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Tips: Monthly Fire-smart Reminders

Feeling overwhelmed and need a place to start? Check out our monthly tips for actionable, affordable ways to reduce fuel on your property. Our fire-smart landscaping tips are a reminder to homeowners to plan and maintain their homes and landscapes with awareness of the threat of wildfires. Read on for this month's fire-smart tip!


JANUARY: Pruning and Thinning for Fire Safety

Photo: Richard Ackley
Photo: Richard Ackley

Winter is a great season to focus on pruning while trees are dormant (except apricot and cherry). When pruning for fire safety, prioritize Zone 0 (0-5 feet from home) and Zone 1 (5-30 feet from home). 

Prune to remove dead and dying branches

Dead and dying branches are highly flammable and pose a hazard. Prune them regularly to prevent them from accumulating and creating fuel ladders that can carry fire to the crowns of trees.

Prune and thin to increase space between trees and shrubs

Thinning out dense areas of shrubs and trees reduces the amount of continuous fuel for fire. Proper spacing helps prevent fire from spreading quickly and creates defensible space for firefighters. For more information about spacing, see our November tips: Plant Spacing in a Fire-Smart Landscape.

Additional tips:

  • Avoid topping trees as this weakens their structure and encourages dense, twiggy growth that is highly flammable
  • Remove branches within 10 feet of your chimney
  • Consider removing branches that overhang your roof to minimize plant debris, but not to the detriment of the tree’s health
  • For more information about healthy pruning techniques, click here

Remember, fire-smart pruning is an ongoing process. Regularly monitor your landscape and prune as needed to maintain defensible space around your home.


FEBRUARY: Trees & Shrubs - Consider Spacing

FIRESafe Marin

  • Consider creating separation by increasing spacing between tree canopies while considering flat vs sloped terrain.
  • Maintain vertical clearance of at least 3X the shrub’s height between the tops of shrubs and the bottom of the tree canopy. This can be done by pruning the shrub down, or pruning smaller, easily ignitable tree branches up, or both.
  • Remove dead trees.
  • Plant spacing, size control and maintenance are more important than type of plant.

MARCH: Remove & Replace Invasive Plants

Invasives_Mitchell Luo_Unsplash

Invasive plants spread quickly, use precious water, and add considerable amounts of fuel for fire.

If you decide not to replace an invasive plant by planting a new plant in its place, use an appropriate mulch to cover the bare spot to prevent weeds and other opportunistic plants from establishing in this area. Learn more about mulch here.

APRIL: Assessing Fire Risk to Your Property

Rock mulch and spaced plants_Becca Ryan

When you evaluate your fire risk, think lean, clean, and green.

Lean landscapes

  • Plant with appropriate spacing between plants. Learn more about plant spacing
  • Separate clusters of plants from each other with pathways of non-combustible materials.

Clean landscapes

  • Remove dried grass, weeds, dead branches, and all other dead vegetation.
  • Check gutters, roofs, eaves, vents, chimneys, and under decks for leaf and needle litter.
  • Thin and reduce branches from dense tree canopies. Learn more about prunning

Green landscapes


MAY: Lean & Clean Exit Routes

Photo by: Pam Noensie
Photo by: Pam Noensie

In case of a fire, know your best escape routes and keep yourself, your family, and firefighters safe by maintaining a clean and lean landscape around your property’s exit routes.

  • Keep vegetation around your exit routes pruned for clearance and hydrated for optimal plant health.
  • Remove combustible materials such as jute door mats, wood planters and furniture, etc. from your exits.
  • Remove dead plant material and debris from exit routes, and all plant material growing near doors and windows.
  • Replace wood gates, arbors, or trellises near exit routes with metal.
  • Have evacuation signs ready to post at home exits. These signs will inform fire personnel that you have left the property. Check with your local fire department for signs.

JUNE: Clean up Zone Zero - Within 5 Feet of Your Home


Zone 0 is the area within 5 feet of your home and is a critical area to keep clean of any combustible materials in order to better protect your home from fire.

  • Remove dead or dry leaves and pine needles from your yard, roof, and rain gutters.
  • Clean-up areas where wind eddies deposit leaf and plant litter along the perimeter of your home. 
  • Replace plants within 5 feet of the home with potted plants that are easy to move away from the home during a fire threat.
  • Remove combustible mulch within 5 feet of the home and move it to another location in your garden. Click here to learn more about mulch guidelines for a fire-smart landscape
  • Move common combustible fire hazards away from the area immediately surrounding your home including brooms, rakes, plastic waste bins, wood furniture, furniture cushions, wood piles, and natural fiber door mats. Click here to learn more about how to manage these common fire hazards

JULY: Mindfully Mulch

Photo: Saxon Holt
Photo: Saxon Holt

  • Mulch: material spread over the surface of the soil to help reduce water evaporation, add organic material to soil, suppress weeds, reduce erosion and compaction and help maintain a more even soil temperature and health.
  • 0 feet to 5 feet from your house: non-combustible mulch such as stone, rock, pavers, decomposed granite, or gravel. 
  • 5 feet to 30 feet from your home: composted wood chips are considered the best choice for residential landscapes. Limit mulch depth to two inches. Separate wood chip areas with non-combustible  hardscaping materials to slow fire. 
  • 30 feet and beyond from your home: larger, composted or non-composted wood chips or bark nuggets up to a depth of 3 inches. 
  • Hazardous mulches to avoid: shredded western red cedar (gorilla hair) or pine needles. Do not use any fine, stringy mulches, they burn faster than larger chunks.

