25 Beautiful Plants for A Firewise Landscape
As wildfire seasons get longer and more intense, you need landscaping plants that retain moisture and reduce burnable fuel near your home. Former organic farmer and horticulture expert Logan Hailey digs into 27 gorgeous firewise plants for a variety of climates, aesthetics, and uses.
As wildfires progressively worsen in the dry west and beyond, we must be strategic about protecting our homes. The key goal for firewise landscaping is to reduce the amount of fuel. You can dramatically reduce the risk of fire encroaching on your property by growing certain types of plants near your house.
Officials define the “home ignition zone” as up to 200 feet from the foundation. In fire-prone areas, this zone should be planted with high-moisture, low-flammability vegetation for maximum protection.
Firewise plants have tissues with low amounts of volatile oils and high moisture levels during the fire season. Fortunately, many species that fit these characteristics are naturally beautiful and drought-resilient. A firewise landscape doesn’t need to be bland or ugly! Let’s dig into 27 beautiful plants to ensure an attractive landscape while preventing fire damage.
What is a Firewise Landscape?
A firewise landscape includes strategically selected plants that reduce the amount of burnable fuel in the event of a wildfire. Firewise plants are used within 200 feet of a home to retain moisture in the landscape and prevent fire from damaging property. These plants must have tissues that hold a lot of moisture and provide less fire fuel by growing low to the ground and producing less burnable debris. Firewise plants should also have low levels of volatile oils and flammable chemicals in their leaves and stems.
25 Best Fire-Safe Landscape Plants
Protect your landscape from aggressive flames by growing these ornamental, drought-tolerant, and moisture-retaining species less likely to fuel wildfires.
Aloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis miller)
Succulents naturally retain a lot of water in their leaves, making them an obvious choice for dry areas. Aloe vera and its genus come in over 420 different varieties with varying hues of vibrant green and soft blue leaves that look gorgeous all year round. Aloe plants are less prone to ignition thanks to the gelatinous gel in their leaves and stems.
Note: While aloe and most other succulents are highly fire-resistant, avoiding succulents like ice plants (Carpobrotus edulis) is important because they form thick mats that can become flammable when they dry. Moreover, ice plants are invasive in most of California and severely harm native plants.
Blue Fescue (Festuca glauca)
This beautiful blue-hued ornamental clumping grass is one of the most popular firewise landscape choices thanks to its heat tolerance, drought tolerance, and resistance to ignition. The spike-ball-shaped clumps of thin, silvery-blue foliage don’t typically die back or turn brown in the summer.
Better yet, they stay very low to the ground and remain evergreen in mild climates. Blue fescue thrives in full sun and is great for planting in border beds near your home. The icy blue color adds a cooling effect, and the buff-colored feathery plumes typically appear in late summer or early fall once the risk of fire has passed.
Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia uvaria)
Also known as torch lily, this ironically-named flower is highly fire resistant thanks to its high moisture content and herbaceous perennial growth. According to Idaho’s Fire Resistance of Plants master database, red hot poker is ranked 10 for the most fire resistance, meaning it is safe to plant near your home.
These striking flowers grow 1-4’ tall and 2-3’ wide, blooming stunning spike-shaped red and yellow blooms in midsummer. The plants enjoy moist soils but tolerate drought in rock gardens as well.
Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)
Russian sage is a super resilient plant that resists fire, perfect for hot sunny pathways, walkway borders, and so-called “hell strips” along the road. Despite this nature, it’s best to keep this herbaceous perennial at least 20-30 feet from structures as it still contains some oils.
It is heat-hardy, xeric, drought-tolerant, and deer-resistant, making it safe to plant all around the borders of your property without requiring much maintenance.
Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
Lavender is another fragrant, drought-tolerant beauty that poses a very low fire risk. These herbaceous perennial plants thrive in dry conditions but don’t turn into fire kindling when the summer skies turn smoky.
