How to Design a Fire-Resistant Garden

This San Diego yard is verdant--and resists wildfires. Follow its lessons for creating your own gorgeous, fire-smart landscape.

Reduce your fire riskReduce your fire risk
Getting started

A lush, vibrant landsape is every gardener's aim. But what if you live in the middle of wildfire country? Great news: Your gardening goals don't have to change in high-risk fire areas, just the means by which you plan to reach them.

Before this landscape was reimagined, a thick blanket of worn-out junipers covered the slopes; their resinous foliage is potentially dangerous in a firestorm.

Read on for fire-wise tips on what to plant, where to plant it, and how to keep all your garden's charm minus the wildfire threat.

Agaves: Great fire-smart plantsAgaves: Great fire-smart plants
Replace flammable plants
Agaves are great fire-smart plants, and their sculptural shapes make them perfect candidates for bold, contemporary gardens. They tolerate most soils as long as they have good drainage, need only modest amounts of water, and rarely require fertilizer.
More about agaves

Water-storing pricklesWater-storing prickles
Go lush
Fleshy-leafed (and water-retaining) plants are good choices for fire-wise gardens.

Dotting the poolside landscape, pictured here, are nearly black aeoniums around a tall tree aloe, plus agaves, and ​a floss silk tree (Ceiba speciosa)--whose trunk ​is studded with water-storing prickles.
Decorating with succulents

The more hydrated, the more fire-resistantThe more hydrated, the more fire-resistant
Water, water everything
The more hydrated any plant is, the more fire-resistant it will be. Although the plants in this garden are drought-tolerant, they still need occasional deep watering to keep them from drying out and becoming potential fuel.

Spaced well, kept watered, and prunedSpaced well, kept watered, and pruned
Avoid hanging hazards

Although these trees appear to hug the house--a fire-safety no-no--they don't actually overhang it. They're also spaced well apart, and kept well watered and pruned.

Use gravel or decomposed graniteUse gravel or decomposed granite
Skip the tanbark
In a fire-wise garden, use gravel or decomposed granite--not flammable bark mulch--to cover the bare ground around plants. It also helps keep weeds down and looks better with succulents.
More fire-resistant plants

Reduce the risk of fire laddersReduce the risk of fire ladders
Keep things simple
Leave space between plantings, which reduces the risk of "fire ladders" (fires that climb to the crowns of nearby trees). Boulders and block walls also help to slow the spread of flames.

Before you plant,
find out what grows well in your climate zone. And if you don't know your climate zone, look it up here.