Medium-sized Plants Recommended for Firescaping:

Aloe arborescensAloe arborescensThe list below includes both exotic and indigenous plants that can be used in  all three zones of a firescaped garden: The fire resistant ‘Buffer Zone’ on the perimeter of the property; the ‘Garden or Medium-Resistance Zone’, and the 3m wide ‘Low Resistance Zone’ closest to the home. Read more below.

If you have not read my introduction to firescaping a garden, click here to read this free article first.

Landscaping a property to be firewise requires planting in zones and is known as “firescaping”. Knowing which plants to use in the three zones of a firescaped property will go a long way in reducing damage in the face of a runaway wildfire.

Thankfully there are many indigenous and exotic plants that can be used to firescape your garden, and the plants you select will be determined by the region you live in - its climate, rainfall, and soil type. Visit your local garden centre before finalising your list to ensure that the plants selected are suitable for your growing region.

Although a lot of research has been done on the fire resistance of many garden plants the science of firescaping is still in its infancy and a lot of studies still need to be done on this subject. There are thousands of fire resistant plant lists available online, some of which are compiled simply by observing which garden plants have survived fierce wildfires, and which seemed to fuel the fires.

The plant list below is by no means complete and was compiled from information available in South Africa, and worldwide, but especially those fire prone regions of Australia and California, as they grow many of the same garden plants as we do in South Africa.

Two types of plants are recommended for a firescaped garden: ‘fire retardant’ and ‘fire resistant’. These, together with a planting method which is designed to slow down a fire, and most importantly to create a safe zone around your home, will go a long way in protecting your home and family. It’s really quite simple!

The purpose of this document is to provide homeowners with guidance on ways to landscape their property with fire resistant plants to help reduce losses from wildfire damage. It contains suggestions and recommendations, and is intended to serve only as a guide. If you live in a high fire zone it is recommended that you do your own research and seek advice from garden centres and locals in your area before making your final decision.

Crane Flower (Strelitzia reginae)

The beautiful crane flower with its large evergreen clumps of stiff grey-green leaves and startling flowers is known in places like California as a ‘fire-smart’ plant that can be used in the garden or medium resistance zone. In South Africa there are 5 different species: Strelitzia reginae, Strelitzia juncea, Strelitzia nicolai, Strelitzia alba, and Strelitzia caudata. Their bold structure is highly recommended for mass plantings at office parks and schools, as they are virtually maintenance free and need only to be kept tidy by removing the old flowers and leaves. Strelitzias are also drought tolerant, but look better if watered moderately during long dry periods.

Members can click here to read more about Strelitzias

Fence Aloe (Aloiampelos tenuior)

All aloes are recommended for firescaping a property but the fence aloe comes highly recommended. This semi-erect to rambling aloe produces several prostrate stems emerging from a central rootstock at ground level. The thin stems take root along the part of the stem lying on the ground, forming  large clumps. It is well suited to rockeries, retaining walls, terraces and embankments, as well as mixed beds and borders. Plant it in massed beds to cover large areas, or encourage it to climb up fences and trellises. It is particularly good to plant in dry shade under trees, as long as the shade is light, and it is also suitable for container growth.

Members can click here to read more about the Fence Aloe



Indian Hawthorn (Raphiolepis)

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) tested and listed the ignitability of Australian garden plants. They listed Raphiolepis on List 2, as exotic plants that regularly appear on lists as fire retardant plants. They are water-wise and grow well in pots because they remain dense and neat. They also take well to pruning and are ideal for flowering hedges and screening plants. They also work well in mixed shrub borders, and certain varieties make excellent standard plants because they are slow growing, and therefore easy to maintain, requiring clipping only once a year.

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Escallonia shrubs also appear on many firescaping lists for the garden or medium resistance zone, and the smaller varieties are also used in the low resistance zone closest to the home. This reliable evergreen looks good all year round with its pleasantly aromatic, glossy, dark green leaves, and pretty clusters of small bell-shaped flowers. All varieties make excellent screening or hedging plants because they have a compact growth habit, grow quickly, and respond well to clipping. Vigorous breeds are excellent for large hedges or windbreaks. The hybrids vary slightly in height and spread, from +-1.5 to 3m tall.

Members can click here to read more about Escallonia



Hydrangea (Hydrangea species)

Hydrangeas are suitable for the garden or medium resistance zone. Although some species will grow in full sun if the climate is not too hot and they are kept moist, generally they are all shade lovers. The most common species grown in South African gardens are Hydrangea macrophylla, Hydrangea arborescens, Hydrangea paniculata, Hydrangea serrata and Hydrangea quercifolia.

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Japanese Laurel (Aucuba japonica)

The Japanese laurel is valued for its gorgeous foliage, and is recommended for firescaping in shady areas of the garden. It is also renowned for its robustness, facing urban pollution, salty coastal winds, and cold and dry shade head-on - and living to tell the tale! It responds well to regular watering but is remarkably drought tolerant once established.

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Japanese Spindle Plant (Euonymus japonicus hybrids)

Japanese Spindle Plants appear on firescaping plant lists, and because they can be clipped into any shape they are popular topiary plants. Their bold variegated foliage and dense, upright growth habit also makes them an excellent choice for colourful hedges or informal screening. They grow well throughout the country, and although they will tolerate drought once established, they are not suited to exceptionally hot, dry and humid regions.

Members can click here to read more about Euonymus 

Coastal Rosemary, Australian Rosemary (Westringia fruticosa)

Westringia appears on several lists of fire resistant plants, and this pretty shrub is hardy, fast, and easy to grow. And because it responds well to clipping, it can be left as a dense rounded shrub, or it can be pruned for a more formal look. For this reason it makes a wonderful informal or formal screen or hedge, if planted about 60cm to 1m apart. It is also a favourite standard plant for garden beds or containers.

