Landscaping for Wildfire Protection

My Garden Life
April 14, 2021
Table of Contents
As more people move into forested and rural areas, interest in designing an attractive landscape that doubles as a fire barrier is on the increase. The challenge is to create a so-called “defensible space” around your home. This is an area from which common wildfire fuels – grasses, brush, trees, other flammable material– are removed and replaced with plants and hardscape elements that can slow and even stop a fire.
A well-designed defensible space also gives firefighters a safe area in which to battle a fire if one approaches. Local safety authorities often warn homeowners in wildfire-prone areas that they cannot send emergency workers in to protect a home without a defensible space.
Creating a defensible space around your home doesn’t mean you have to pave over your yard or in any way sacrifice a beautiful garden for your family’s safety. Here are some tips on creating a defensible space that is both attractive and an effective barrier against wildfire.

1. Surround Your House with Non-flammable Material

house surrounded by gravel, pavers and fire-resistant plants creates a protective barrier from flames

Make the first three to five feet around your home flagstone, gravel, or other non-flammable material. Though it’s ideal not to have any wide swaths of plant material in this perimeter, there is much you can do with the creative use of containers and hardscapes like paths, seating, artworks, and decking made of fireproof material.

2. Don’t Crowd Plants Close to Your Home

ranch home with plantings spaced a good distance from the home to create a protective barrier to flames

The closer plants are to your house, the lower growing and wider spaced they should be. Don’t ever plant in large bunches. Instead, spread out your greenery in small clusters broken up by decorative rocks, paths, nonorganic mulches, or leaf mold.

3. Use a Variety of Fire-resistant Plants

a border planted with plants that are known to be resistant to wildfires

Use a wide variety of plants, so that disease or insects won’t cause damage (making the plants drier and more likely to act as kindling) across your whole landscape. Favor native plants that stay healthy in your local conditions and look for plants known to be fire-resistant.

Here are a few of our favorite fire-resistant plants:

Lavender plants in full flower Coreopsis plant in full bloom Yucca plant in full bloom
Lavender Coreopsis Yucca
Purple columbine plants in full flower Hen and chicks plants trailing over a rock wall California lilac shrub in full bloom
Columbine Hens and Chicks California Lilac
Iceplant with purple and white flowers trailing over the ground close up of pink shrub rose flowers Sedum acre plant in full bloom
Ice Plant Shrub Rose Sedum
Purple ajuga plant trailing across pavement Redbud tree in full flower red maple tree in front of a beautiful house
Ajuga Redbud Maple
pink saponaria plant in full bloom Orange California poppy plants in full bloom Lily of the valley plants in full bloom
Saponaria California Poppy Lily of the Valley
Red valerian plants in full bloom A stunning row of ornamental onion flowers in a border garden Alpine strawberry plants are a fire-resistant choice for a garden
Red Valerian Ornamental Onion Alpine Strawberry

4. Keep the Area Around Your House Free of Combustible Materials

cement planters and hardscape around a home help create a barrier to wildfire

Make sure your defensible space stays clear of brush, weeds and other garden waste. Keeping up with your yard work is always important for the health and beauty of your landscape. But in a wildfire-prone area, a tidy garden is also vital to protecting your home.
If you live in an area that sees even the occasional wildfire, you have an obligation to your family, your community, and the first responders who risk their safety to protect you to create a defensible space around your home. But you don’t have to sacrifice a beautiful landscape. Get creative with rock gardening, planters and containers, and native plantings for a gorgeous – and safe – fire-smart outdoor area.
rocky berm with colorful perennial plantings


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