11148639663?profile=RESIZE_584xWith the California summer dry season approaching, ensuring your landscaping is both fire wise and drought tolerant is a top priority.  Here are some helpful tips and resources for reducing outdoor fire hazards and choosing fire-resistant plants that are drought-tolerant and attractive.

1. Clean-up existing landscaping.

Clean out dry brush, prune overgrown trees and bushes, trim tall grasses/weeds, and reduce combustible material around your home. Check with your local fire department for recommended wildfire hazard abatement guidelines. 


Guidelines are tiered, with the most conservative guidelines for the immediate zone within 0 to 5 feet of your home.  Best practices include removing plants under windows, pruning other foliage so it does not touch the ground, as well as replacing wood chips and mulch with gravel or other non-combustible material. 

In the mid-zone, 5 to 30 feet from your home, grass and weeds should be cut to 3 inches or less. Trees should be trimmed so that the tree canopy is 6 feet above ground and 10 feet from any structure.  Water-efficient irrigation should be used to prevent vegetation from drying out in the hot summer. 

In the outer zone, 30+ feet from your home, remove non-irrigated brush and plant debris near storage sheds and firewood piles. Trim trees so there is 6-12 feet between the tree canopies.

Here are two examples of fire department guidelines with more details. Depending on the jurisdiction, these are more than recommendations, they are requirements.

 2. Remove old and unhealthy plants that pose greater fire risk. Signs that a plant needs replacing include:

  • Older leaves, stems and limbs are dead
  • The living foliage is at the very end of the branches, instead of throughout the entire branch
  • During summer the plant drops more leaves than usual
  • The amount of living wood is less than 50% of the entire plant
  • A bud or disease infestation is difficult to control
  • A plant that is showing signs of decay, such as mushrooms at its base.

 3. Select less flammable plants

While any plant can burn when subject to intense heat, plants with moist, supple leaves and a low amount of sap, resin, oil, or wax are less likely to catch fire.  Here are more fire-resistant plant characteristics to look for.

  • Large and broad leaves rather than needle and blade-like leaves.
  • Moist and easily bent leaves instead of stiff and leather-like leaves.
  • Thick leaves instead of fine or thin leaves.
  • A low amount of litter rather than a lot of dry leaf litter that can fuel a fire
  • Sap that looks more like water opposed to thick, gummy or resinous sap.

Calscape has a helpful tool for selecting fire wise native plants that are drought tolerant and that satisfy other user-specified criteria about geography, sun exposure, landscape style, etc.  More plant ideas can be found here. Plant trees in the appropriate zone and sufficiently far apart to minimize fire risk as they mature.  See the guideline links mentioned in section 1 for more detailed specifications.

4. Keep plants hydrated and healthy

Plants in good condition are less of a fire risk than dry, unhealthy, or dying plants.  Maintain a regular, water-wise irrigation schedule. Even low-water plants need some extra water in the first year while they are getting established. Prune shrubs regularly so they don’t get overgrown or develop dry sections.

5. Firewise outdoor structures

In high fire risk areas, consider replacing wooden decks, fences, and boardwalks with nonflammable materials, particularly structures near the end of their useful life. Alternatives include stone or concrete patio, metal fencing, and pathways constructed from stepping stones and ground cover. A small pond fed by rain gardens or a rain barrel can also serve as aesthetically pleasing fire breaks.

Following these five smart landscaping tips will help reduce fire risk, and make your outdoor space safer and more enjoyable.  


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