8 Fire-Resistant Landscaping Ideas for Sacramento, CA

The 2020 Grant Fire east of the city was too close for comfort for many Sacramento homeowners. Though the city historically hasn’t been as affected by wildfires as neighboring areas, Sacramento may be more at risk in the future. Homes are also at risk from nearby house fires. Planning ahead is vital so that if the worst comes to pass, you can increase fire safety.

Firewise landscaping or firescaping is one step to protecting your property. These landscape designs minimize combustible materials, create defensible spaces, and allow easier evacuation and fire department access. And no, you don’t need to turn your yard into barren dirt and rocks (unless you want to). These eight fire-resistant landscaping ideas for Sacramento will keep you safe and allow creativity.

In this article, we’ll cover:

What is Defensible Space?

Before we dive into design ideas, let’s unpack what works for fire safety and why. Defensible space is a crucial landscaping principle for fire protection. The idea is to reduce the chance of flames or embers jumping from one part of your landscaping to another toward your home. 

Fire safety experts break defensible space into three zones (0, 1, and 2), each with different recommendations. The zones cover between 0 feet and over 100 feet surrounding your home. Prioritize the innermost zone first, then work outward as far as possible. Here is a brief breakdown of each part of a defensible zone and their dos and don’ts:

ZoneDistance Surrounding the HomeThings to AvoidRecommended Landscaping Features
00-5 feet● Woody plants
● Organic mulch
● Woodpiles
● Combustible trellises
● Stored items
● Walkways
● Hardscapes
● Rocks and gravel 
15-30 feet● Closely bunched trees● Well-irrigated and maintained vegetation islands separated by hardscaping, mowed grass, or groundcovers
● Shrubs and trees with lower branches removed
231-100+ feet or to the property line● Dense shrubs, trees, and herbaceous plants● Well-pruned, spaced-out shrubs and trees

8 Fire-Resistant Landscaping Ideas for Sacramento

1. Plan Your Yard’s Layout Carefully

Landscape density is one of the most significant fire hazards in yards. If a fire is nearby and something on your property catches fire, it can jump from object to object toward your home. This danger is why the defensible space strategy advises against closely bunched vegetation. You can fill the area between plantings with turfgrass or hardscaping. 

The recommended distance between shrubs or trees depends on the slope. The steeper the slope, the more space is needed between the plants.

Angle of the SlopeSpace Between ShrubsSpace Between Trees
Less than 20%2 times the shrub’s height10 feet
20-40%4 times the shrub’s height20 feet
Greater than 40%6 times the shrub’s height30 feet

If you have a large property, consider incorporating fuel breaks. Fuel breaks are areas with a reduced fuel load to stop a fire in its tracks or slow it down. For example, a fuel break could be a strip of dirt cleared of vegetation or a paved path or roadway.

2. Use Fire-Resistant Plants

Most homeowners enjoy some greenery to spruce up their yards. However, it’s best to avoid some plantings altogether, either because they are inherently too close to each other or your home. Here are some examples of plant types that could inadvertently spread fire:

  • Overhanging trees
  • Climbing vines
  • Window planters
  • Hedges*

*Well-maintained hedges at the edge of your property can sometimes block embers from reaching your garden or home. However, if they do ignite, they could lead the fire toward your home.

No plants are entirely fire-proof — they all can burn if the fire is hot enough. However, some plants are less likely to go up in flames than others. Fire-resistant plants have:

  • Low growth
  • Open structure
  • Little resin, oil, or wax production
  • High water content

Hydrated, well-cared-for plants will do better in a fire regardless of species. The additional dead plant material from dried-out, stressed vegetation fuels fires. 

But what about drought? Sacramento’s water restrictions may limit your watering schedule, and any missed days could make your plants drought-stressed and vulnerable to fire. Reduce your water needs with water-wise landscaping. Succulents are a popular low-maintenance option for water conservation. If you need extra water to care for your plants, consider rainwater harvesting to stretch resources further. 

Many drought-tolerant plants are fire-resistant, as well. California native plants are most likely to check both boxes because they are well-adapted to the hot, dry summer weather when fire risk is highest. They also are more likely to be pollinator-friendly.

Here are some fire-resistant plants native to Sacramento:

  • Indian mallow (Abutilon palmeri)
  • White yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
  • Chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum)
  • California buckeye (Aesculus californica)

3. Trim All Vegetation

Overgrown, dense plants provide more fuel for fires. Regular trimming will: 

  • Reduce available fuel. Remove excessive growth and dead branches that could make your plant more susceptible to fires.
  • Improve the plant’s growth structure: Proper pruning promotes an open growth pattern and improves fire resistance.
  • Prevent the plant from touching flammable structures: Branches can create a direct pathway for fires to spread to your home or structures like pergolas, trellises, and fences. You should trim trees to be at least 10 feet away from chimneys and remove dead branches hanging over structures. 
  • Increase space between plants: Fire can jump from plant to plant if they are too close. Trim the tree branches so they are at least 10 feet away from other trees and 6 feet off the ground. If you have shrubs near the base of a tree, keep the distance between the lowest branch and the plant below at least three times the shrub’s height.

Though well-irrigated lawns have some fire resistance, overgrown grass with excess thatch may be a fire hazard. Keep grass mowed at 4 inches or less to reduce risk.

