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Fire Wise Succulents

With the 2017 fire season shaping up to be what looks like one of the worst in history we thought we would touch on the topic by stressing how important it is to be fire wise around the home from a landscaping point of view.

The ideal fire wise landscape consists of low-growing shrubs, ground covers and fleshy succulents. To help retain soil moisture and minimize erosion and weeds, cover bare ground with redwood mulch or gravel. Keep plants well watered, especially during fall’s depleting Santa Ana winds. Avoid any fire ladders, fuel-rich plantings that enable fire to climb up to your home. In addition to plants that have a high moisture content, include one or more of these landscape enhancements: hard scape, a rock garden, a dry stream bed and/or a swimming pool. All make excellent firebreaks.

By removing flammable vegetation and debris and by getting rid of weeds, dead or dying plants, and anything dry and twiggy you are reducing potential kindling.

Avoid planting trees and shrubs that drop quantities of leaves, contain volatile oils or resins, and/or copiously shed bark. Notoriously flammable (and unfortunately quite common) trees include blue gum, eucalyptus, acacias, junipers and pines.

Be aware that some California native plants are pyrophytic, “fire loving”. These highly flammable plants depend on seasonal wildfires for regeneration or seed germination. Common ones include greasewood (chamise), sumac (sugar bush), creosote bush and California sagebrush. Many California natives, including manzanita, coffee berry, ceanothus and oaks, are not pyrophytic and actually are slow to burn.

Here is a list of a few fire wise succulents:

Opuntia (paddle cactus), the thicker the better. The rounded, upright pads make a nice counterpoint to more finely textured plants, succulent and otherwise.

Aloes. Mound-forming Aloe arborescens, sends up orange-red, torch like flower spikes in midwinter.

Aeoniums. There are numerous varieties of these rosette succulents. The best ones for fire resistance are multi-branching.

Crassulas. Plain old green jade, these don’t burn but rather it cook, and like the aloes, its leaves turn putty-colored and they collapse. If you think jade is boring, you may not be aware of its many cultivars. Some are striped cream-and-green; turn yellow-orange-red when grown in full sun; have silvery-gray leaves rimmed with red; or have intriguing tubular or wavy leaves.

Portulacaria afra (elephant’s food) is shrub-like, and yes, elephants really do eat it in South Africa. In fact, the plant benefits from being stomped on because pieces root readily. The variegated variety is less vigorous and more ornamental than the common green species.

Fire season is here, we all need to take every precaution available to keep our selves and our homes safe.


Snakes, breathe deep... they are good for your garden!

Although snakes could be very frightening for some people (and we understand the fear) snakes can be very helpful in the garden, to the point that we may even want to welcome them in!

It is actually pretty simple, in the garden snakes are of great benefit.  They eat insects and rodents primarily, which are likely to benefit the garden.  For example, small snakes can do severe damage to a grasshopper population in a confined area in just one summer.

Most commonly found in North America is the Garter snake, often called the Gardener Snake. These guys get their name from the resemblance of their stripes to old-fashioned sock garters (who knew?). The Garter snake is harmless to humans and animals and an all around super tenant in a garden!

What is so great is that snakes do their handiwork without damaging the environment one bit.  They don’t dig holes as they use holes already dug by rodents and other burrowers and they don’t chew or damage the landscape in any way.  They do not cause any harm plants, from being eaten or from their physical presence moving through them.  They don’t contribute to noise pollution one single bit and they leave very little in the way of droppings (excellent fertilizer since their prey is so well digested).  They also avoid the gardener at all costs. Garters are non-aggressive creature’s and don’t ever attack people (at least none in the US) and will never bite unless stepped on, picked up or forced into a corner or threatened with eminent injury.  Even then, all snakes would much rather get away than risk a fight.

The sight of a snake in your garden could very well be alarming, but there are so many benefits, and after all… they play an important role, just as mother nature intended.

Below are some of the most common of the Garter family.


