5 Fire-Resistant Landscaping Ideas for Colorado Springs

Colorado crabapple tree

As a drought-stricken Colorado Springs awaits rainfall, the threat of wildfires lingers. What if your home lies in the fire’s path? With the right landscaping strategy, you can create a fire-resistant landscape that slows the fire’s spread and creates a safe zone for firefighters.

A fire-resistant landscape won’t guarantee your home survives a wildfire, but it will provide a strong defense. Here are five fire-resistant landscaping ideas for Colorado Springs that can protect your home against the raging flames.

5 Fire-Resistant Landscaping Ideas for Colorado Springs

1. Create defensible space

The secret to designing a fire-resistant landscape is to reduce your home’s exposure to fire hazards (a.k.a. fire kindling). For example, if the shrubs that grow against your home catch fire, the fire will spread to your home with ease. 

The best way to reduce your home’s exposure to fire hazards is to turn the surrounding area into a defensible space. A defensible space consists of carefully planned, sectioned areas of the landscape that slow the fire’s spread. 

So how exactly do you turn a landscape into a defensible space? The Colorado State Forest Service recommends establishing three zones around every structure in the landscape. Structures may include your house, garden shed, or garage. 

Zone 1

Zone 1 extends a minimum of 15 to 30 feet from the structure. Since fire moves faster uphill, increase the distance 5 feet or more in areas downhill from the structure. 

This zone is the closest to the structure and should contain no fire hazards. It takes a lot of work to remove fire hazards in this area, but it will be worth it in the end. Here’s how to prepare the zone: 

  • Remove all flammable vegetation within this zone. 
  • Plant nothing within the first 5 feet of the structure. 
  • Install a non-flammable ground cover, such as decorative rocks. The ground cover will help prevent the flames from coming in direct contact with the structure. 
  • Prune any plants growing in this zone. 
  • Remove all yard debris, such as branches, leaves, and twigs. Don’t forget to remove debris on the roof and in the gutters. 
  • Do not store wood piles or combustible materials in this zone.
  • Do not grow any trees in this zone. If trees already exist, hire a qualified arborist who can safely transplant them. 

Zone 2

Zone 2 begins after Zone 1 and extends at least 100 feet from the structure. A larger defense zone will be necessary if the structure is on a hill. 

  • Trees and large shrubs must be separated by at least 10 feet between the canopies. The 10-foot separation is not between the trunks’ bases but instead between their longest branches. You may need to remove trees and shrubs to achieve this distance. 
  • Remove a tree’s branches 10 feet off the ground or one-third of the tree’s height (whichever is less) to help prevent flames from climbing up the tree. 
  • Remove dead, dying, or diseased trees in this zone. 

Zone 3

Zone 3 extends beyond 100 feet from the structure. Your landscape may not extend beyond 100 feet, and that’s fine. This zone is specific to Colorado homes near wooded areas that require forest management.

  • A local Colorado State Forest Service forester can help you manage this zone. 

Advantages of a defensible space

Not only does a defensible space protect your home from a wildfire, but it also helps prevent the fire from spreading to your neighbors’ homes. 

The fire department is also more likely to target homes that have defensible spaces. Why? Because houses with defensible spaces have a greater chance of being saved and are less likely to endanger the firefighters’ lives than homes without defensible spaces. 

2. Grow fire-resistant plants

Don’t get too excited –– there’s no such thing as a fireproof plant. Fire-resistant plants help slow the spread of fire, but they aren’t invincible. 

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when growing your fire-resistant plants: 

  • Spacing is critical — plant shrubs at a distance that is twice their height. For example, a 2-foot shrub shouldn’t be closer than 4 feet from another shrub. Trees need a 10-foot distance between the longest branches. 
  • Avoid growing your plants in masses (such as a large flower bed). Grow them in small clusters instead.
  • Grow plants that retain moisture and don’t dry out quickly. 
  • Maintaining your plants is essential. Remove any dead branches, pine needles, and dead leaves littering the landscape. 

Growing plants on a slope

infographic depicting the recommended spacing for plants and trees for wildfire-prone areas

Increase the distance between the plants (or the grouped clusters) if they grow on a hill. Remember, fire travels faster uphill, which is why you want to increase the separation between plants. 

