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Avoiding invasive plant species, removing dead leaves and branches, and planting native plants can protect your landscape and home from wildfires. Photo: azboomer/Pixabay

Firefighting with Plants

Wildfire is a constant threat in Southern California. But there are ways you can protect your landscape and home using native, fire-resistant plants.

Plan your landscaping in three zones

Zone 1: Help your landscape resist fires by choosing smart designs and fire-resistant plants. The first zone should provide 35 feet of defensible space around structures and access areas. This maximizes fire prevention and allows fire crews to access your property if needed.

Zone 2: Your landscape should reduce the chances of airborne embers from catching fire. Thin vegetation for at least 65 additional feet in the second zone. That makes for a total of 100 feet of defensible space.

Zone 3: Many of San Diego County’s native, fire-resistant plants can survive and recover from infrequent fires. Some plants even use fire as a signal to begin growing.

However, when fires occur too frequently, survival is tough for even the most well-adapted plants. Invasive, non-native plant species make fires more frequent, longer in duration, and hotter. That’s why it’s important to remove invasive plants in fire-prone areas.

Crassula is a diverse and extensive genus of succulent plants, with about 350 species.

Crassula is a diverse and extensive genus of succulent plants, with about 350 species. Photo: Pixabay

Use fire-resistant plants

Some native plants with high salt or water content can themselves from airborne embers. For instance, agave, aloe, crassula, and other succulents store extra water in their fleshy leaves. These plants also usually have a low volatile oil content.

Five fire-resistant plant choices include:

  • Daylily hybrids
  • Coral Aloe
  • Indian Mallow
  • Bush Morning Glory
  • California Sycamore trees

Avoid plants that fuel wildfires

Messy, oily trees and shrubs, such as eucalyptus and junipers, fuel fires. They ignite quickly, burn hot and long, and release embers into the air. Because of those factors, they contribute to the spread of wildfire.

Preventative landscape maintenance includes regularly removing dry grass, thatch, brush, weeds, litter, waste, and dead and dying vegetation. Trees should be properly pruned. Similarly, shrubs should be thinned. Remove any dead branches or leaves. Leave root structures intact to avoid erosion. Dead leaves and branches are especially flammable on evergreen shrubs, so avoid planting these close to homes or structures.

This article was inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook available at SustainableLandscapesSD.org. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

Most native Southern California plants do well in hotter temperatures, so summer plant care is easy with a little planning. Photo: Annie Spratt/Pixabay

Summer Plant Care

Summer is heating up! While you’re heading to the beach or pool to cool off, your landscape might need a little help keeping cool too. Summer plant care is easy with a little planning.

Native plants

Most native Southern California plants do well in hotter temperatures if they are established before the summer begins. Avoid planting new plants, repotting, or fertilizing during the hot summer months. Fertilizing in the summer can trigger more green growth, which means an increase in water needs. During hot days, it is difficult to keep up with these needs as the soil tends to dry out more quickly.

Pruning is a great summer plant care strategy to help keep growth in check and provide pest control. Save most of the pruning for the cooler months to promote growth, but light pruning in the summer can benefit plant and tree maintenance.

Water deeply and less frequently

It might seem counterintuitive to water less frequently in the summer, but this is important for summer plant care. Watering too frequently on warmer days can cause too much water loss due to evaporation. Less frequent watering will also encourage your plants and trees to grow a network of deep roots. This will benefit them in the long term.

Protect soil with mulch

A good layer of high-quality mulch helps keep soil cool and prevents evaporation. Insulating the soil with mulch can also protect thinner roots that plants use to feed from surrounding soils. Over time, these roots will grow deeper along with less frequent watering.

Mulch is great for summer plant care, but it’s also a good investment any time of the year as it helps maintain a consistent soil moisture so you can water less.

Wait until fall to plant

Timing is important when planting new plants or trees. New plants require more water more frequently to develop their new root systems. Wait until the cooler fall months to begin planting to ensure higher rates of success.

With a little planning, summer plant care is a breeze!

The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including tips for sustainable landscaping best practices at SustainableLandscapesSD.org and free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

Planting succulents that are high in water or salt content, such as aloe, can help with fire prevention in your sustainable landscape. Photo: Rudy and Peter Skitterians/Pixabay

Fire Prevention Tips for Landscapes

Fire is a real and constant threat in Southern California. This is especially true in wildland interface areas. For effective fire prevention, it is important to select plants, choose landscape designs and perform consistent maintenance in accordance with fire safety guidelines.

Plan for fire safety

Landscapes should resist ignition and provide 35 ft. of actively maintained defensible space around structures and access zones. This maximizes fire prevention and also allows for access by fire crews, if necessary.

