Justine Quealy
Justine Quealy
Climate Planning Technician

Gardening in the Sierra: Water Wise and Fire Safe

I inherited my love and knowledge of plants from my dad, a retired landscape architect. I grew up playing underneath his drafting table in the home office while he was drawing his landscape designs, and tagging along with him to many job sites in the Sacramento region, and it instilled in me an appreciation of beautiful plants and landscaping. When combined with my environmental sustainability background along with my understanding of the importance of water efficient gardens, an enthusiastic amateur water-wise landscape designer emerges.

COMM JQ Blog Yard 2018 06Many landscaping experts who design in the Sierra Nevada recommend planting native plants for two main reasons: water efficiency and fire safety, both of which are equally important in our drought and wildfire sensitive region. As a new homeowner, I have recently learned more about creating a defensible space around our home for fire safety and insurance purposes, and this includes landscaping with particularly fire-resistant plants. A defensible area surrounding a home or structure should have a buffer of cleared vegetation that acts as a natural barrier to wildfire, and at the very least allows room for firefighters to fight fire near your home more easily. Fire-scaping can substantially increase the chances a house will survive a wildfire, and that is immensely important to Sierra Nevada residents. Our new house in Nevada City is surrounded by an acre of pine trees and shrubs that serve as a blank slate for a defensible and fire-resistant landscape. I have spring fever and am geared up for brush clearing, tree trimming, and exploring the nursery to purchase new fire-resistant plants for my garden. 

For me, the planning and designing part is half the fun. I have done quite a bit of research into what would be best to plant around my house and in the yard. Following the advice of CAL FIRE Prepare for Wildfire guide and landscape architects who specialize in Sierra Nevada gardening, I am planning out a water-wise and fire-safe landscape for our home.

It is likely that while creating a fire safe landscape, you’ve chosen plants that are on the many drought tolerant plant lists recommended to Sierra Nevada gardeners. A water-efficient garden is cost effective, low maintenance, beneficial to wildlife, and will last a long time. Incorporating native plants into a water-wise and fire safe landscape design can increase water efficiency while also creating a fire safe buffer in the garden.

Studies show that many homes and structures in California have been saved from wildfire as a result of the owner’s diligent efforts to create defensible space with their landscaping techniques. The best way to protect a home is to clear up fine fuels such as dry leaves and grass, keep trees and shrubs properly trimmed, and design and plant a fire safe landscape.

Through proper planning, routine maintenance, and guidance from experts in fire safety and Sierra Nevada landscaping, every resident in our region can enjoy a beautiful and fire safe landscape while fostering more fire resilient communities. Now that spring has officially sprung, I hope you’re as inspired as me to check out the recommended plant lists linked in this blog post, grab your pruning shears and gloves, and create a colorful and lush landscape that will help keep your home safe in the upcoming wildfire season.