As natives to the Mediterranean, lavender plants naturally enjoy dry rocky or sandy soils because they’ve adapted water conservation techniques in their tissues. The thin evergreen leaves may be rich in fragrant volatile oils, yet they don’t readily ignite. The bees will thank you for growing these gorgeous iconic purple flowers!
Coral Bells (Heuchera)
Coral bells is known for colorful mounds of perennial foliage that are virtually pest and disease-free! Varieties like ‘Fire Chief’ are bred for exceptional heat and humidity tolerance, offering stunning scarlet foliage that holds color and moisture throughout the entire season.
These clump-forming shrubs grow about 8 inches tall, making them less flammable and safe to have near the home. They thrive in dry shade and produce gorgeous panicles of bell-shaped flowers in the summer, drawing in butterflies and bees from all around! You can plant Heuchera along pathways, edges, rock gardens, and as ground cover without worrying about it igniting in the dry summer heat.
Known for its striking tubular-shaped flowers, penstemon is a hardy, fire-resistant plant beloved by pollinators. Beard Tongues are native to most of North America and enjoy acidic soils. They come in varied floral colors, from white to purple to red.
This herbaceous perennial shrub averages 36-48” in height, spreads up to 36” wide, and enjoys gravelly sandy soil much like lavender or sage. The plant is safe for fire zone 1 (closest plantings to your home) because it retains moisture and color throughout the summer and naturally resists drought.
If you’ve noticed the pattern, drought-resistant plants tend to be great for firewise landscapes because they have adapted ways to conserve extra moisture in their leaves, making them less likely to ignite.
Creeping Thyme (Thymus serpyllum)
As one of the best firewise groundcovers, creeping thyme is becoming a popular drought-tolerant lawn alternative and a natural weed-smothering “living mulch” in ornamental beds.
This fragrant vining herb keeps the soil surface covered to help retain moisture and prevent harsh UV rays from drying out the earth. At the same time, the tiny evergreen leaves conserve water in their tissues throughout the summer, ensuring you don’t have patches of dead, brown foliage that may catch fire.
Coneflower (Echinacea spp.)
This famous native wildflower makes nearly every list of plants ranked for drought-tolerance, pollinators, rain gardens, rock gardens, low-maintenance, and firewise landscaping. Coneflowers are proof that fire-conscious gardening doesn’t need to be bland! The gorgeous bright-colored blooms have uniquely conical centers with ray petals that angle downwards as if basking in the sun.
Butterflies and bees go crazy for Echinacea, but wildfire flames won’t! These plants are native to dry open prairies, where they’ve adapted lots of moisture retention to get them through long months without rainfall.
When prairie grasses naturally burn, coneflowers resist the flames and reliably return the following year. Interestingly, many coneflower species actually come back stronger and more bloom-heavy than ever after a burn because they outcompete fire-prone grasses.
Oregon Grape (Mahonia spp.)
The shiny, holly-shaped leaves of Oregon grape are amazingly resistant to fire. These shrubs grow up to 6’ tall but don’t accumulate much dry, dead material at their base as they grow. They maintain supple, moisturized leaf tissues throughout the season.
They thrive in partial shade and become quite drought-tolerant once established. This is a perfect firewise native plant for the Pacific Northwest region. Take note that Mahonia shrubs are not related to wine or table grapes.
Stonecrop (Sedum spp.)
Sedums of all types make a perfect fire-resistant ground cover thanks to their succulent leaves and low-growing habit. They are often used close to buildings and up slopes and hillsides to slow and suppress fast-moving fires raging upwards.
Sedums hold onto plenty of moisture without requiring supplemental irrigation, making them ideal for rock gardens and lawn alternatives in areas with low foot traffic.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
The feathery, drought-tolerant foliage of yarrow is beautiful and fire-resistant. This native perennial grows almost everywhere in the United States and produces gorgeous umbel-shaped flower clusters that attract beneficial insects. If yarrow can grow wild in roadside ditches and sidewalk cracks, you won’t have any problems growing it in your low-maintenance firewise landscape.
