Time to Junk the Junipers

May is Nevada Wildfire Awareness Month. The purpose of Wildfire Awareness Month is to increase understanding and promote action in reducing the wildfire threat to Nevada’s communities. This year’s theme is “Wildfire! Prepare. Anticipate. Evacuate.”

One way homeowners can prepare for wildfire is to remove ornamental juniper shrubs from within 30 feet of the house. Fortunately, local organizations will be sponsoring two “Junk the Juniper” events in Washoe County during Wildfire Awareness Month to help homeowners dispose of the unwanted plants.

Ornamental juniper shrubs, such as varieties Chinese, Common and Pfitzer, are very popular in northern Nevada residential landscapes. It is common to see them in mass foundation plantings around homes in our area. This is because they are drought tolerant, stay green year-round and require little care. Unfortunately, especially as they mature, junipers can be easily ignited and burn intensely during wildfire.

“The ‘green gas cans’, also known as ornamental juniper shrubs, gave us a lot of problems,” former Nevada Division of Forestry firefighter Joe Reinhardt said. “During the Waterfall Fire, embers smoldered undetected for 10 to 15 minutes under the junipers. They then erupted and basically flashed over, burning intensely. Most often, these junipers were adjacent to structures.”

Several attributes contribute to the ornamental juniper shrub’s reputation as a fire hazard.

They are dense plants. There is often a lot more plant material, or potential fire fuel, in a three-foot tall juniper than there is in other similar-sized shrubs. For example, compare an ornamental juniper to red twig dogwood or a rose bush.

Junipers also retain a lot of dead plant material within and underneath their crowns. These dead leaves and branchlets can be easily ignited when dry.

Like many coniferous plants, junipers contain volatile oils that can burn intensely.

During a “Junk the Juniper” event, people can remove their ornamental juniper shrubs and other flammable vegetation from within 30 feet of their homes and drop them off at one of the collection sites at no charge.

On May 6, the collection site will be at the Nevada Division of Forestry, 885 Eastlake Blvd. in Washoe Valley. The May 20 site will be next to the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District fire station at 11525 Red Rock Road in Silver Lake. The collection sites will be open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Participants will receive a coupon from Moana Nursery for 20 percent off a replacement shrub while supplies last. Please note that lumber, construction debris, lawn clippings, and stumps and branches larger than 8 inches in diameter will not be accepted.

Thank you to the Bureau of Land Management, Moana Nursery, Nevada Division of Forestry, Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and volunteers of these organizations for sponsoring “Junk the Junipers.”

For more information about Nevada Wildfire Awareness Month, go to LivingWithFire.info, or contact Outreach Coordinator Jamie Roice-Gomes at 775-336-0261.


Ed Smith is a natural resource specialist with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Horticulture questions? Attend our next horticulture class 6 p.m. May 3 at 1325 Waterloo Ln. in Gardnerville. Contact a Master Gardener at mastergardeners@unce.unr.edu, or visit www.growyourownnevada.com.