10 Replacement Plants
For an existing home, the best way to achieve safety in event of wildfire is to rethink your landscape and to do away with plants in fire-prone locations. However, many times the removal of plants opens gaps in our landscaping that we may not want or did not anticipate. In such cases, replacement plants may be demanded, for erosion control, visual screens, or landscape enhancement. In such cases, it is best to use native materials that are drought and deer resistant, in addition to being fire resistant. This is a tough combination to fulfill, but several choices. which may include some of those attributes, are detailed below.
The Structure Ignition Zone should have only low irrigated or succulent plants. Such non-natives as ice plants and stonecrops (Sedum spp.), and Crassula edulis actually absorb heat and lower the flame temperature as it nears. Good native perennials to use in this space include Yarrow (Achillea tomentosa) which has pretty yellow flowers, Lupines (Lupinus) with multicolored flowers, monkey flower (Mimulus), penstemon (Penstemon) and some sages (Atriplex sonomensis, A. columbariae).
Ground covers are often used in the inner zones, and there are many good nursery choices that might be desirable. There are native species which are part of the chaparral vegetation type, which means they are flammable – but due to the low form may be used sparingly. All need maintenance to remove dead thatch. These include Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) with white flowers and red berries and dwarf coyote bush (Bacharrus pililaris Var. protata) or ‘Twin Peaks’ which can be grown on near-vertical slopes. Since this is the same species which can burn so hot and fast, only a sparse use of the dwarf form should be done. Squaw carpet (Ceanothus cuneatus) is a native low grower which can tolerate drought once established.
Vines can be used to cover a multitude of sins, but be sure to clear out the flammables before planting Jasmine (Jasminium spp.), potato vine (Solanum jasminoides), cape honeysuckle (Tacomeria capensis). Beware the scenic grasses, which have lovely heads and wave in the breeze – but which become both an ember trap and source once they dry.
In the Fuel Reduction Zone, upright plants may be desired. Native species that may already be existing in the landscape that are less flammable than the pyrophytes include toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), redbud (Cercis occidentalis), silk tassel (Garrya sp), buckthorn (Rhamnus sp.), and mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus beuloides) Bush anemone (Carpentaria californica) is an evergreen shrub with brilliant white flowers which grows to 4’-6’ tall and wide, It is native California chaparral species which is a good replacement for juniper, coyote brush, manzanita and other pyrophytes. Still flammable, if kept thrifty this attractive evergreen shrub will add to your landscape while replacing known bad actors.
Wild lilac (Ceanothus griseus horizontalis) has beautiful flowers is drought–resistant, but is favored by deer. Well-spaced low-growing saltbush (either Atriplex glauca, or A. semibaccata), Gazania (Gazania spp.) would help to hold a slope in place. Rockrose (Cistus salviolfolius, C.crispus) can be used sparingly in places where erosion control is needed, if cut back after its large white flowers show. Several plants which are drought tolerant and spreading include winter creeper, (Euonymos fortunei, E. radicans), and honeysuckle (Lonicera sp.).
For the outer zones, there are many native tree choices when removing pines, firs, cypresses, bays and eucalyptus. Most deciduous species are lower in fire danger, and good choices are maple, walnut, ash, alder, buckeye, and include species in the Prunus genus. Madrone is a native that is having a difficult time with numerous diseases, but periodically cutting out the dying parts should allow you to keep this lovely native in your landscape. While live oak is more flammable than the deciduous oaks (valley, blue, white, black) these are best kept in the environment if limbed up and dead parts are removed. Some non-natives that are low in flammability and somewhat unusual include carob (Ceratonia siliqua), pepper (Schinus Spp.), and strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo). Edible choices would include fruit and citrus trees, all needing irrigation and thus low in flammability.
When planting new vegetation, always keep in mind the ultimate size of the plants and be aware of the maintenance needs to avoid fuel build up. You can grow a fire wise landscape.