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

Lush fire-safe garden

Photo by Jennifer Cheung

Getting started

A lush, vibrant landsape is every gardeners 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.

Click ahead 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.


Photo by Jennifer Cheung

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


Floss silk trees

Photo by Jennifer Cheung

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.

Watering your plants

Photo by Jennifer Cheung

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.

Overhanging trees

Photo by Jennifer Cheung

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.


Photo by Jennifer Cheung

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.

Garden elements

Photo by Jennifer Cheung

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.


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