How fire ready is your garden?

How fire ready is your garden?

By Lidia Boque Gousgouni
24 Jan 2018

Rural properties have the most chance of exposure to fires simply by location and size of the property. However, urban properties can also be exposed to spotting embers.

There is a growing movement to incorporating more endemic (natural to local area) native plants in our gardens these days, as it’s good for attracting birds, lizards and other wildlife. Information can be sought from your local Council, nursery or landscaper to get assistance in which ones should be close to the house and which ones may create unnecessary risk. 

CFA have produced a guide for landscaping in fire-prone areas. You may be able to track down a hard copy from here or check the NSW Rural Fire Service ( and NSW Fire Rescue ( websites for further information on preparing your property for bushfire. 

Many natives have oils in their foliage that can be hazardous if exposed to fires - i.e. plants such as Eucalyptus (gum trees), Callistemon (bottlebrush), Melaleuca and Leptospermum (Tea trees) varieties. Some may also have paper bark, stringy or fibrous bark. If you are going to plant trees near buildings, smooth bark species are less risk.This house has straw as mulch, a pile of chip bark in the yard and vegetation close to the house, not a perfect situation in the case of a bushfire.

Another trend over the past decade has been clusters of native grasses that can also build up a lot of dead material. They can be treated a bit like lawn grasses. Cut them back once or twice a year to remove dead and damaged blades encourages new fresher growth. If they look more dead than alive, give it a try cutting to approximately 100mm in height.

Do you need to prune trees and or shrubs around your buildings? – remove branches and foliage touching or overhanging the roof. Remove any dead wood that may be building up in the centre of the plant as they get older. The foliage is often dense on the outside blocking the sun to the inner branches, this isn’t a problem naturally, however, creates potential ignition point for embers

Have you cleaned your gutters from any leaves that drop or blow in from yours or neighbouring plants? This is good housekeeping but especially important at this time of year as again it can be an ignition point for embers.

Think about what type of mulch you have near your house. Wood chip and straw are great for the garden but may be a problem in adverse conditions. Another option could be pebbles close to the house or simply have a pebble access track between the house and any gardens. This will also keep your builder happy as it improves drainage which helps prevent moisture getting into the house and also minimises the chance of white ant entry, (not so critical in typical suburban blocks, more for on the fringe of bushland).

In the rural areas, work towards having less vegetation in close proximity to the house and maintain the lawns. The less vegetation close to the house may assist in a fire situation. Large trees should be situated well away from the house. If you are not sure, information can be found on the CFA website (, NSW Rural Fire Service website or the NSW Fire Rescue website.

Photo caption

This house has straw as mulch, a pile of chip bark in the yard and vegetation close to the house, not a perfect situation in the case of a bushfire.

Written by

Kevin Albert, Landscape Teacher at Wodonga TAFE.