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Fire resistant plants (and their dangerous cousins, flammable plants)

Aug 15, 2012 -
   
  Fire resistant plants (and their dangerous cousins, flammable plants)
Think of cold-tolerant succulents for your fire-wise landscaping.
 
   

Wildfires are racing through the West this summer and gardeners are looking at their yards, wondering how many of their trees and plants are fire-resistant.

In our new video about fire safety, Tricia explains the principles of defensible space around homes, and demonstrates how to prune trees and clean up your yard to make fire less likely.

If you’d like to follow her lead, you might want a root jack, firefighter’s pulaski, pole pruner, loppers, and a fire tool.

Spend some time in your garden, measuring the 30-foot defensible zone where you should have only water; hardscape; and fire-resistant groundcovers, flowers, plants, and trees. You don’t need to remove all the highly flammable trees and plants in your landscape, but try keep them at least 30 feet from your home.

Your local Master Gardeners will have good information about the fire-resistant plants that grow well in your area. Our own Master Gardeners wrote the excellent Western Nevada County Gardening Guide that includes 17 pages on fire-wise landscaping. 

sedum succulent

HARDY SUCCULENTS CONTAIN THEIR OWN FIRE EXTINGUISHERS

Look at the fat leaves of that sedum in the photo. Succulent = juicy, and plants in the succulent family contain plentiful water in their full leaves. Succulents can even slow the progress of a fire, as shown by Debra Lee Baldwin (expert on succulent plants).

People often think of succulents as plants for warm, coastal areas, but we have a whole book about succulents that grow in climates down to -20F. Hardy Succulents is 150+ pages of award-winning text and photos helping you choose, plant, and grow succulents that can tough out a snowy winter.

Consider the well-known hens and chicks (sempervivums), sedums, ice plants, agaves, jade plants, and yuccas.

Use succulents in the 30-foot defensible zone next to your house, and try low-growing succulents in the firebreak area beyond that.

MORE FIRE-RESISTANT PLANTS & TREES

Evergreen shrubs and trees can give you greenery and resist flames too. You may already have daphne and rhododendron in your garden. Some conifers are fire-resistant, surprisingly enough, like Ponderosa pine (due to its thick bark).

Find extensive information about fire-resistant flowers, groundcovers, shrubs, and trees in this illustrated list by universities in the Pacific Northwest.

FLAMMABLE PLANTS

Tricia is standing in front of a flammable Mugo pine (she’s holding a tender succulent, an aloe, which would be a good warm-climate choice for a defensible area).

Trees and plants with oils and resins (like the Mugo pine) can turn into torches when ignited. Many beloved plants of the western United States are in this dangerous group. If you want them in your landscape, keep them 30 feet from your home.

Don’t just pull out plants and trees wholesale, but swap them for fire-resistant plants that will continue their good work of erosion control and soil protection. For instance:

Brooms of all kinds are flammable shrubs that pop up uninvited in many yards. Consider replacing them with California natives, like blue-flowering California lilac (Ceanothus), or toyon.

Eucalyptus, from Australia, is a terrific fire fuel—substitute a native madrone or oak.

*  Most conifers are demons in a fire. Near your home use fire-resistant trees like Western redbud or one of the native dogwoods.

MAKE A FIRE EVACUATION PLAN

House fires can start with wind-borne embers from distant flames—so you will be at risk even if a wildfire doesn’t roar down your road. Prep the exterior of your house to be as fire-safe as possible, with the video and information from Calfire. Calfire also has clear instructions for making a family evacuation plan.

Stay safe this fire season, and beautify your yard with fire-resistant plants and trees.


Categories: Succulents Plants, Landscaping & Flowers


Fran Madden Says:
Aug 19th, 2012 at 12:46 pm

I’m interested in the hardy succulents, but my experience with hens and chickens is that the deer eat them.  Are the hardy ones also deer resistant?

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Aug 19th, 2012 at 2:46 pm

Fran, As the saying goes, deer will eat anything if they are hungry enough. Also, young deer will sample plants that older deer avoid. Typically, though, deer are not interested in succulents. Hens and chicks are generally considered deer-resistant, so perhaps it’s time to try again?

Colleen Says:
Aug 1st, 2014 at 2:43 pm

I thought succulents don’t take the snow and freezing we have here in the Nevada City area. Are there succulents that do take the freeze?

Jamie Says:
Aug 3rd, 2014 at 9:37 am

Hi,

We live in BC, in the Okanagan Valley, Canada’s only official desert, and home to annual wildfires.  Our temps are 35C (95F) in the summer and -22C (-8F) in the winter.  Succulents such as hen and chicks grow well here and we have found that our local deer will sample but not destroy the succulents, often choosing to eat the succulent flowers only when they bloom.  The succulents have become so successful in our location that we intend to create a 1000 square foot succulent garden in our fire zone.

Suzanne Says:
Aug 19th, 2014 at 8:59 am

There are succulents that can tolerate the cold. Here are a few selections: Sempervivum (Hens and Chicks), Sedum (Stonecrop), Jovibarba heuffelii, Delosperma (Ice Plant), Rosularia, and Thymus/ Mentha. One challenge for growing them is to keep them dry enough throughout the winter. There are quite a few resources out on the web that offers a great deal of information.

Claire Says:
Aug 19th, 2014 at 4:00 pm

We live in NW Oregon, at the base of the Coast Range and get over 80 inches of rain during most of the year, 2 months of virtually no rain and up to mid-90’s with 2 - 3 months of occasional snow that sticks for several days and regular temps in the teen’s. Our Autumn Joy sedum thrives in this climate. The deer haven’t touched it (although they certainly sample everything else)

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