Skip to main content

Create Defensible Space

Help protect your home from wildfire. Creating defensible space is  effective – and cost-effective!

graphic showing defensible space

In the 5 feet immediately next to your house

Prepare for embers flying in from a mile or more away.

  • No vegetation here, no flammable mulch.
  • Stick to hardscape, like rock paths and patios, or even bare dirt.
  • Remove overhanging tree limbs.
  • Don’t leave anything flammable, like wooden furniture, fences, brooms, or wood piles in this zone, or under decks!

In the 5 to 100 foot zone (the next 95 feet)

You do NOT need to remove all trees and bushes here!

  • Remove all dead and dying plant material, including that hidden deep in shrubs and trees.
  • Its okay to use organic mulch like wood chips in this zone, as long as its no more than 3 inches deep.
  • Mow annual grasses and weeds to a 2-4 inch height. Consider mowing around wildflowers!
  • Limb up trees 6 feet or more from the ground – but not more than 1/3 of a tree’s height (to maintain tree’s health).
  • Choose which trees/shrubs you especially want to save for shade, wildlife value, visual appeal etc. (see below for help in choosing).  Remove enough of the trees and shrubs between those specimens to break up a path for fire – both horizontal and vertical. 
  • Create a “scattered” landscape – lots of space between trees and shrubs in the first 30 ft, still some space but not quite as much out to 100 ft (200 ft if your property is steep).
  • Keep shrubs away from the area under trees so they don't become "ladder fuels",  bringing fire to trees overhead.  Flames from a shrub can reach 3-4 times the height of the shrub.

Recommendation for trees: Canopies should be 10 feet apart.  This is especially  important for conifers, due to the resin in their pine needles.
Recommendation for shrubs: Space them at a distance equal to twice their height.  For example, if your shrubs are 2 feet high, you'd space them apart by 4 feet.

Maintain your defensible space in the future – this is not a do-it-once-and-forget-it process!

Choosing Plants to keep in the 5-100 ft zone

It’s hard to cut down plants that you know are good for wildlife, and/or that you enjoy.  Here is some info on shrubs and trees that are either commonly planted in, or native to, the Oak Hill area, to help you choose which specimens to keep.

Good candidates for REMOVAL, especially if small or crowded

These can be highly flammable.

  • Rosemary
  • Juniper
  • Spruce
  • Fountain grasses
  • Pampas grass
  • Fir 
  • Incense cedar
  • Douglas fir
  • Pine 
  • Live oak
  • Manzanita

Natives WORTH SAVING as well-spaced specimens

These have low flammability and high habitat value.

  • Black oak
  • Valley oak
  • Buckeye
  • Coffeeberry
  • Riparian plants

Other natives that are uncommon in our area and worth cherishing

These have low to moderate flammability, high habitat value, and can be quite pretty. Keep well spaced, as for all vegetation.

  • Madrone
  • Ash
  • Oregon grape
  • Milkweed
  • Native bulbs

High wildlife value but can be flammable

These need to be maintained well if you keep them. They can get woody- keep dead material removed.  

  • Baccharis- coyote bush  (Transplants well: can be moved beyond the 100 ft zone)
  • Toyon  (Occasional watering can help it be fire resistant)

Sources: Plant list rated by Ray Griffith, former horticultural instructor, Folsom Lake College;   Calscape.org; firesafesanmateo.org

Special thanks to Annie Walker, El Dorado Chapter, California Native Plant Society

More Plant Ratings

Native plants

You’ll find a Complete rated list of plants native to El Dorado County on the website of the El Dorado Chapter of the California Native Plant Society.

Non-native plants

For two lists of non-native plants, one for fire resistant plants and one for highly flammable plants, visit Diablo Fire Safe Council plant list online.

Don't leave your home vulnerable:  Create defensible space!

May contain: plant, grass, tree, building, housing, cottage, house, and vegetation
Defensible Space
May contain: fire and forest fire
No Defensible Space