Due to watering restrictions, many people are planning changes to their landscape, but besides considering drought-tolerant plants, another consideration in Ventura County should be fire resistance. Nearly any plant becomes tinder when dead, so if your thirsty landscape cannot survive reduced watering schedules, remove and recycle plants before they die. Especially if you live near open space, you might also consider ridding your landscape of fire-prone plants, even if those plants are low water users.
Some drought-resistant, native plants such as buckwheat and manzanita are highly flammable. However, plenty of plants, beyond just iconic desertscape succulents, salvia sage and monkeyflower, are both low water using and low-waste-producing – that is, xeriscape – as well as fire resistant.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) has neither lists of discouraged nor recommended plants on its website (www.readyforwildfire.org/prepare-for-wildfire/get-ready/fire-smart-landscaping/). Instead, the agency advises the public to consider the “characteristics” and location of plants.
CalFire suggests landscapes near homes avoid plants “with dense structures” and avoid plants producing “a lot of waxes, oils, and resins.” The former category can “capture embers and may be more likely to ignite,” and the latter category “burns with more heat energy.” Additionally, CalFire notes plant placement is crucial, advising homeowners remove vegetation touching a home’s siding, growing in front of windows or reaching a home’s eaves, vents or decks.
Even while agreeing with CalFire that plant location and garden maintenance may affect fire vulnerability more than plant type, other reliable sources are quite willing to provide advice about fire-resistant plant types. One of the best lists, including botanical name, common name and climate zone, was produced with funding from the Theodore Payne Foundation for the County of San Diego Fire-Resistant Plant List at (firesafesdcounty.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Comprehensive-Fire-Resistant-Plant-List.pdf).
Making way for desirable plants might require removing undesirable ones. For large landscape removal jobs, you can rent a chipper and turn your discards into mulch. Keep resulting mulch at least 5 feet away from structures to avoid creating another fire danger. Max Young, lead wildfire safety liaison for the Ventura Regional Fire Safe Council, clarifies, “Exclude woody mulch from Zone Zero, which is 5 feet from the farthest overhang of eaves or decks.”
Local fire safe councils offer free “home hardening” assessments, with recommendations for improving safety, according to Jill Santos, executive director of the Ventura regional council. “We are also developing funding programs to help people with limited means implement those recommendations,” she said.
To secure funding from CalFire and other funding sources, the local councils are developing community plans for fire resistance. Town hall meetings are the first step in plan development, through a program jointly implemented by the fire safe councils and the Ventura County Resource Conservation District. Sign up, at vcrcd.org/vcwc, to be notified of upcoming Wildfire Town Hall meetings and “listening sessions” in your area. In addition to providing opportunities for community input on issues such as evacuation routes, “ready-set-go” plans, and home hardening, these meetings offer opportunities for residents to “engage with wildfire professionals and learn about how to prepare, react, and recover from wildfires,” according to the website.
Plants inappropriate for a fire prone area next to open space may be suitable for areas closer to the city center, and sometimes you can accomplish this removal and reuse of your plants with minimal work. In the manner of Tom Sawyer enlisting neighborhood children to paint a picket fence, you can list plants on sites such as Nextdoor.com, Craigslist and Freecycle as available “free,” with the caveat, “You must dig out and haul.” In listings, note the species offered and the size.
David Goldstein, Environmental Resource Analyst with Ventura County Public Works Agency, may be reached at 805-658-4312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Goldstein 8/10/2022 VC Star