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You Can Grow It: How to plant firewise landscapes around your home

Doing it right could mean the difference between a close call and a disaster.

Wildfire season is already underway around parts of the west, and it won’t be long until we see more widespread wildfires here in Idaho. But not all wildfires happen in the forest or out on the rangelands. They can even happen in neighborhoods where we live, especially near the foothills, or areas adjacent to open public lands.

Garden master Jim Duthie shows us a great resource for learning how to plant firewise landscapes around our homes, and how it can mean the difference between a close call, and a disaster.

“This is a great example of defensible space where the homeowner has done some improvements to the property below their home and lawn,” said Brad Bolen, Division Chief, Boise Fire Department.

As more homes go up in fire-risk areas, builders and home owners need to be firewise in their construction and landscaping.

“Considering firewise plants and firewise methodology in the landscapes is tremendously important now as people move into the foothills and out into the desert and the homes are more vulnerable as we’re finding everyday, with them burning up around the country,” said Ann DeBolt, a botanist with the Idaho Botanical Garden.

Firewise landscaping means designing and maintaining your landscape with defensible space and pathways to protect your home in case of wildfire.

MORE: How to protect homes and public lands during fire season

It also means using low-growing, fire-resistant plants and shrubs in the landscape that will slow the advance of flames near buildings.

And avoiding plants such as pines, junipers and sage, which contain oils and resins that are extremely flammable.

“So by having low, green, non-volatile, non-oil-filled plants near the home, considering hardscape locations, water features even, whether you’re on a slope or not – all of those things should be taken into account,” said DeBolt.

The Firewise Garden, a cooperative effort between the Idaho Botanical Garden, the Bureau of Land Management, and the College of Western Idaho, showcases the wide variety of firewise plants that grow well in southern Idaho.

Low ground covers, like the ice plant, a high moisture succulent with colorful flowers, the soft and silvery lamb’s ear, sulfur buckwheat with its profusion of yellow blossoms, and the Rocky Mountain penstemon, with its purple spikes.

As well as shrubs such as the Syringa or mock orange, and wild roses.

“We’ve got a great garden – it’s about two acres of firewise landscaping ideas, plant materials with great signage, nice brochures for anyone to come out and see at the Idaho Botanical Garden,” said DeBolt.

And you don’t need a professional to design a firewise landscape.

“I think because of the layout of this garden up here, laid out somewhat in zones - Zone 1, Zone 2, Zone 3. And with the plant labels and the various brochures, the beginner can figure out what to do,” said DeBolt.

These are some of the brochures that are available at the botanical garden, and at Idahofirewise.org. A little planning now will help prevent a possible disaster in the future.

The Firewise Garden at the Idaho Botanical Garden is open daily until sunset.

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