Residential firewise landscaping

Gil Clifton

The monthly Speakers Series, sponsored by the Living Well Committee, was held on May 29 despite severe weather in the Denton area. A special thanks is owed to the presenters, Shirlee Singer and Danny Thomas, for their presentation under the circumstances. Shirlee is extremely knowledgeable on horticulture and landscape design and has spent most of her professional career teaching at several different universities. Danny, a resident of Robson Ranch, has wide experience as a firefighter and presently is a Denton deputy fire marshall.

Shirlee has specialized in landscape design and noted that a typical residential landscape takes three years to reach full design. She had many useful suggestions regarding the choice of plants for landscaping design near a residence. For example, plant beds such as islands can be separated from the house itself by hardscape like walkways or terraces made of brick or stone. Also, avoid tall bushy plants near the structure, and, of course, refrain from planting continuous flammable plants. Specific to local landscaping, she provided residents with handouts of plants native to the Denton area and of “fire-wise” plants developed by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension for the team designing the Fire-wise Garden in front of the Denton County Emergency Services Center.

A really interesting observation Shirlee touched upon was that most house fires caused by wildfires burn from the inside out. This is due to flaming embers from surrounding trees and other plants blowing onto the roof of a house, causing a fire in the attic that then spreads downward throughout the structure. She made a few suggestions to minimize this risk, including being careful about storing flammable items in the attic and recommending that trees be planted more than 30 feet from the house itself. Unfortunately, the latter suggestion would be hard to implement here at Robson Ranch because of our relatively small lot sizes.

The final major topic discussed was Xeriscape landscaping, which was initiated in the 1980s by the Denver Water Department to minimize residential fire hazard. This part of the presentation included several suggestions, such as using succulent plants as part of fire-wise landscaping and avoiding plants with high levels of resins and oils because of a higher fire risk. Also recommended was to not use wood mulch in the 30-foot zone around a house structure and to not plant trees within the 30-foot zone.

The Living Well Committed Speakers Series will continue monthly for the rest of the year so please check the committee website,, as well as the weekly HOA announcements for specific presentations. We will look forward to seeing you there soon!