Native plants adapted for fire prevention

Many of San Diego County’s native plant communities, like chaparral, are able to survive and recover from infrequent fire. Some plants use fire to signal available space to grow and thus start the germination process. However, when fires are too frequent, event the most well-adapted plants will have trouble surviving.

Invasive species have made fires more frequent. In addition, they allow fires to burn longer and with hotter intensity. Fire prevention in landscaping means it is even more important to avoid invasive plants in fire-prone zones.

Use plants that resist ignition

Select the types of native plants that will be less likely to ignite and produce airborne plant embers. Such plants will include those with a high salt and/or water and low volatile oil content in their leaves. Succulents are a great example of these types of plants. Agaves, aloes, crassulas and other succulents store extra water in their fleshy leaves.

For fire prevention, avoid messy, oily trees and shrubs like eucalyptus, since they will ignite quickly and burn hot and long. These plants will also release embers into the air and further spread the fire.

To prevent fires, maintenance is key. Preventive maintenance includes regularly removing dry grass, thatch, brush, weeds, litter, waste and dead and dying vegetation. Dead leaves and branches are particularly flammable, especially on evergreen shrubs or vines. Pruning trees and thinning shrubs and perennials regularly will also help prevent fires.

This article was inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook available at SustainableLandscapesSD.org. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

Professionals trained in different aspects of sustainable landscaping can help you ensure the success of your project. Photo: Water Authority

Getting Help From Landscaping Professionals

The perfect time to plan your new beautiful, livable and WaterSmart landscape is in summer because fall is the ideal time to plant a garden in this Mediterranean climate we all enjoy. The WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Series and related educational programs are a great way to gather the skills needed to make a lawn transformation happen. The four class series, which includes one-on-one design help from local design professionals, is currently enrolling for July locations in Central San Diego and Escondido.

Register for Free WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Classes:

Escondido – Saturday mornings July 13, 20, 27 & August 3

San Diego (Mission Hills) – Wednesday evenings July 10, 17, 24 & 31

Many homeowners are eager to create a beautiful new sustainable landscape on their own, with guidance from organizations like the San Diego County Water Authority. But sometimes it’s a smart idea to call on professionals trained in different aspects of the watershed approach to landscaping. With a little help, you can ensure the success of your project.

Assessment organizations including site assessment and testing, various measuring services, surveyors, soil testing services and even Google Maps are available. Property measuring and survey companies can develop more detailed site plans with elevations, siting of trees and landscape amenities.

Planning and design professionals can help you develop a working plan and budget for your landscaping. The plan should include drawings, resource lists, and an outline of the techniques needed to implement the plan. Landscape designers and architects can help you create a conceptual design. Working with a licensed professional is recommended if you have hillsides and slopes, or complicated structures.

Landscape installation and construction professionals are licensed contractors who specialize in building landscape, and can work on all aspects of a sustainable landscape plan. You may be able to install your own garden, but if you get stuck you can call upon the expertise of an experienced pro who carries all the necessary insurance and is knowledgeable about permitting requirements.

Rainwater catchment specialists include people certified by the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (ARCSA) to design and install rainwater capture systems. These pros can bring specialized expertise to your project, particularly if it involves installation of an active capture system such as a cistern. The water savings you achieve can offer you a solid return on investment.

Irrigation system consultants include people with certification by an EPA WaterSense ® organization to provide irrigation system auditing, design, and maintenance. They can help you improve the efficiency of your irrigation system. The Irrigation Association, California Landscape Contractors Association Water Managers, Qualified Water Efficient Landscapers, and G3 Watershed Wise Landscape Professionals all provide searchable lists of qualified people.

Plant selection specialists include your local retail nursery and garden center, native plant societies, Master Gardeners, and professional gardeners. Learn from them, and do your homework to select plants that are both climate appropriate and locally native to your area, and you will be rewarded with a better understanding and appreciation of your garden as it evolves over the years.

Maintenance of sustainable landscapes requires an understanding of the watershed approach to landscaping and water management. Even if you eliminate the need to mow a lawn, there remains the need for fine pruning, irrigation tune-ups, cleaning and checking water retention devices, and soil building. Maintenance people must have the know-how to implement mulching, basic irrigation adjustments, and care of native plants.

Certified arborists are specialists trained in the art and science of planting, caring for, and maintaining individual trees. Find qualified professionals at the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) and the American Society of Consulting Arborists (ASCA).

Take advantage of the public education provided by your local water district, various nonprofit organizations, and the San Diego County Water Authority. Classes are often free of charge. For more information, visit WaterSmartSD.org.


