Landscaping for bushfire garden design and plant selection


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1. Make a list of plants to be used in the garden

As a starting point, make an initial list of plants you want to plant in a garden. In doing this, it is important to:

  • Choose plants that are suited to the local growing conditions.

  • Check with your local council about legislative controls that may apply to your property. These may influence what and where you can plant.

  • Check for characteristics that influence flammability. These are outlined in Section 5.

  • Identify the plant species, including both the common name and the scientific name. This is important as even closely related plants in the same genus can vary greatly in their flammability.

  • Take note of the size and form of the plant at maturity. Plant labels often focus on plant size within five to ten years of planting and may not be reliable for this assessment.

  • Note how the plant will look in summer and whether it is susceptible to disease, insects or pests. This information can be obtained from plant websites, books, the local nursery or council.

2. Work through the key

  • Begin at 1. What type of plant is it? and follow the prompts to the next number.

  • Record how many ‘Less Firewise’ or ‘Not Firewise’ results the plant receives in the record sheet at the end of the key.

  • Collate the results in the record sheet.

3. Rate each plant for its suitability in the garden

The table on page 45 outlines four firewise ratings – Not Firewise, At-Risk Firewise, Moderately Firewise and Firewise – and a corresponding flammability rating. The flammability rating of individual plants depends on the number of ‘Less’ or ‘Not Firewise’ results you record.

Once you have established the firewise and flammability rating for each plant, you can determine the plant’s suitability for use within a garden, where it should be planted (presuming it is suitable) as well as maintenance requirements.



If you record any NOT FIREWISE results, regardless of any LESS FIREWISE results, then that plant is NOT FIREWISE.

  • Flammability = Extreme

  • Where to plant: These plants should not be planted in a garden or used when landscaping for bushfire.


If you recorded three or more LESS FIREWISE results, then that plant is AT-RISK FIREWISE.

  • Flammability = High

  • Where to plant: Avoid using these plants in a garden. If you are on a large property, they may be planted outside the defendable space.


If you recorded one or two LESS FIREWISE results, then that plant is MODERATELY FIREWISE.

  • Flammability = Moderate

  • Where to plant: These plants can be used in a garden but they need regular maintenance to keep them in a less flammable condition.


If after finishing the key you had no LESS FIREWISE results, then that plant is FIREWISE.

  • Flammability = Low

  • Where to plant: These plants can be used in a garden as they are not known to be particularly flammable.

Begin Plant Selection Key


1. What type of plant is it?


  • Has single or multiple woody trunks and grows from 5-30 metresor over at maturity.

  • Single-stem trees typically branch well above the ground, while multiple-stemmed trees typically branch close to the ground.

  • Foliage is concentrated in the canopy allowing other vegetation to grow underneath.

  • Has highly variable leaf and bark types.

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Palm or palm-like

  • Vary greatly in height.

  • Generally have a single woody trunk topped by fronds.

  • Many species retain dead fronds which can be flammable.

  • Australian palm-like plants include tree-ferns, screw-palms, cycads and grass-trees. They can grow several metres tall and also have a ‘skirt’ of dead fronds or leaves close to the ground. This is an important flammability characteristic as it can act as a ladder fuel.

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  • Are shorter and generally more compact than trees, typically 3-4 metres in height with branching close to the ground.

  • Have dense, bushy foliage and woody stems.

  • Because of this structure, shrubs can carry fire from the ground to the tree canopy.

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Vines and climbers

  • Have soft or woody stems and are climbing or scrambling plants. Are often grown over fences, pergolas or trellises and can grow over other plants.

  • Can be deciduous or evergreen. Some accumulate large amounts of dead leaves.

  • Can act as ladder fuel and carry flames up into shrubs, trees or supporting structures.

  • Examples include grapes, Virginia Creeper, Coral-pea, Running Postman or Happy Wanderer.

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Herbaceous plants

  • Have soft and fleshy leaves with non-woody stems.

  • Are low-growing, often less than 50 centimetres tall.

  • Include most smaller flowering plants grown in gardens. Can look ‘shrubby’, form clumps or grow as groundcovers.

  • Moisture content is usually higher than most woody shrubs. Often droop when dry.

  • Examples include violets and pansies.


  • Are woody or herbaceous. Woody groundcovers spread without climbing.

  • Are generally less than 50 centimetres tall.

Grasses or grass-like

  • Leaves are usually long, fine or strappy.

  • Vary from a few centimetres to over 2 metres tall. Clump size can be up to 1 metre in diameter.

  • Most grasses grown in gardens are perennial rather than annual. Many of these form clumps called tussocks. Examples include Wallaby Grass and Canary Grass.

  • Perennial tussock grasses accumulate dead material mixed with the living leaves and are quite flammable, although they usually only burn for a short time.

  • Other grasses grow as a continuous mat, such as lawn grasses.

  • Leaves of grass-like plants are often coarse and thick and may accumulate dead leaves in the living clump. Examples include Mat-rush, New Zealand Flax, Iris and Gladioli.

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