Once established, yarrow doesn’t need any irrigation or fertilizer. As long as you cut it back once yearly, yarrow maintains moist living foliage throughout even the hottest, driest seasons. In areas that get extra cold in the winter, you may need to remove any frost-killed leaves in the spring to ensure there isn’t any flammable debris near the base of the plants.
Barberry (Berberis spp.)
This low-maintenance shrub is tough, widely adapted, and easily integrated into any fire-resistant landscape. It comes in a range of rich colors for aesthetic interest from spring through fall.
Barberry comes in dazzling burgundy foliage, golden leaves, or rose-pink hues. These plants aren’t recommended for growing right next to a structure. Barberry is invasive in many areas. Check with your local extension office before planting.
Daylily (Hemerocallis spp.)
This perennial beauty produces dazzling tropical-looking flowers in late summer, with hues ranging from gold to pink to white to yellow. They enjoy full sun and well-drained soil, requiring moderate water during extremely dry periods.
The plant is highly fire-resistant and safe to grow 10 feet from home. The large blossoms attract butterflies and hummingbirds and are edible. Hardy in zones 3-9, daylily foliage is like a thick grass that retains a lot of water during fire season.
Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia)
This incredibly adaptable ground cover vining plant can grow from full sun to full shade. It thrives in disturbed sites thanks to its high drought tolerance and simultaneous adaptability to wet, boggy areas. It can truly go either way!
Creeping jenny rapidly colonizes open soils, protecting them from erosion and excessive dryness during fire season. They bloom with pretty little yellow flowers that contrast nicely against the dark green carpet of foliage.
The plant can be invasive in some areas, so check with your local extension service before planting. The yellow and golden cultivars like ‘Aurea’ are far less aggressive and typically chosen for ornamental plantings.
Carnation (Dianthus spp.)
Garden carnations include over 300 species of fire-resistant plants safe to grow in zone 1 (closest to your home). They have grayish-green foliage and vibrant fluffy flowers with a nice clove fragrance. They are deer-resistant and attract lots of butterflies throughout the summer.
These plants require well-drained soil and full sunlight, yet they’re still drought-resistant and naturally retain water in their stems and blossoms. They may require some extra grit and organic matter in heavy clay soils. They also need extra moisture to maintain flowers during prolonged droughts.
Carnations are popular in rock gardens and cottage gardens. If you deadhead them, they will repeatedly bloom. Some species are annuals, and some are evergreen perennials, so choose a variety adapted to your region and aesthetic.
Tickseed (Coreopsis spp.)
Coreopsis is a stunning yellow-and-red-flowered native plant sometimes called tickseed (but don’t worry, it doesn’t attract ticks). It got this name because the little brown seeds resemble ticks. Coreopsis are remarkably drought-resistant and adaptable to nearly any soil.
Despite their delicate, sunshiny appearance, they are rugged wildflowers that stay low to the ground (under 24”) and work well for fire-prone landscapes. Deer will leave these flowers alone, but pollinators and beneficial insects flock to them!
Lupine (Lupinus spp.)
There is a reason you see this iconic mountain wildflower blanketing once-burned slopes. Lupines are highly fire-resistant and adapt to a range of soils, whether slow-draining or well-drained. They need a bit more water than some other plants on this list, but they are leguminous, meaning they work symbiotically with root bacteria to fix nitrogen in the soil.
Lupines come in a rainbow of colors, but I think the most striking are the wild purple-and-silver types native to western North America. Grow these attractive perennials in full sun and moist soils along the borders and edges of the landscape.
Yucca (Yucca spp.)
The Yucca genus includes about 50 species of evergreen perennials with sword-shaped leaves and impressive panicles of creamy-colored flowers. When driving through parts of the southwest, you can see vibrant yucca blooming amid scorched trees and burned vegetation. This fire-resistant plant literally resists catching flames. It also has a nice grassy aesthetic to substitute fire-prone invasives like pampas grass.