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection makes the following distance recommendations:

Slope sizeProper shrub
distance
Proper tree distance
Flat to mild slope 
(less than 20%)
2 times the
shrub’s height
10 feet
Mild to moderate slope 
(20% to 40%)
4 times the
shrub’s height
20 feet
Moderate to steep slope
(greater than 40%)
6 times the
shrub’s height
30 feet

Firewise plant recommendations

The Colorado State University Extension offers an extensive list of Firewise plant species. The list includes:  

  • Hardy yellow ice plant (Delosperma nubigenum)
  • Crabapple (Malus sp.)
  • Common lilac (Syringa vulgaris)
  • Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.)
  • Honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos)
  • Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica)
  • Utah serviceberry (Amelanchier utahensis)
  • Native yarrow (Achillea lanulosa)
  • Adams needle (Yucca filamentosa)

Pro Tip: Generally, deciduous trees are less flammable than conifers. 

Fire-resistant plant characteristics

So what exactly makes a plant fire-resistant? According to the Colorado State University Extension, fire-resistant plants have one or more of the following traits: 

  • They grow without accumulating significant amounts of combustible dead branches, needles, or leaves. 
  • They have open, loose branches with a low vegetation volume. Examples include currant and mountain mahogany. 
  • They have a low sap or resin content. 
  • They have a higher moisture content than most plants. Succulents are a good example.
  • They grow slowly and need little maintenance (they don’t need frequent pruning).
  • They are short and grow close to the ground. Examples include ground cover plants and short wildflowers. 
  • They can resprout after a fire. 

3. Apply fire-resistant mulch

Mulch helps your moisture-loving plants conserve water and reduces weed growth in the planting beds (weeds are also fire kindling). 

But before you apply mulch to your landscape, have you considered whether the mulch you’re using is fire-safe? The most flammable mulches to avoid are: 

  • Straw
  • Shredded rubber
  • Pine bark
  • Pine needles
  • Cedar bark

You might be wondering why wood chips aren’t listed above. Surprisingly, coarse-textured organic mulches, such as wood chips, are the least flammable organic mulches. Still skeptical? In a mulch combustibility study performed by the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, the composted wood chip sample was the least combustible. 

Turn to inorganic mulches for superior fire resistance, such as rocks and gravel

4. Say yes to metal

Wooden gazebos and pergolas may remind you of a Jane Austen novel, but they’ll burst into flames when a wildfire strikes. 

Metal is an excellent fire-resistant alternative. It brings beauty to the landscape without being a fire hazard. It’s low-maintenance, too, which makes it easy to love. 

Wooden structures are susceptible to decay, rot, and insects and require routine maintenance. Metal structures last much longer than wooden ones and only need a routine pressure wash to maintain their pristine allure. 

5. Build hardscapes

Hardscapes are the non-living, human-crafted areas in a landscape, such as patios, driveways, and fire pits. You can increase fire mitigation by installing hardscapes in your landscape. For example, a stone or brick pathway in your garden can help slow fires from spreading to your other landscape plants. 

Large hardscape areas, such as a patio, can create a fire-resistant zone. They also provide a safe site for firefighters to work, increasing the chances of your home’s survival. 

Why does my Colorado Springs home need fire-resistant landscaping?

In 2012 the Waldo Canyon Fire started approximately 4 miles northwest of Colorado Springs. It was the largest recorded wildfire in Colorado’s history at the time, burning nearly 18,000 acres and destroying 347 homes. 

Wildfires have the potential to spark anywhere when conditions are hot and dry. Your home may not be immune to a forest fire’s wrath, but you can take proactive steps to encourage its survival by building a Firewise landscape. Get your neighbors involved, too –– the more homes with fire-resistant landscapes and defensible spaces, the better you can slow a fire’s spread. 

Simple tasks can help make your landscape more fire-safe. Remember to: 

  • Mow the lawn
  • Water the plants
  • Prune shrubs and trees
  • Separate plants
  • Remove dead and unhealthy plant materials

Don’t have time to mow the lawn? Is the plant debris in your yard overwhelming? Hire a local lawn care professional to help with your firescaping. 

Main Photo Credit: MikeGoad | Pixabay

Jane Purnell

Jane Purnell is a freelance writer and actor in New York City. She earned her B.A. from the University of Virginia and enjoys a warm cup of French press coffee.