Be Ember Aware tip #7: Junk the junipers
Note: This is the seventh in an ongoing series of tips for homeowners living in fire-prone areas. Each week, Cooperative Extension Natural Resource Specialist Ed Smith will be providing Be Ember Aware tips for homeowners who want to reduce the risk of losing their home to embers created from wildfires. Nevada has more than 250 communities that face a wildfire threat, and 68 communities are at extreme and high risk. For more information on protecting your home from wildfires, visit Living With Fire.
By: Ed Smith, natural resource specialist, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension
Ornamental junipers are one of the most popular plants in northern Nevada landscapes and for good reason. Juniper shrubs are drought tolerant, stay green year-round and require little care.
Unfortunately, ornamental junipers have also earned the nickname "green gas cans" by Nevada’s firefighters. This is because they can burn very intensely during wildfire. They also have the ability to harbor burning embers undetected in their crowns and in the plant litter underneath, only to ignite the shrub hours later after the fire front and firefighters have passed through the neighborhood.
Several plant attributes contribute to the juniper’s reputation as a fire hazard. These include:
- They are dense plants. There is usually a lot more plant material, i.e., potential fire fuel, in a 3-foot juniper than there is in other similar-sized shrubs. For example, compare a juniper to a red twig dogwood.
- Junipers have a bad habit of retaining clumps of dead leaves and twigs within their crowns. Pull back the branches of a mature juniper and you’ll see what I mean. These little “jackpots” of fuel are easily ignited by embers. Thick layers of dead plant debris also build up underneath the shrubs. Since the juniper branches are so thick and the leaves can be irritating to the skin, most people don’t remove the plant litter.
- Like most coniferous plants, junipers contain oils and resins. These chemicals can cause the juniper to burn intensely.
Junipers are a valuable plant in Nevada landscapes, but they can also be fire hazard. Locate junipers at least 30 feet from the home and keep them healthy and well maintained.
To learn more about protecting your home from the ember threat, visit Living With Fire and request a free copy of our new publication, Be Ember Aware! You can also download it at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension or contact Ed Smith. Be Ember Aware is a component of the Living With Fire program, an interagency program coordinated by University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.