Putting plants closer together creates shade that holds in moisture.
  • Control weeds.  They will suck up moisture your veggies need.
  • Use containers to grow some herbs, veggies and summer annual flowers.  Potted plants generally need less water than those planted in the soil.  Containers can also be watered efficiently with drip irrigation.
  • Recycle water from the kitchen.  After swishing a head of lettuce in a big bowl of water to clean it, pour the water on the pot of herbs outside.  It’s a few more steps, but the effort reminds us how precious our water is and that we need to use it wisely and even “twicely” whenever we can.

Productive landscapes add value to our lives and are a responsible use of resources.  This year, plan ahead and water wisely.

Phil Petrocco Joins Signature Landscapes

Phil Petrocco

Phil Petrocco

Signature Landscapes is proud to announce Phil Petrocco has joined the Commercial Landscape Construction team and will leading business development efforts for Northern Nevada and California. Petrocco has an extensive background in large-scale landscape construction projects working with companies such as SoilTech out of Las Vegas and Gothic Landscape as the landscape manager in charge of the recently completed I-580 freeway construction.

Petrocco’s experience in working alongside government and municipal entities means he is uniquely suited to providing solutions to the larger, complex landscape challenges faced in our region today. He is a licensed Right of Way pest control operator for the State, and carries a C-10 contractor license for Utah and Arizona.

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