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You Can Grow It: Firewise landscaping tips to make your home safe

With hot, dry summer weather arriving in Idaho, now is the time to prepare by practicing firewise landscaping.

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho's growing population means more people are moving into areas that were once considered wildlands. This means a bigger threat to life and property in the event of a wildfire, but firewise landscaping can make all the difference.

Cooler and wetter weather over the past several weeks has turned the foothills green and has helped to push back wildfire season a little in Idaho. However, we know that hot, dry summer weather is arriving, so now is the time to prepare by practicing firewise landscaping. 

Idaho is no stranger to wildfires. Every year, tens of thousands of acres go up in smoke, but Idaho's wildfires aren't limited to the forests and rangelands. 

In just the past two decades, destructive and even deadly wildfires have occurred in populated areas of the Treasure Valley. As the population continues growing, we're moving farther into the urban-wildland interface, where fires are a constant risk. 

"So, firewise landscaping is a concept to landscape in order to protect your home from wildfire," Southern Idaho Project Manager at Idaho Firewise, Brett Van Paepeghem said. 

Idaho Firewise is a non-profit organization that promotes wildland fire education. Van Paepeghem also manages the Firewise Demonstration Garden, where you can get ideas on landscaping with beautiful, but less-flammable plants. 

“Certain plants to use and/or avoid and how they’re arranged is very important," Van Paepeghem said. "So, we want to use the shorter, lower growing ground-cover close to the home, and leaving some empty space here and there. We don’t want to just fill the entire landscape full of plants.”

The Firewise Garden is arranged in three zones, each representing a specific distance from your home and showcasing examples of plants that will thrive in Idaho, while being more fire resistant. The idea is to provide a defensible space around your home, so that an approaching wildfire has less fuel available to burn. 

The foothills along the edge of the Treasure Valley offer some beautiful views. That's why Bill and Cindy Clark built a home here, but they also know they're living where wildfires could threaten their home. 

They found lots of local resources with ideas on how to implement firewise landscaping around their home, including the Idaho Firewise Garden in Boise.

“You have people that you could contact and they would be very helpful," Cindy said. "I would say that the Firewise Garden in Boise, the people who work there were instrumental in our decision on what plants to use surrounding our house."

At the Clark's home, they've introduced lots of native plants into their landscape. 

“We decided we wanted it to blend in and be safe all at the same time," Cindy said. "So, in my mind, that’s why we went this route."

Following firewise guidelines, the Clarks left open areas within 30 feet of their home, with stone and gravel surfaces and a few low-growing fire-resistant plants. 

Beyond that, up to 100 feet from their home, the Clarks incorporated native plants, including grasses and small shrubs and wildflowers that would also be slow to burn. 

A recirculating water feature trickles down the hillside beyond their house, with larger trees and shrubs at least 100 feet from their home. 

“Right here in the foothills, it’s a sagebrush desert environment and there is a lot of natural fuels that would promote burning in the landscape," Cindy said. "So, anyway you can help reduce the fuel load for a possible wildfire would be one thing that would be very important.”

For Bill and Cindy Clark, firewise landscaping was a smart choice. 

"I don't think we would make any changes."

You can learn more about firewise landscaping at the Idaho Firewise Garden, adjacent to the Idaho Botanical Garden. It's a perfect resource for planning and designing your firewise home landscape. 

The Idaho Firewise Garden is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with your paid admission to the Idaho Botanical Garden.

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