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Fire-Smart Landscaping

Healthy vegetation and revegetation planning can reduce the impacts of drought, help to revitalize damaged forest environments, and discourage or retard wildfire on private property in the San Bernardino-San Jacinto mountain area. However, plant choice, spacing and maintenenace are critical.


To improve the health of trees and vegetation:

  • Place mulch around trees and shrubs to discourage weeds and slow evaporation
  • Train your plants to develop deep roots by watering thoroughly but infrequently
  • Build a four- to six-inch earthen dam around the root zones of both trees and shrubs to hold the water so it soaks in rather than running off
  • Do not plant lawns or other high-water-use plants around the bases of the trees
  • Consider eliminating your lawn or reducing its size and planting low-water-use ground cover and shrubs instead

Whenever possible, landscape with plants identified as being a low fire hazard and having low moisture requirements. These plants include:

Common name
Bearberry, kinnikinnick
Brewer saltbush
Creeping barberry
Creeping sage
Foothill penstemon
Four-wing saltbush
Mountain dogbane
Quail bush
Sea lavender, statice
Showy penstemon
Spreading dogbane
Western raspberry

Scientific name
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
Atriplex lentiformis breweri
Mahonia repens
Salvia sonomensis
Penstemon heterophyllus
Atriplex canescens
Apocynum pumilum
Atriplex lentiformis
Limonium latifolium
Penstemon spectabilis
Apocynum androsaemifolium
Rubus leucodermis


For more in-depth information on fire-smart landscaping in the mountains, refer to
A Landscape Guide for Mountain Homes
available online (see the link below) or from fire protection agencies and fire safe councils.

The 36-page guide includes tips on planning, installing and maintaining your landscape, and includes an extensive list of plants suitable for various geographic regions and elevations.


Fire Resistance

When planning or modifying your landscape, keep in mind that many native plants are highly flammable at various times of the year. Left unmanaged, they can accelerate the spread of a wildfire through your community, increasing the threat to property, homes and lives.

There are no truly fireproof plants, so where and how you plant may be more critical than what you plant. Nonetheless, given a choice between plants, choose those that tend to be more resistant to fire.


Concepts to keep in mind include:

  • A plant’s moisture content is the most critical factor governing its flammability, although resin content and other factors in some species render them volatile even when well watered.
  • The oils and pitch in conifers tend to make them flammable, regardless of their water content.
  • Deciduous plants tend to be more fire resistant because their leaves have a higher moisture content and their basic chemistry is less flammable. And when deciduous trees are dormant, there is less fuel to carry fire to their canopies.
  • In some cases, there is a strong correlation between drought tolerance and fire resistance.
  • There also seems to be a correlation between a plant’s salt tolerance and natural fire resistance.

Demonstration Garden

A demonstration garden has been established in the Lake Arrowhead area. For information, contact the Arrowhead Lake Association at (909) 337-2595.


Replanting Trees

When replanting trees in burned or cleared areas, officials recommend using seedlings grown from local seed stock, such as those grown by Cal Fire for reforestation purposes. Officials recommend spacing trees 20 to 30 feet apart (farther apart on slopes) to create a defensible space for firefighting. Do not plant lawns or other high-water-use plants around the base of trees. Mulch around trees to discourage weeds and slow evaporation. Build a four-to-six inch earthen dam around the drip line of all trees and shrubs to ensure they retain the water they receive. Train your trees to develop deep roots by watering thoroughly but infrequently.


Soil Erosion Control

Controlling soil erosion is important to the mountain-area ecosystem, and preventing water runoff during the spring and summer is equally as important. A major source of dry season pollution of lakes and streams near urban areas is runoff from landscape watering. This water carries oil and gasoline residue from roadways, fertilizers, pesticides, and other undesirable material as it flows away from our homes and drains into streams and lakes. The Natural Resources Conservation Service has guidelines for practices that can be implemented to protect your property, the water supply and prevent mudslides. Fact sheets are available at the Emergency Watershed Program website.


Downloadable Resource Guides


Working together, we can prevent catastrophic wildfires.



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