Wildlife in the Garden

A garden can be many things, it is pleasing on the eye, fulfilling for the soul and can bring so much joy to those who nurture and spend time within one. Another incredible function of a garden is to create a welcoming environment that is not just for people but one that supports wildlife.  

Attracting things like hummingbirds, butterflies, lizards, and other creatures into your garden can be very simple if you start with the four basic ingredients:  food, water, shelter, and space to raise their young.

Food includes flowers, fruits, and even seeds. Do this year-round and it will support the year-round resident wildlife as well as the migrating species.

Providing water to drink and bathe in is also important and sometimes overlooked. There are a few things you can do to optimize water availability in the garden. Situate the water in an open spot, which will deter predators. Birds are more likely to drink water if it is elevated and off the ground whereas butterflies get water and nutrients by sipping moisture from muddy spots on the ground. Keeping birdbaths clean is very important as it can help to avoid spreading diseases and also to eliminate mosquito larvae.

Plants that are native to your local area are more likely to thrive because they are better adapted to the local soils and microclimates and natives offer the greatest potential for attracting native insects, which are essential in any habitat.  Here is a surprising fact, roughly 90% of all insect species that eat plants can eat only native plants and native insects attract other animals that eat them, particularly birds. Aim for high diversity in plant species as this will attract and support a wide array of animals.

Decreasing or removing your lawn altogether can be very helpful as it offers little in terms of habitat for wildlife. If you decide removing your lawn is not an option there are some suggestions for improvement and care: Punctuate it with native ornamental bunch grasses they will provide food and nesting material for animals. Mowing and watering less will also aid in this.

If you create continuous layers of foliage from the ground up to the treetops different creatures will use each zone.

Allow leaf litter to pile up, this wonderful natural mulch provides a habitat for insects and a place for seeds to accumulate. There are many benefits of this organic mulch layer that includes: conserving water, controlling weeds, reducing erosion, reducing dust, moderating extremes in soil temperature, and recycling organic material that will improve soil texture as it breaks down.

Leave dead trees or branches in place if they don’t pose a safety hazard as dead wood provides a habitat for cavity-nesting birds, mammals, and insects and the wood is a food source for insects and decomposing fungi.

Avoid pruning trees during nesting season—late winter to early summer for most bird species.

It is actually important to reduce grooming overall, brown is one of nature’s colors after all! You can use clippings to create brush piles, which provide cover, places to perch, and nesting material and allow some fruits and seeds to ripen provides food for many kinds of animals, some seeds may even germinate, adding a new generation of “free” plants for the next season. 

Eliminating toxic pesticides is extremely important, birds, bats, lizards, frogs, and toads help control insects naturally. Let the critters help you achieve a balanced ecosystem in your garden… as it should be.



Richards spiny plant of the week

This is a small tight-growing agave to 12 inches tall by 18 inches wide with short gray leaves and red spines. This selection is thought to be a Japanese cultivar of Agave potatorum and it and the variegated form called 'Kichiokan Marginata' or 'Kissho Kan' are very slow growing and highly sought after. These guys grow in full sun to light shade in hot climates. Mature plants have a hemispherical shape with up curving leaves with yellow to pale green variegation along the margins and red spines. Little irrigation is required in coastal gardens, but it is best to provide some supplemental irrigation in hotter inland gardens. It is cold hardy to at least 25 degrees.  There has also been considerable debate by succulent enthusiasts and nurserymen over the correct translation and spelling of the cultivar name. , others tell us that the variegated form is actually 'Kissho Kan', which translates to "lucky crown" or "happy crown" and that the non-variegated plant is the true 'Kichiokan'. 

These images were taken at the Huntington Botanical gardens, their tagging nomenclature states this to be  Agave isthmensis 'Kisshokan'  Whatever the name, it's a beautiful plant . 

Pick of the Week.

Euphorbia grandicornis is our pick of the week!

This cactus has spiky and spiny triangular stems that are edged with sharp light gray-white double spikes all down the length creating an ominous appearance. When full size Grandicornis can reach 6 feet in overall height and spread up to 6 feet in width. As prickly as this one is, we sure do think it's pretty.