AUGUST:  Water Wise Strategies

August FSL

Use these important fire-smart & water-wise landscaping strategies:

  • Help your soil maintain moisture by using compost and appropriate fire-smart mulches.
  • Avoid planting new plants during the hot summer months. They need more water to establish themselves and thrive.
  • Learn how much water your plants need and give them the right amount. This will help keep your plants healthy and happy.
  • Water your plants in the early morning, applying water to the base of the plant within its dripline.
  • OVER IRRIGATION IS COMMON. Consider using flow meters, soaker hoses, drip irrigation, and irrigation controllers for more efficient administration and monitoring.
  • Use fertilizers sparingly. They make plants grow quickly and require more water to support new growth.
  • Remove invasive plants and weeds which take water from other pants. Reduce the size of your thirsty lawn.
  • On days with Red Flag warnings, avoid changing your irrigation schedule or using more water. Using excessive water for irrigation reduces the water available to our fire personnel.
  • Watch this video to learn how to prioritize your plants to conserve water for landscaping.

SEPTEMBER: Maintaining a Fire-smart Landscape

Photo: Benti Kaur
Photo: Benti Kaur

  • Continuously clear dead leaves, branches, and debris from around your home, especially from your roof and gutters.
  • Maintain a clearance of 10 feet between tree limbs and your chimney, and 5 feet from the rest of the home.
  • Regularly prune trees and shrubs to remove dead branches and increase space in tree canopies to reduce flammable fuel.
  • Remove low-hanging branches from trees to create space between lower vegetation to reduce the risk of fire ladders. 
  • Keep vegetation from overhanging or touching power lines.
  • Remove any dead vegetation and dry grasses from the landscape to reduce potential fuel.
  • Regularly inspect plants for drought stress and water appropriately to keep plants healthy.

OCTOBER: Fire-smart Plant Considerations

Photo: Ben Iwara
Photo: Ben Iwara

There are no fire-resistant plants since all plants can burn. But there are aspects to consider when selecting plants to include in your fire-smart landscape. Plant spacing, size, and maintenance are important considerations.


  • Plants that have a higher moisture content, lower resin or sap content, and less volatile oils.
  • Low-growing plants and plants that don’t produce excessive amounts of dry, combustible vegetation that can act as fuel for fires.
  • California native plants that are well adapted to your climate and ecosystem which will be more likely to thrive without excessive watering and maintenance, reducing fire risk.
  • Horizontal and vertical spacing between plants and hardscape features that separate plant groupings to break up the path of fire.

Avoid plants that:

  • Tend to build up dead thatch inside or under a green surface layer.
  • Produce and shed excessive dead, dry, or fine debris.
  • Create fire ladders such as vines or shrubs that grow beneath trees and create vertical pathways for fire to climb.
  • Are Invasive.


NOVEMBER: Plant Spacing in a Fire-smart Landscape

FIRESafe Marin

When considering plant spacing, you need to be mindful of how close the plants are to structures, the mature size of the plants, the steepness of slopes, and the vertical and horizontal spacing of plants. 

Horizontal spacing:

  • It is ideal to remove all plants within 5 feet of structures.
  • Plant density can increase the further away from structures you get.
  • Separate groups of plants with hardscaping to help slow down or prevent the spread of fire.
  • On a mild slope (0-20% slope), space trees at least 10 feet apart from their dripline and space shrubs 2x their height from each other.
  • On a medium slope (20-40%), space trees at least 20 feet apart and shrubs 4x their height.
  • On a steep slope (over 40%), space trees at least 30 feet apart and shrubs 6x their height.
  • Avoid planting trees in rows or hedges.

Vertical spacing:

  • Remove tree branches that are within 6 feet from the ground on trees that are 18 feet or taller.
  • If shrubs are under a tree, maintain a vertical clearance of 3x the shrub’s height between the top of the shrub to the lowest branch of the tree. 
  • When creating vertical space under trees, prioritize the tree's health by ensuring that the upper two-thirds of the tree has branches.

DECEMBER: Planning Your 3 Defensible Zones for Fire Safety

These zones make up the 100' of defensible space required by law. FIRESafe Marin
These zones make up the 100' of defensible space required by law. FIRESafe Marin

When planning your fire-smart landscape, start from the home and work your way out. The first 5 feet from your home is the most critical area. 

Zone 0 – 0 to 5 feet from the house
Objective: create a fire-resistant barrier around any buildings by minimizing combustible materials.

  • Use non-combustible mulch and hardscaping such as concrete, brick, rocks, decomposed granite, and gravel
  • Avoid planting near windows

Zone 1 – 5 to 30 feet from the house
Objective: Reduce heat and movement of flame by creating a “lean and clean” environment.

  • Allow for ample plant spacing to slow the spread of flames
  • Plant low-growing and well-irrigated plants closer to the home and larger shrubs and trees further away
  • Break up mulched areas with hardscaping

Zone 2 – 30 to 100 feet from the house
Objective: Decrease the energy and speed of a fire by eliminating plant density.

  • Allow ample plant spacing both vertically and horizontally to slow down the spread of fire
  • You may need to collaborate with your neighbors to plan out this defensible zone