This article was inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook available at SustainableLandscapesSD.org. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

Setting Your Landscaping Objectives for Success

When you’ve taken the time to learn about the concepts behind the watershed approach to creating a healthy and sustainable landscape, you should step back and consider the goals you want to achieve in your garden.

If you’re facing an ocean of grass lawn and you’ve never given much thought to landscaping goals, it might be difficult to know where to start. Here are a few ideas.

Saying goodbye to grass

Remove a thirsty lawn without using any chemicals, in a way that preserves the healthy soil microbes.

Plant local California native plants that will attract birds, butterflies, and bees for pollination.

Create a child or pet friendly garden without thorns or sticky grass seed heads.

Plant fruit trees, edible vines and shrubs, or vegetable gardens.

Using water efficiently

Build healthy living soil that will act like a sponge, even if it rains a lot.

Capture all the rainwater from the roof and re-routing downspouts to fill rain barrels instead of running onto hardscaping.

Convert spray irrigation to micro or drip irrigation, with the intention of turning it off after establishing low-water use landscaping.

Make pathways and driveways more permeable.

Create a garden as a personal art gallery

Make room for a small patio with room for an outdoor table or seating.

Add pathways, Zen gardens, and interesting materials and patterns.

Integrate beautiful objects such as an art piece, interesting container collection, or items like sundials.

One goal we can all support: creating a beautiful sustainable landscape that reduces your water use by 70 percent or more.


This article was inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook available at SustainableLandscapesSD.org. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

Water Wise: Fair Shows Ways To Use Less Water And Help Native Plants

Water-wise planting, pool safety and groundwater pollution — the Joshua Basin Water District’s annual Water Education Day focused on a crucial aspect of desert living: the Basin’s relationship with water. Public outreach consultant Kathleen Radnich helped greet locals as they made their way into the biggest Water Education Day yet. “It’s been a very good turnout,” she said. “One of our big draws is our native plant sale and that has over 460 plants this year.” The water district’s native plants are grown with the help of Joshua Tree National Park. While harvesting is illegal within the park borders, harvested plants from outside of the park can be nurtured within the park’s nursery and distributed.

Mirroring Native Plant Communities in Sustainable Landscaping

In nature, plants arrange themselves into communities of “friends” based on common microclimates, water and nutrient needs, and how they interact with the physical environment. Native plant communities also are based on interactions with each other and other species such as insects, birds, and other animals.

Most plant communities occur repeatedly in natural landscapes under similar conditions.

Local native plant communities have evolved together over a long period of time, and grow well together. They will even “reject” the outsiders and work together to compete for nutrients, sunlight, and other resources

This is one of many good reasons to learn about the San Diego region’s native plant communities and to select plants that like to live together in communities for sustainable landscaping.

Three examples of San Diego regional plant communities

California Coastal Prairie Community

California Coastal Prairie along the coast north of Jenner, California. Photo: Wikimedia/Creative Commons

California’s coastal prairies are the most diverse of any grassland in North America. Perennial flowers outnumber grass species here. Plants include: California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica), Blue-Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium), Fern Leaf Yarrow (Achillea ‘Moonshine’), Seaside Daisy (Erigeron glaucus), and Cliff Buckwheat (Eriogonum parvifolium)

California Coastal Sage Scrub Community

California Coastal Sage Scrub in the San Pasqual area. Photo: Barbara Kus, USGS/Creative Commons

California Coastal Sage Scrub in the San Pasqual area. Photo: Barbara Kus, USGS/Creative Commons

California coastal sage scrub features fire-adapted, drought deciduous plants, which are rapidly disappearing to urbanization in southern California. Fortunately, some areas, including the San Diego Safari Park Biodiversity Reserve, have been conserved. Plants include: grey musk sage (Salvia Pozo Blue), sticky monkeyflower (Diplacus aurantiaus), San Diego sage (salvia munzia), fuschia gooseberry (Ribes speciosum), and woolly bluecurls (Trichostema lanatum)

California Chaparral Community

California Chaparral near the University of California, San Diego. Photo: UCSD/Creative Commons

Chaparral exists in many coastal ranges, and on the western and eastern slopes of the southern California mountains. It is ‘hard’ brush that doesn’t rely as much on summer fog as the Coastal Sage Scrub does, and it is adapted to heat and drought. Plants include desert mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua), bent grass (Agorstis pailens), San Diego mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus minutiflorus), bush poppy (Dendromeconi riguda), and clumping wild rye (Leymus condensatus),

 

This article was inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook available at SustainableLandscapesSD.org. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.