I was out for a walk in the cool of the morning a few days ago and noticed a neighbor working hard to replace some shrubs that had evidently died over the winter. He was starting to dig holes next to the foundation and had potted ornamental junipers all spaced out ready to put in the ground. “Looks like you have a big job” I said as I strolled up his drive. He looked up and remarked, “Yes I do and as soon as I get some breakfast those junipers are going in the holes.” He added that he chose junipers because he was tired of replacing dead shrubs and knew they would survive, even in the current drought conditions. As he disappeared into his house, I thought this is not a good idea. When considering landscape plants, survivability is not the only thing you want to think about. Since we live in a wildfire prone area, we also need to consider how easily plants will catch fire in an ember storm and how hot they will burn. I remember seeing a news report where a fire official called junipers “gasoline plants”. I learned that junipers contain high amounts of oils and resins and serve as traps for dead leaves and other litter. Glowing embers that blow into them during a wildfire, or even a carelessly discarded cigarette or match can easily catch junipers on fire and they burn really hot. That doesn’t sound very fire safe and certainly not part of an effective defensible space, especially not right against your house.
I hurried home and opened the Living With Fire website…my most readily available and reliable source of information on wildfire threat reduction. Sure enough, my memory was correct and people are strongly discouraged from planting junipers within the first 30 feet from their home. Luckily, there are two upcoming events where homeowners are encouraged to remove junipers from their landscape and replant with better plant choices. They can then drop off the junipers at no charge at one of two locations. The first is May 16th at the Nevada Division of Forestry location on East Lake Blvd. in Washoe Valley, and the second event is May 23rd at the Silver Lake Fire Station with the help of the Bureau of Land Management and Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District. Moana Nursery is even giving out discount coupons to participants, and University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Living With Fire Program representatives will be on hand as well. I found all the details on the website’s Calendar of Events . I also found a lengthy list of plants adapted to our region that are more resistant to ignition and burning called “Choosing the Right Plants for Northern Nevada’s High Fire Hazard Environments.” Armed with the information ammunition I need, I am going to return and see if I can persuade my neighbor to get a refund on those gasoline plants and make some better choices to improve his defensible space landscape. Wish me luck!