4. Clean Up Flammable Debris

image of fall leaves in a lawn

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Plant debris is a natural part of any garden. Though fallen leaves and pine cones may provide a forest-like appearance to your yard, they can increase fire risk and provide a fuel trail for the spread of fire. Regularly cleaning plant litter decreases fire risk and makes your yard look neater. Here are some types of plant litter to watch out for:

  • Leaves
  • Needles
  • Pine cones
  • Seed pods
  • Bark
  • Twigs
  • Branches 

Plant debris also may be on your porch, deck, roof, or gutter. A stray ember could ignite this debris and spread fire to your home. Clean your roof and gutter once or twice a year, though they may need more frequent attention if your plants shed excessively. Gutter guards can reduce debris buildup. Remove plant litter from porches and decks as it accumulates.

5. Use Inorganic Mulch

Photo Credit: Sten Porse / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Mulch is any material spread over the soil’s surface to provide nutrients, suppress weeds, and regulate temperature. It’s usually applied around the base of trees and shrubs, flower beds, or paths. 

Organic mulch like wood chips, leaves, needles, bark, and straw may look nice, but they can catch fire and spread the flames further. Even some inorganic mulches, like shredded rubber, are susceptible to combustion. Use gravel or rocks instead, especially near the home and between vegetation islands. 

6. Install Hardscaping

One of the most fire-resistant landscaping options is hardscaping. Hardscaping uses concrete, cement, pavers, gravel, bricks, and stones to create patios, paths, and other landscape features. This landscape design creates an ideal area for backyard hosting. You can have a completely hardscaped yard or combine it with greenery.

Using non-flammable materials, you can create a defensible perimeter around your home, separating the house from potentially flammable garden plants. You also can use it between vegetation islands to make it more difficult for flames to travel.

If you decide to install a fire pit or outdoor heater as part of your hardscape, ensure it is at least 10 feet away from anything that could catch fire. Always follow Sacramento’s recreational burning guidelines and double-check that the fire has been put out before you leave the area.

7. Use Fire-Safe Furniture, Fences, and Outdoor Structures

Your wicker furniture and wooden pergola could be kindling in the making. Wooden, reed, or bamboo fences also may create a dangerous fire path, especially if the fence connects to your home. These outdoor structures and furniture are most hazardous in the 5-foot perimeter around your home. Consider replacing them with metal or vinyl alternatives. 

You also should be mindful of cushions, umbrellas, and tablecloths — put them away when not in use or don’t use them at all.

8. Keep Walkways Clear

The pathways surrounding your home can create defensible space, but only if they’re well-maintained. Overgrown plants, firewood, wooden tools, and flammable toys left on walkways could allow flames to spread and make emergency access more difficult. 

Clear walkways to minimize the chance of fire jumping across. This maintenance also will allow for easier evacuation and firefighter access in an emergency. Remove stray items and trim plants lining paths to minimize fire hazards. Firewood is best kept on the outer edge of your yard rather than next to the home. It’s also a good idea to keep driveways clear for easier evacuation. 

If you live on a large property, you should clear roadways by thinning and pruning trees, mowing the grass, and cutting back shrubs. These actions will allow easier emergency access and evacuation.

FAQs About Fire-Resistant Landscaping for Sacramento

When is fire season in Sacramento?

The fire season in Northern California generally peaks in summer and fall. However, extreme drought may extend the fire season into winter and spring. You can check the current fire hazard severity on CAL FIRE’s Fire Hazard Severity Zone map

How do fires spread?

Fire can spread in several ways, including:

Direct contact: Actively burning fire directly touches a flammable object.
Embers: Small embers can float through the air or be blown by the wind. If they come into contact with something, they may or may not light it on fire, depending on its flammability.
Fuel paths: A continuous line of flammable objects or plants can lead a fire toward a home. For example, plants on the other side of a wooden fence can ignite the fence, which may lead the fire directly to the home. 
Fuel ladders: Living or dead vegetation can create a path upward for fire to spread. For example, a shrub on fire may light the tree above it if there isn’t sufficient room between the flames and the branches. 
Radiant heat: If temperatures are hot enough, flammable objects may combust without direct contact with fire or embers.

Which part of the house is the most vulnerable to fires?

Roofs are part of the home most vulnerable to fire. This risk is why trimming trees and clearing debris from the gutters and rooftops are essential. While wooden and shingle roofs are most at risk, materials like metal, clay, and tile reduce risk. 

Other vulnerable areas include:

● Vents
● Chimneys
● Eaves
● Soffits
● Windows
● Wooden siding
● Wooden decks and porches
● Patio covers

How a Pro Can Protect Your Property

Fire preparedness is already overwhelming. You need to check evacuation routes, pack an emergency supply kit, and create plans to transport your pets. 
While you may need to complete those tasks yourself, you can offload landscaping to a professional. They will assess your landscape’s safety, provide advice, and execute any necessary changes so you can feel peace of mind.

Main Image Credit: Wildroof / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

About Wikilawn

Wikilawn’s mission is to provide the best resources and information to help you enjoy your outdoor spaces the way you want. Whether you are a DIY, lawn-loving, gardening guru, or someone who wants help in picking a local lawn care professional, we can smooth your path to a beautiful backyard!

About Wikilawn

Wikilawn’s mission is to provide the best resources and information to help you enjoy your outdoor spaces the way you want. Whether you are a DIY, lawn-loving, gardening guru, or someone who wants help in picking a local lawn care professional, we can smooth your path to a beautiful backyard!