Fire Safe Plantings, Fire Safe Gardens

Note: These are tips developed from our local California sources. Please review your local requirements.

Fire Safe Plantings, Fire Safe Gardens

The key to understanding how to plant a fire-safe garden is to understand the plantings in zones around your home.

There should be a zone of 15 to 25 feet surrounding your home with only fire-resistant plants to create defensible space. Defensible space will give the fire department the opportunity to defend homes from fire. Trees should ideally be 30 feet or further from a house.

The Defensible space zone primarily includes lower growing shrubs, perennials, and groundcovers. Even closer in up against the building, foundation plantings, and directly adjacent, all plantings should be not just fire-resistant but fire-retardant, including Succulents and Cactus.

Taller plants closer to a home can create a fuel ladder for fire to climb so that lower plants are safer than taller plants. On slopes, downslope plants should be considered more susceptible to being a bridge for fire to your home, and all plant litter, weeds and material should be cleared regularly.

Highly flammable plants to avoid include Conifers, i.e. needle-leaved Evergreens, and other plants whose wood has volatile waxes, terpenes, or oils, resinous saps, and “messy plants” where the trees and plants have papery bark or drop a lot of leaves.

Upkeep: Always prune dead branches and all branches near the home, keep them 8 to 10 feet away from the roof or chimney. Prune bottom branches up to 8 feet above the ground on larger trees.

Plants should be watered regularly and leaf litter removed. Many plants will drop leaves when dry and these can provide fuel for a fire even if the plant itself is considered fire-resistant.

California native grasses will dry and turn brown in summer – always keep dry grasses mowed down.

Remove weeds regularly.

Other Tips: Keep wood piles 30 feet from house. Wood siding and roofing should be replaced, or provide significantly larger Defensible Space around the home.

Fire Resisting Plants (Low Flammability)

While these plants will be slow to ignite and do not significantly contribute to the fuel for fire, they will sustain damage or can die from actual fire.

Succulents including Aloe, Agave, Crassula, Cotyledon, Echeveria, Ice Plants, Sedum and more
Cactus including Barrel Cactus, Echinopsis, and more

Partial list of species from the CNPS of San Diego County, Fire-Safe Marin and other sources:

Achillea, Yarrow
Aeonium spp.
Agave spp., Century Plant
Aloe spp.
Aptenia cordifolia
Arbutus, Madrone
Archontophoenix cunninghamiana, King Palm
Arctostaphylos spp., Manzanita (min. 15-25ft out)
Artemisia sp., Sagebrush
Brahea, Blue Palm, Guadalupe Palm
Ceanothus spp., California Lilac
Cercis occidentalis, Western Redbud
Cercidium floridum, Palo Verde
Cistus spp., Rockrose
Coreopsis, Tickseed
Cotoneaster spp., Redberry
Drosanthemum hispidum, Ice Plant
Dudleya, Liveforever
Encelia, Coast Sunflower, Brittlebush
Eriogonum spp, California Buckwheat
Eriophyllum, Wooly Sunflower
Eschscholzia californica, California Poppy
Ferocactus , Barrel Cactus
Festuca spp., California Fescue
Fouqueria splendens, Ocotillo
Fremontodendron, Flannel Bush
Helianthemum spp., Sunrose
Hesperaloe spp., Red Aloe
Heteromeles arbutifolia, Toyon
Heuchera maxima, Coral Bells
Iris douglasiana, California Iris
Kniphofia uvaria, Red Hot Poker
Lavandula spp., Lavender
Lotus scoparius
Lupinus spp., Lupine
Lyonothamnus floribundus, Ironwood
Malacothamnus, Mallow
Melaleuca spp., Honey Myrtle
Mimulus spp., Monkey Flower
Nolina, Bear Grass
Oenothera spp., Primrose
Palms: Clear old fronds
Parkinsonia aculeate, Palo Verde
Penstemon spp., Beard Tongue
Polystichum munitum, California Sword Fern
Ribes, Currant
Romneya coulteri, Matilija Poppy
Rudbeckia californica, California coneflower
Salvia spp., Sage
Sambucus spp., Wild Rose
Satureja douglasii, Yerba Buena
Sedums spp., Stonecrops
Sempervivum, Hens and Chicks
Senecio spp.
Sisyrinchium spp., Blue-Eyed Grass, Yellow-eyed Grass
Solanum, Nightshade
Strelitzia reginae, Bird of Paradise
Teucrium fruticans
Verbena spp.
Yucca spp.
Zauschneria (Epilobium), California fuchsia