Wildfires are a part of life in the great American west. You can greatly reduce the risk of wildfire burning your home by practicing “firewise landscaping.” This is the practice of creating a “defensible” space” around your home and across your property, as much as 60 to 100 feet from the house. The Bureau of Land Management and municipal fire agencies have put some guidelines and safety tips for homeowners.
Create Zones of Defense
Zone 1, from the house outward, 30 or more feet: use fire resistant plants only (list follows). These are primarily low-growing, fire resistant plants, particularly ground covers and vines. Keep plants and the area near the house well maintained, removing “duff” or dead plant material . Keep grasses mowed and well irrigated. A gravel mulch is recommended and has several benefits: it will reduce water loss, keep plant roots cool, and discourage weed growth. Break up the plantings near the house with stone patios and walkways – this minimizes the ability of fire to run along continuous fuel sources. Be certain to clean out gutters and rake up leaves.
Zone 2, 30-60 feet from the house or farther: reduce plant density. Use only low-growing and fire resistant plants and shrubs. Keep tall grasses and shrubs well groomed and space them. It is recommended they be planted two times their height apart. For instance, a shrub that will reach 10 feet of height at maturity should be spaced 20 feet from its neighboring shrub.
Zone 3, 60-100 feet from the house: thin and prune existing plants. Prune tree limbs 6-10 feet up the trunk of the tree and minimize overlapping branches between trees and shrubs.
Fire Resistant Plants
All plants are flammable, but some plants are more fire resistant than others. They have high moisture content, are low growing, with high salt or soap content and are non-resinous. They will generally have large leaves and green stems, too.
Avoid sage, pine and juniper which are high in resins and volatile oils making them extremely flammable. Plants which are deciduous are preferable to conifers. Drought tolerant plants (most of which are listed in this book), have thick succulent leaves.
In the list below, the plant groups are from the top to bottom, the most flammable to more fire resistant. Note that conifers and grasses are at the TOP of the list and can be dangerous.
Conifers (least fire resistant)
Succulents (most fire resistant)
Note that fire resistant vines and groundcovers are generally inexpensive and relatively easy to maintain. Vines can be trained on metal fences to create a “green fence” which may stop or at least slow down a wildfire.
Fire resistant ground covers
Ajuga – Ajuga reptans
Basket of Gold – Aurinia saxatalis
Bearberry or Kinnikinnick -Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
Caucasica sage – Artemisia caucasica
Creeping phlox – Phlox subulata
Creeping thyme – Thymus praecox
Giant flowered soapwort -Saponaria x lempergii
Green mat penstemon- Penstemon davidsonii
Ground cover rose – Rosa hybrid
Hardy iceplant – Delosperma spp.
Hardy plumbago – Ceratostigma plumbaginoides
Hens and chicks – Escheveria spp.
Hummelo lamb’s ear- Stachys monieri ‘Hummelo’
Japanese pachysandra- Pachysandra terminalis
Lamb’s ear- Stachys byzantina
Lily of the valley- Convallaria majalis
Mat penstemon- Penstemon caespitosus
Mother of thyme – Thymus serphyllum
Poppy mallow – Callirhoe involucrata
Pussytoes- Antennaria spp.
Rock soapwort – Saponaria ocymoides
Rockcress- Arabis spp.
Silver-edged horehound- Marrubium rotundifolium
Snow in summer – Cerastium tormentosum
Turkish speedwell – Veronica liwanensis
Fire resistant vines
Chocolate vine – Akebia quinata
Clematis – Clematis spp.
Climbing hydrangea- Hydrangea anomala petiolaris
Dragon Lady crossvine- Bignonia capreolata ‘Dragon Lady’
Grapes – Vitis spp.
Honeysuckle- Lonicera spp. and hybrids
Hops vine- Humulus lupulus
Kiwi vine- Actinidia kolmikta
Matrimony vine* – Lycium barbarum
Purple Leaf Grape- Vitis vinifera
Silver lace vine*- Polygonum aubertii
Sweet Autumn clematis- Clematis terniflora
Sweet pea- Lathurus latifolius
Trumpet honeysuckle- Lonicera sempervirens
Trumpet vine- Campsis radicans
Virginia creeper* – Parthenocissus quinquefolia
Wisteria Wisteria spp.
*Can be invasive
Fire resistant shrubs and trees
Aspen – Populus tremuloides
Birch – Betula spp.
Buckthorn- Rhamnus spp.
Buffalo berry- Sheperdia spp.
Currant- Ribes spp.
Lilac – Syringa vulgaris
Maple Acer spp.-
Mountain Mahogany- Cercis ledifolius
Service berry- Amelanchier spp.
Skunkbush sumac -Rhus tribolata
Snowberry – Symphoricarpos spp.
Western Sandcherry- Prunus basseyi
Willow – Salix spp.