Firesafe Landscaping in the Ongoing California Drought
California faces one of the worst droughts in history. We are now in year four of the big drought, with predictions of having less than one year’s worth of water reserves available in the state due to minimal snow pack and lack of rain. Now is the time to take a good look at your landscaping around your house and consider making changes that will reduce your water consumption and improve your defensible space:
- Postpone any planting until the first rain in Fall, when it is cooler, days are shorter and (hopefully) there is rain.
- Adjust your water schedule. Turn off irrigation in the winter and only water manually if absolutely necessary. During the growing season, irrigate early or or before 10 am and after 7 pm.
- Remove woody, fire prone vegetation, especially within the 0-5 foot “no fire” zone around your structure. Ivy, juniper, rosemary and other mature plants tend to have new growth on top of woody stems. See our updated list of fireprone plants here. Replace with stone mulch and drought tolerant, plants that are easy to maintain at 6” or less.
- While there are no “fire-proof” plants, choose drought tolerant native plants that are low to the ground and have a low sap or resin content.
- Choose fire retardant plant species that resist ignition and require less water, such as rockrose and aloe. Fire-resistant shrubs include hedging roses, bush honeysuckles, currant, ceanothus, lavender, sumac and shrub apples. See our latest list here.
- Group plants by water needs. Create “islands” of plants with mulch or rocks in the spaces between plants.
- For mature trees and shrubs, prune at the right time of year, keep them maintained and well spaced—on flat ground space shrubs twice the distance apart as the height of the shrubs; for trees 10 feet apart. On steeper slopes space further apart. Rule of thumb, flame lengths can be 3x as high as the plant.
- Replace bare, weedy or unsightly patches near your home with ground cover, rock gardens, vegetable gardens and fire resistant mulches.
- Use fire resistant mulch to retain plant and soil moisture and reduce the amount of irrigation needed. Mulch can be a fire hazard when it dries out. Rake it back by at least a foot from the side of your house and from combustible fencing. Consider using non-combustible mulch such as stones or gravel. See resources below for studies on best mulch to use in a fire resistant garden.
- Feel free to use kitchen or shower water on your plants—avoid dishwasher soap which is usually too salty; use biodegradable, non-toxic soaps free of sodium and borax and chlorine bleach. http://greywateraction.org/greywater-faq/