RED FLAG WARNING from 11 pm Sunday through 8 pm Monday due to anticipated gusty offshore winds and low humidity. Any fires that develop will likely spread rapidly. Sign up for AC Alert and know your Zonehaven Zone
Oakland Firesafe Council

Q & A re Drought Tolerant/Firesafe Gardens

From K. L. North Oakland Hills, May 5, 2015
The OFSC suggestions all seem to require putting in new plants – and in my experience most new plants need plenty of water until they are well established.  Is this really the right time to be planting?
In a large yard with mostly mature landscaping (purchased, planted and maintained at considerable expense) , a lot of which is native, and none of which is really thirsty, how do we choose which beloved natives to rip out?    Because we’re on a steep hill, we’ve waited more than 20 years for some trees on our north side to grow tall enough for us to see from inside.   We’re already letting many potted plants dry and die.
In all their inspections, the OFD has okayed our property, remarking that the vegetation was well-maintained.  But because of all the concern about another drought year, I worry that we aren’t doing enough.
From Richard Harris, Manager of Water Conservation, EBMUD- May 5, 2015
Recognizing that each location may be subject to special circumstances, during this unprecedented state drought, we have offered some suggestions, as appropriate, for consideration that may be outside our standard playbook or response.
We are asking EBMUD customers to consider the following:

  1. postponing new plantings until the fall when we have cooler, shorter days and expect some amount of rain to return.
  2. Using fire-resistant mulch in the landscape to retain plant and soil moisture and reduce amount of irrigation required.
  3. Spot watering of potted plants is permitted.
  4. Watering trees and other large shrubs no more than two days is sufficient to maintain a living landscape.
  5. Regular pruning and removal of dry plant material is good for fire protection, including maintaining separation distances from structures.

More information can be found in our publications online:
Firescape brochure:
Managing Turf Grass During Drought:
Drip Irrigation Guidelines:
Watering Guide:
From Barbara Goldenberg, Montclair, Member Oakland Firesafe Council- May 5, 2015

Well established native plants need very little water – if any – during the summer. Once every 2 weeks, watered by hand from a watering can, or a trickling hose, only a cup or two per plant seems to keep my stuff OK. But I’m East facing, and heavily shaded.  My Ferns, for example, can die back with no water during the summer, but then regrow in the rains – aesthetics is the issue .

If the writer would provide a list of her plants, I could get some advice by species which ones are probably left ok with once or twice A MONTH watering.  Also important is the aspect – north or south facing, , shady, tree covered, etc.
Also on the hedge – depends how wide it is.  maybe narrowing it would have helped if it is, say, 3  or 4 feet wide, but it’s likely too late for this year without leaving dry twigs pointing out, and risking the plants.  Likewise pruning the inside can help if done right.  Pruning at the right time of the year is all important.  I wonder whether it’s phototinia or box or something else.  
Bunching/grouping plants is good, but we should caution that they need to be plants of similar size and water needs (not roses with lettuce underneath).
From Nick Vigilante, Montclair, Oakland Firesafe Council Member- May 5, 2015
Good trimming of mature plants and maybe some selective thinning of plants careful not to remove plants that are native as well as those which prevent soil runoff on hillsides, and more mulch to retain moisture in the soil itself. That might be the answer.
From Lin Barron, Montclair, Oakland Firesafe Council Member– May 5, 2015

I agree with Nick – no sense in ripping out mature plants for all those reasons. Thin and top but not pull.
Yes, even native plants require regular watering their 1st year to establish good root structure – after being stuck in a pot.  It is late in the season to plant but judicious deep watering could get the new plants through the hot summer. (clay soil is good at holding moisture) so that soil is not dry at a depth of 3ft – use a small augur to pull a core of soil up. Mulch is essential regardless of new or mature. Check out Compost and mulch will help lower water use from the Mercury News.