Firewise. Waterwise.

Choose Your Plants Wisely

Fire-safe landscaping uses fire-resistant plants that are strategically planted to resist the spread of fire to your home. Fire resistant plants are great in Marin because they are often drought tolerant, too. Some plants burn readily, and should be removed or avoided at any cost.

FIRE RESISTANT PLANTS

Fire Resistant plants are the cornerstone of a home's Defensible Space, however all plants will burn if poorly maintained. Choose a fire resistant species, maintain plant health, irrigate, and remove all dead material regularly.

Characteristics of Fire Resistant Plants

Fire Safe Plants

Fire-safe landscaping uses fire-resistant plants that are strategically planted to resist the spread of fire to your home.  Fire-resistant plants are great in Marin because they are often drought tolerant, too.

  • Leaves tend to be supple, moist and easily crushed.
  • Trees tend to be clean, not bushy, and have little deadwood.
  • Shrubs are low-growing (2') with minimal dead material.
  • Taller shrubs are clean, not bushy or twiggy.
  • Sap is water-like and typically does not have a strong odor.
  • Most fire-resistant trees are broad-leaf deciduous (lose their leaves), but some thick-leaf evergreens are also fire-resistant.

The good news is, you don’t need a lot of money to make your landscape fire safe.  Fire-safe landscaping can increase property value and conserve water while beautifying your home.

Choosing Fire-Resistant Plants

  • Use the Fire Safe Plant List for Marin county as a reference for fire resistant plants suitable for Marin's microclimates.
  • There are no “fire-proof” plants.  Even the most resistant plants must be maintained in good health, properly irrigated, and free of dead material, dry twigs, or fallen leaves and needles.
  • Select fire-resistant hedge plants for hedges, which may help catch wind-blown embers if properly spaced and maintained.
  • Plant hardwood trees from this list, like maple, poplar and cherry that are less flammable than conifers like pine and fir.
  • Our list of plants is carefully curated for highly fire-resistant plants favorable to Marin's climate.  This list is not exhaustive: other online resources are available to help you select additional species.
    • Cal Poly and CAL FIRE publish the excellent "SelecTree" database, which can be filtered to show additional fire-resistant species.  They list 178 fire-resistant tree species for Marin's climate zones (Sunset Zones 15, 16, 17), vs the 20 trees we've selected.

Trees

Fire Safe PlantsFire Resistant Trees are often broad-leaf deciduous (lose their leaves) or thick leafed evergreens.

Shrubs

Fire Safe PlantsFire resistant shrubs tend to be low growning, with minimal dead material and supple leaves.

Hedges &Screens

Fire Safe PlantsFire resistant privacy screens are a good choice to replace fire prone plants like bamboo and cypress.

FIRE-PRONE PLANTS

Many plants are particularly susceptible to fire. Some plants ignite readily and burn intensely, and should be removed if present in a home's Defensible Space zone or close to roads and driveways.

FIRE PRONE PLANT CHARACTERISTICS

Fire Safe Plants

Many plants are particularly susceptible to fire.  Some plants ignite readily and burn intensely, and should be removed if present in a home's Defensible Space zone or close to roads and driveways.  Fire-prone plants typically share certain characteristics:

  • They are often blade-leaf or needle-leaf evergreens.
  • They have stiff, woody, small or fine, lacey leaves.
  • Their leaves and wood often contain volatile waxes, fats, terpenes or oils (crushed leaves will have strong odors).
  • Their sap is usually gummy, resinous and has a strong odor.
  • They usually contain plentiful fine, twiggy, dry or dead materials.
  • They may have pubescent (hair covered) leaves.
  • They may have loose or papery bark.
  • These plants flame (not smolder) when preheated and ignited with a match.

FLAMMABILITY & CONDITION

The condition of the plant is as important as its species. Even some fire-prone species can be quite fire-resistant if properly maintained.  Depending on its growth form and access to water, the same species may be fire resistant in one environment and flammable in another.  Water -stressed plants that are in poor condition are more likely to burn readily. Those species already identified as fire-prone become explosively flammable when poorly maintained.  South-facing slopes, windy areas, sites with poor soils and urban landscapes are more stressful for plants and lead to greater hazard from burning vegetation.

COMMON FIRE-PRONE VEGETATION TYPES

  • Grasses: Any cured (dry) grass, including bamboo. Non-irrigated, annual grasses are typically more flammable than perennial grasses. Irrigated grasses are fire resistant.
  • Perennials and herbs: Any dry or cured herb.
  • Ferns: Any dry or cured fern, particularly bracken and sword ferns.
  • Brush: Any brush with excessive deadwood. Any over-mature, dying or dead brush.
  • Trees: Any forest, stand or urban forest that is over-dense, under stress, poorly maintained, or over mature.

Some Plants Were Made to Burn

Many plants are particularly susceptible to fire. Some plants ignite readily and burn intensely, and should be removed if present in a home's Defensible Space zone or close to roads and driveways.

Juniper

Fire Safe PlantsJuniper is a common landscaping plant in Marin. Deceptively green, it is often planted along patways and driveways, a recipe for disaster when a homeowner finds their escape blocked by a wall of flames. Juniper should be removed within 30' of structures, and 15' of driveways or roadways.

Bamboo

Fire Safe PlantsBamboo is a fast growing grass species that can make a good privacy screen - as long as you live in outside fo the Wildland Urban Interface. When exposed to flames or wind blown embers, bamboo ignites readily and will take your house with it. Bamboo within 30' of structures, or 15' of driveways should be removed and replaced with a fire resistant hedge or privacy screen plant.

Cypress, Thuja, Arborvitae

Fire Safe PlantsThese evergreen conifers are valued for their screening properties and low maintenance. Like juniper, they are explosively flammable, and should never be planted in the Marin's Wildland Urban Interface.

In Marin, It's The Law

In Marin, the County, Cities and Towns have all adopted variations of Defensible Space ordinances for homes in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI). Modeled after the State Law but with even greater restrictions, the plants listed here as fire prone can not be planted in a home's Defensible Space zone (100' from structures). Your fire department may require removal of plants on this list if they threaten your home or a neighbor. If you buy one of these plants for your garden, you may just be burning money...
FIRESafe MARIN first published a list of common fire prone plants in 1998. This list, created with the help of the University of California Cooperative Extension, was later adopted by the County of Marin and all Cities and Towns for their Fire Standards, expressly prohibiting the planting of these species for new home and remodel construction. Fire inspectors may require removal of existing plants on this list if they threaten your home or neighbors.

Need advice?

Call us at (415) 570-4FSM {4376}
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Don't forget to bring a copy of our Fire Safe Plant List to your local nursery!

FIRESafe MARIN   |   P.O. Box 2831  |   San Anselmo, CA 94979   |   (415) 570-4FSM {4376}   |   info@firesafemarin.org


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