Fire Resistant Landscaping Ideas

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If you are installing a new landscape or renovating an old landscape, consider adding a few fire resistant touches to your yard. This is especially important if you live in an area that is prone to wildfires. Fire resistant landscaping uses fire resistant plants, fire breaks, fire prevention maintenance and planting zones to reduce fire hazards around the perimeter of a home.

Create Planting Zones to Reduce Fire Hazards

Fires are a major concern of many homeowners. A fire can come from anywhere; a pile of debris in a back corner of the garden, a fire at a neighboring house, or a wildfire from a nearby forest area. To keep your home safe, create a fire resistant landscape.

A fire resistant landscape starts by designing a landscape that contains a series of zones that prevent a fire from gaining momentum and consuming a home. In a fire resistant landscape, the most flammable plants are placed the farthest from the house and the most fire resistant plants are planted closer to the house. Here are some suggestions for designing a fire resistant landscape:

  • The area immediately surrounding the house and other buildings should contains plants that are unlikely to catch on fire. This area should extend 15 feet beyond the house eaves and deck. When planting within this zone, do not plant within 3 to 5 feet of the house and use a nonflammable ground cover such as decorative rock.
  • The area between 15 and 50 feet of the home is a open area that provides a high level of fire protection. Use fire retardant plants, create air space between trees and shrubs, and plant low growing grasses.
  • In the area farthest away from the house, keep plants pruned to reduce the amount of fuel available to feed a fire.

fire resistant landscaping ideas fire resistant landscaping ideas

Selecting Fire Resistant Plants

A fire can easily spread through a yard and engulf a home. When the landscape plants are flammable, a fire can become dangerous within a short period of time. To reduce fire hazards around a home, select fire resistant plants. Fire resistant plants don not easily ignite from a flame or other ignition source. Even though these plants do not add fuel to the fire or contribute to a fire’s intensity, they can be severely damaged or destroyed in a fire. Here are some common traits of fire resistant plants:

  • Moist and supple leaves that store water.
  • A root system that spreads beyond the drip line of the plant.
  • Drought resistant.
  • Do not dry out or create dead material such as spent flowers or dead leaves.
  • A water-like sap that does not have a strong odor and a low level of oil or resin.
  • Able to resprout after being burned in a fire.

Ask your local fire department or Extension office for a list of fire resistant landscape plants that are suitable for your area’s growing conditions. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Several herbs have fire resistant properties. Lavender is slow to ignite when kept moist. Sage is drought tolerant and its succulent leaves are slow to burn.
  • Groundcovers can be planted around trees without causing a fire hazard. Lamb’s Ear is low maintenance. Ice Plant stores water in the leaves. Blue Fescue is a short evergreen ornamental grass.
  • Succulents store water in their leaves which makes these plants very fire resistant. Aeonium has low growing rosettes. Agave has thick leaves.
  • Some trees have fire resistant qualities. Look for Dogwood, Vibrurnum, Redbud, Sycamore, Magnolia, Oak and Red Maple.
  • Evergreen trees do not burn well and should be planted so the tree branches do not touch each other.

Tips for a Fire Resistant Landscape

Yard maintenance can go a long way in helping prevent fires and reducing the impact of a fire. Reduce fire risk around the yard by keeping the garden clean and maintained. Do not allow dried grass and leaves to accumulate around the yard. Trees and shrubs should be pruned regularly to remove dead limbs and keep plants away from buildings. Here are a few more tips to help reduce home fires:

  • Deadhead annuals and perennials after the blooms have faded.
  • Plant smaller areas rather than in large mass plantings.
  • Plant grasses and short shrubs in the middle area of a yard. Grasses burn so quickly that a grass fire does not have enough time to travel to other areas or start a larger fire.
  • Grasses should be kept low. In the fall, when ornamental grasses begin to dry out, cut grasses as short as possible.
  • Create fire breaks. Plant succulent groundcovers in a flower bed or rock garden surrounded by paved or gravel paths. Retaining walls can also be used as firebreaks, especially on hillsides.
  • Plant large, leafy hardwood trees on the east and west sides of the house to provide shade. The large leaves keep moisture in the ground.
  • Flames coming off of tall trees and shrubs can easily spread and are difficult to put out. On a burning plant, the height of the flame is twice the height of the plant.
  • Trees that are close to a house should be pruned so that the lowest branches are 10 feet off the ground. Also, prune branches that are within 10 feet of a chimney or are touching the roof.
  • Keep the area under trees clear. Remove any small shrubs, tree limbs, climbing vines, or other material that could possibly catch on fire. Fires that start below a tree will climb to the tree crown.

To keep your landscape fire resistant, keep a constant eye out for ways to reduce fire hazards around the landscape. Prune plants when they become large or obstruct buildings. Rake leaves and pick up branches that can fuel a fire. And, select plants that will not burn during a fire. By keeping a watchful eye on your landscape, you may be able to prevent fire damage to your home.

Last Updated: June 14, 2012
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About Coletta Teske Coletta Teske has 25 years' experience in tech journalism, as well as home and gardening topics. She has freelanced for Fortune 500 companies such as Boeing and Microsoft, published more than two dozen computer books for Prima Publishing and Macmillan, and worked as a freelance correspondent for West Hawaii Today. Coletta has been an avid gardener since she was 2 years old. While living in Hawaii, she achieved a lifelong dream of becoming a certified master gardener.

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