Ocean Friendly Gardens: Guidance for Fire Hazard Zones

From Beachapedia

Planning an Ocean Friendly Garden in a Fire Hazard Zone

Mindfully planned landscaping layouts, plant choices, and land stewardship practices can be used to minimize the ignition and spread of fires near the places we live, work, and play. The best practices outlined in Surfrider's Ocean Friendly Gardens criteria can help stabilize soil and protect water quality before and after fires. If you are located in a fire hazard area, please consider creating and stewarding an Ocean Friendly Garden with the guidance below.


  • All plant material should have fire-resistant characteristics: does not produce much leaf litter, maintains high moisture content, low volatile oil content. The most appropriate plants are often ones that are locally native to your area, as they maintain a higher “live fuel moisture content” (LFMC) than traditional plants while using less water. Find plant recommendations specific to your region
  • Plants should be spaced appropriately to prevent fire from rapidly spreading.
  • Invasive plants are not allowed within the OFG criteria, and this is especially relevant in high-fire hazard zones. Invasive grasses and plants are often highly flammable and act as fuel sources.

Rainwater Retention

  • Rainwater retention features such as dry creeks, rain gardens, and contours like berms and swales can help naturally hydrate your landscape during the wet season and protect water quality after a fire event.
  • Dry creeks and rain gardens lined with stones can help provide appropriate spacing between plants while adding functionality.
  • Metal cisterns and rain barrels prevent runoff while collecting water that can be used to help keep plants hydrated during dry weather.


  • Shredded redwood mulch (“gorilla hair mulch”) works well as long as it is well consolidated or compacted through rainfall or irrigation.
  • Naturally occurring oak leaf litter can be left in place.
  • No organic mulch should be used within 5 feet of structures. A 5-10 foot wide “apron” against the house of non combustible materials is important to prevent ignition against the house and embers from going under eaves.  Stone, gravel, decomposed granite (DG) or permeable pavers are all good options for this 5-10 foot buffer zone while maintaining permeability.


  • Permanent irrigation systems like drip lines and high-efficiency sprinklers are critical to keeping plants hydrated in the summer. Very light irrigation (about 0.25in twice a month in the summer) can help maintain hydration of vegetation. High efficiency rotator sprinklers with an adjustable timer are ideal to mimic rainfall and thoroughly hydrate the landscape.
  • Rotator sprinklers or hand watering with a spray nozzle during the summer can reduce transpiration from plants and keep them properly hydrated.


  • Removing invasive weeds and annual grasses is especially important for fire risk zones. Low-growing, evergreen perennial plants, shading trees, and organic (shredded native plant material) or inorganic (gravel) mulches can help prevent weeds from reestablishing.
  • Use caution with landscape equipment like mowers and edgers during the dry season. Sparks from lawn equipment accidentally hitting rocks or metal can ignite fires in dry vegetation. Keep a water source like a bucket or hose readily available or use hand tools.
  • Prune the base of large shrubs and trees upward, so the distance between the understory plants and the crown is approximately 3x the height of the understory. For example: A large tree with 2ft tall shrubs in the understory should be pruned about 6ft above the top of the shrubs. This prevents “fire laddering” where fire climbs upward into the crown of a tree and embers can spread farther.
  • Removing dead wood and pruning back plants seasonally can help reduce fuel and promote new, hydrated growth. Removed material can be shredded and mulched on site to prevent weeds from overtaking newly exposed space.

Other Landscape Design Considerations

  • Avoid wooden fences that make contact with buildings and replace with metal fences, stucco walls, brick.
  • Avoid placing flammable structures, patio furniture, and firewood up against houses and structures. Metal and other non-flammable materials for outdoor pergolas, sheds, and furniture are always the best option.
  • Permeable pathways through vegetated areas can act as firebreaks and promote appropriate spacing of plants. Permeable pathways and pavers help rainwater infiltrate to hydrate the soli and reduce the risk of erosion nearby.

Region-specific resources


Learn more about Surfrider's Ocean Friendly Gardens program