Best practices for Colorado homes
More than one out of two people in Colorado live in a wildland-urban interface—an area where homes blend with wildland vegetation. In these wildfire-prone ecosystems, it’s helpful to rethink landscaping techniques.
Firewise landscaping is based on the concept of creating “defensible zones” around buildings. At its best, it not only protects homes, but it’s also attractive and supports local wildlife.
In the first five feet from a home, experts suggest using hardscaping—like stone paths and gathering areas—rather than traditional foundation plants. Move vegetation out of this five-foot zone or choose low-growing plants with low flammability. Avoid combustible materials, like wood fences and organic mulch, that can act like a fuse to buildings.
While any plant can burn in the right conditions, conifers are typically the least fire resistant. In the 30-foot zone around homes, skip conifers like junipers, arborvitaes, pines and spruces. They contain quick-to-ignite resins, saps and oils, and can release substantial heat when burning. (Some Colorado cities are asking homeowner associations to proactively replace junipers too close to homes.)
In addition to strategically choosing plants, it’s also important to think through how you space them. For example, group fire-resistant plants together in islands and surround them with non-flammable materials—like dry riverbeds, stone paths or rock walls—to create fuel breaks.
Waterwise landscapes are a best practice in Colorado, particularly as our population grows and cities limit water use. I’m not talking about barren yards of rock and artificial turf. It’s counter intuitive, but you may soon have higher plant density requirements than you currently have in many communities—just with waterwise plants. These plant-rich landscapes help with stormwater retention, heat reduction, pollinator habitat and human well-being.
As you navigate waterwise requirements, western native shrubs are your friend: hardy manzanitas, sumacs, sand cherries. These shrubs spread horizontally, so it takes fewer plants to cover significant ground. They’re also low maintenance for homeowners and benefit local wildlife.
No discussion of landscaping best practices in Colorado would be complete without mentioning native plants. These plants have naturally grown in our region for hundreds of years. They’ve adapted to our unique western conditions and co-evolved with local wildlife.
Native plants create a sense of place. (No cookie-cutter yards from Toledo or Topeka here!) Leave the daylilies and Karl Foerster grass to commercial strip malls and lean into the colorful beauty of penstemon, hyssops, western salvias and more.