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Cape Honeysuckle, umsilingi (Tecomaria capensis)

The Cape honeysuckle is listed in California as a good ‘fire-wise’ ornamental, and because it is also drought tolerant is recommended for xeriscaping – a landscaping method that reduces or eliminates the need for supplemental water from irrigation. Cape honeysuckle responds well to pruning and can be shaped into an attractive shrub, or formal or informal screen or hedge. In large areas it can be planted as a groundcover, and on rocky slopes it’s marvellous to control soil erosion. It can be trained as a climber by weaving it through a chain-link fence or trellis, and in small gardens it will even thrive in a pot.

Members can click here to read more about Tecomaria

Plumbago, umabophe (Plumbago auriculata)

This scrambling plant is classified as fire-resistant if planted in a defensible space like the garden or medium resistance zone. Established plants are tolerant of heat and drought but can become sparse if periodic deep watering is not provided, and if left un-pruned it will clamour up existing shrubs and trees, so bear this in mind when using plumbago in a firescaped garden, and prevent it from climbing up trees etc. It is lovely trained along a wire fence, or spilling down a bank or low wall. It makes a showy informal hedge and pruning will keep it round and bushy. It is available as a standard plant, and grows easily in pots. 

Members can click here to read more about Tecomaria



Krantz Aloe (Aloe arborescens)

Owing to their moisture-retaining leaves that contain no flammable resins or oils, aloes can be utilised as gorgeous living firebreaks around the perimeter of your property, and in island beds within the garden zone for added fire resistance. The krantz aloe is an excellent fire-retardant succulent and it stands out in the landscape with its stately form, up to 2 to 3m tall, and has a spreading habit, producing a multi-headed shrub of striking green leaves armed with sharp teeth at their margins. It is easy to growin informal groups, or as an impenetrable hedging plant.

Members can click here to read more about the Krantz Aloe

Sacred Bamboo (Nandina)

Sacred bamboo is recommended for firescaping gardens. It is one of those garden plants that looks gorgeous in all seasons, has non-invasive roots, will grow in full sun or semi-shade, and grows throughout South Africa. It can be pruned down to any height, and if planted closely together can be used as an informal screen or hedge. There are several varieties including dwarf  cultivars which are excellent to use as a low maintenance groundcover for very large gardens, parks, traffic islands and similar commercial landscape applications.

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New Zealand Flax (Phormium)

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) tested and listed the ignitability of Australian plants, and they listed Phormium on List 2, as 'Ozbreed' plants that regularly appear on many lists as fire retardant plants. This excellent architectural plant is used to great effect in featured mass plantings in parks and office parks, schools, playgrounds, and along roadsides. The hybrids come in all sizes, and with intriguingly coloured foliage. They are all wonderful for low maintenance flower and shrub borders, in gravel or rock gardens, or at the edge of a lawn. The smaller varieties grow beautifully in pots.

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Mirror Bush (Coprosma repens)

This shrub or small tree is renowned for its remarkable resistance to drought, poor soil, wind and salt spray. Also remarkable is the way fire will kill only the top growth but the plant will survive and regenerate from the roots. For this reason it appears in many firescaping plant lists. Hybrids are available in exciting colours and vary greatly in size from groundcovers to larger growing specimens which can be clipped into hedges or informal screens in the garden or medium resistance zone, and the buffer zone; to small shrubs which are perfect for the low resistance zone closest to the home. Coprosma are excellent for coastal re-vegetation planting. and windbreaks.

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Common Myrtle (Myrtus communis)

The Common Myrtle appears in firescaping lists, and if left unpruned will grow into a delightfully shaped shrub. Because of its tolerance of clipping, if planted closely together it makes a wonderfully thick formal hedge and windbreak. Several smaller-growing garden varieties are available, often with lovely variegated, green and pale yellow leaves. Myrtles also grow happily in pots, making them perfect candidates for city and courtyard gardens.

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Azalea & Rhododendron

These shrubs are invaluable to use in semi-shaded areas, and are listed for  firescaping in the garden or medium resistance zone. The evergreen Rhododendron indicum and its many garden hybrids are the most extensively grown species throughout South Africa. They vary in size, from small shrubs that are happiest in pots, to the large and hardy ‘indica’ varieties that can make an attractive hedge. These shrubs have fibrous, non-invasive roots.

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Gardenia, Katjiepeiring (Gardenia augusta)

Gardenias are recommended for the garden, or medium resistance zone of a firescaped garden, and thankfully they come in many forms. Gardenia augusta shrubs usually have a round shape, growing 1.8 to 2.5m tall, with almost an equal spread, and make a beautiful freestanding specimen shrub to plant in the mixed shrub border, or close to a patio, entrance, or garden bench. The dwarf and groundcover varieties are utterly charming and also look wonderful in pots or spilling over hanging baskets.

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Glossy Abelia, Golden Abelia (Abelia x grandiflora)

Abelias are known to be fire resistant and can be planted in the buffer zone on the perimeters of large properties or country estates that are prone to veld fires. They can also be planted in the other zones of a firescaped garden. Because Abelias are available in all sizes, from petite to large, there is an ideal one for every sized garden, and because their roots are not invasive and they respond well to pruning, they make excellent formal hedging, or informal screening plants.

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Boxwood, Common Box (Buxus spp)

These versatile plants appear on firescaping lists and are great for regions which experience cool to cold winters and and are fully hardy to frost, snow and low temperatures. They grow well throughout the country, both inland and at the coast; but do not like high humidity, and will struggle in extremely hot, dry regions. Because boxwoods respond well to pruning and can be cut successfully into just about any shape you desire, they are ideal for formal hedges or informal windbreaks.

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