The iridescent quality of yucca blooms is striking in any landscape. The plants are impeccably drought tolerant and have adapted to survive extremely hot, harsh, dry conditions. The deep root systems can break through tough soils, and the fleshy root structures store water to keep the plant hydrated during the fire season.
Purple Smoke Tree (Cotinus coggygria)
This stunning small tree is great for high-elevation areas prone to wildfires. Although it gets its name from the smoke-like airy plumes of pinkish-purple seed clusters, a purple smoke tree is unlikely to produce any smoke because it has thick bark and leathery leaves that resist flame. The dramatic foliage comes in reddish-purple hues and remains colorful all summer long before turning to bright red in the autumn.
Manzanita (Arctostaphylos spp.)
This moderately fire-resistant tree may sometimes have its foliage burned away, but the resilient trunks and branches remain standing even after harsh fires, revealing the picturesque bark. Some species of manzanita even require fire to germinate their seeds. Still, its flammable foliage means it’s best kept at least 20-30 feet away from your home.
This beautiful genus includes about 50 species, many native to the arid west and well-adapted to drought. Manzanitas may be trees or shrubs and reliably produce big displays of stunning droopy flowers.
This stout flame-resistant ornamental averages just 2 feet tall and wide. The fernlike, glossy foliage retains moisture and produces colorful spikes of showy flowers in late spring.
Plants enjoy partial shade and moisture, making them best for managed garden beds with irrigation. They do not tolerate dry soils and prefer boggier areas that remain moist throughout the season.
Hosta (Hosta spp.)
This iconic shade-grown herbaceous perennial is firewise and safe for planting close to your home. The plants enjoy and retain lots of moisture, producing intriguing bluish-green foliage and fragrant summer flowers.
Hostas are popular additions to shade and woodland gardens. The only maintenance they require is a nice prune after the frost to ensure no residual foliage is left over next year. Plants regenerate annually from their root system and return to a 6-36” height and 20-24” width in peak season.
Coastal Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia)
Fire-resistant trees are harder to find, but certainly exist. This California native oak has a high water content in the bark and leaves, is deciduous (sheds its leaves in the fall), and produces moist resin to protect the bark. They grow up to 70 feet tall and wide, providing abundant shade and beauty for a large yard.
Remember that firewise trees are not completely immune to burning. It’s still best to leave 30-100 feet between your house and trees. Keep live oaks pruned by removing “ladder fuels” (lower branches) at least 10 feet above the ground. For maximum safety, it helps to have a firebreak between trees and the home, such as a gravel walkway or concrete driveway.
American Mountain Ash (Sorbus americana)
If you love fall color but still need fire-resistant trees, plant American mountain ash! This is another gorgeous deciduous tree with moderate drought tolerance and high water content in the leaves.
The dark green leaves grow up to a foot long and turn yellow, orange, or red in the fall. Gorgeous white flowers appear in the springtime and yield bunches of berry-like fruits.
Mountain ash grows 20-30 feet tall and benefits from low-level pruning to cut down on burnable branches.
Plants to Avoid in a Firewise Landscape
Conifers like juniper, pine, fir, spruce, and cypress are flammable because they have many oils in their leaves. If you grow these trees, keep them far from your home and water them well during fire season.
Many ornamental grasses, like switchgrass, are highly flammable and can cause wildfire to spread more rapidly. Low-growing grasses are great, but large frilly grasses pose the greatest fire risk.
The best plants for a fire-prone landscape are those with high water content, drought tolerance, and a growth habit that does not produce a lot of excess debris. The key to firewise landscaping is reducing the number of burnable branches, leaves, or dead foliage lying around the yard. Integrating fire breaks and growing certain species like trees and large shrubs farther from the home is also useful. Remember to prune and clean up your yard regularly to prevent flames from taking hold of landscape plants.