Firewise Privacy Screening

Is your privacy screening flammable? 

Burned row of Leyland cypress
A row of Leyland Cypress quickly
caught fire, intensified the flames
and carried fire closer to homes
during the Oak Knoll Fire in 2010
(photo: Ali True).
All plants will burn given the right conditions. To minimize the probability of wildfires igniting and spreading in our community, be mindful of your wildfire risks regarding the type of plants used for privacy screening around your home. Consider the following when designing, planting, or maintaining your privacy screening vegetation.

The vegetation planted between homes can be a readily ignitable fuel during a wildfire and significantly increase the probability of nearby structures catching on fire. No matter their species, use recommended maintenance guidelines to keep all plants healthy, lean, clean, and green around your home to give them the best chance to resist embers and heat. 

Highly flammable plants like Leyland cypress, arborvitae, junipers, Italian cypress, or bamboo should not be used for privacy screening. They can ignite easily, burn intensely, and quickly spread fire to your home, accessory structures, or your neighbors structures. When burning, highly flammable plants emit lots of ember and amplify the radiant heat around them, creating dangerous fires between structures. Many homes in Ashland have only 6 to 20-feet between them. What's between your home and your neighbors? 

Proper plant care and maintenance is critical to mitigate wildfire risk, no matter the type of plant. However, low-flammability plants are more difficult to ignite and burn and are recommended when selecting plants for privacy screening between and around homes.


Generally, highly flammable plants have: 

  • Post-fire_Low-flammability_Screening
    Though it is not recommended to have shrubs this large
    so close to the eaves of a home, we appreciate that this 
    pruned and maintained lower-flammability shrub, did
    not ignite, even possibly helping to absorb radiant heat
    emitting from the burning home next door
    (photo: Brian Hendrix).   
    Fine, dry, or dead material within the plant, such as twigs, needles and leaves
  • Volatile waxes, terpenes, or oils in their leaves, twigs and stems
  • Strong odor when leaves are crushed
  • Sap that is gummy, resinous, and has a strong odor
  • Loose or papery bark​

While, generally, fire-resistant plants have: 

  • Moist and supple leaves
  • Minimal dead wood and do not tend to accumulate dry/dead material within the plant
  • Low sap or resin materials
  • Sufficient water and nuturients to be healthy​
  • Fire-resistant does not mean fire proof! Even fire-resistant plants that are not well maintained can burn. Be sure to keep all of your landscape plants healthy with appropriate watering and pruning

Maintenance is Critical.

As with any fire-resistant landscaping, maintenance is critical. Deep watering, mulching, and the removal of deadwood and leaves help to maintain the overall health of the plant, thereby reducing the flammability of the overall landscape. Keep the following maintenance tips in mind when preparing your vegetation for wildfire: 
  • water adequately,
  • fertilize as needed,
  • control pests,
  • prune to remove dead material,
  • and remove dry leaves or weeds annually that accumulate between plant
Heavy shearing or pruning may promote a dense outer crown, resulting in less sunlight reaching the interior of the hedge and causing dieback of twigs. This dieback will create flammable material in the center of even healthy, well spaced shrubs and trees. 


Fire Resistant shrubs and trees for privacy
Click the photo to view the full text
The 2012 OSU Extension Publication Fire Resistant Shrubs and Trees for Privacy in Southwestern Oregon contains suggestions for shrubs and trees recommended for privacy plantings that meet a variety of growing conditions and requirements. This publication provides examples of 'fire-resistant' shrubs and trees that can be used to create a more fire-safe home landscape while providing the privacy you desire.​ 


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