The May wildfires were a stark reminder that we live in a sea of combustible fuel; they put San Diego County homeowners on high alert to establish defensible space around their property. Landscape-sized succulents are an excellent resource for defining zones and creating fire breaks. See CalFire’s article about the importance of defensible space in protecting your property at www.readyforwildfire.org/defensible_space/.
One year, a brush fire burned the chaparral right up to the edge of Serra Gardens Landscape Succulents in Malibu. When the fire was over, the only green on the blackened hillside were the yuccas and agaves planted along the perimeter. While a few leaves got singed, their high-water content prevented them from burning.
Succulents don’t carry fire the way flammable plants like eucalyptus, oak, palm and many native chaparral plants do. With 80 percent water content and their unique metabolism, succulents are truly fire resistant. If properties in high-fire chaparral zones were landscaped with succulent firebreaks, fewer Southern California homes would be incinerated by firestorms.
Plant large, landscape-sized succulent plants and succulent groundcover around and along fire-zone perimeters. Here are four of my recommendations.
- Aloe kedongensis has a growth habit somewhat like bamboo, with canes that grow to about 12 feet and cluster densely. This upright-growing succulent also works well as a screen for creating privacy or hiding ugly spots such as a pile of rubble or a block wall, as a thick hedge and as a fire barrier.
- Portulacaria afra, also known as elephant’s food, is an upright-growing plant (8-12 feet tall) with reddish brown stems and emerald green leaves. This small-leaved succulent is cold tolerant to 25 degrees.
- Senecio mandraliscae, also known as blue chalk sticks, is a fast-growing groundcover known for its beautiful blue color. Extremely fire resistant, this low-maintenance plant works well under larger plantings and helps prevent erosion. It is cold tolerant to 30 degrees.
- Agave franzosinii can reach dimensions of more than 25 feet. Grown for its foliage, this succulent has powder blue leaves with leaf-printing marks. It is cold tolerant to 20 degrees.
Don Newcomer, Owner
Serra Gardens Landscape Succulents
897 Quail Hill Road
Fallbrook, CA 92028