Can Landscaping Protect a Home from Wildfire?

– Posted in: Succulents

Dr. Camille Newton surveys her garden, the day after the Lilac Fire stopped at its perimeter.


Can landscaping protect a home from wildfire? Camille Newton, M.D., of Bonsall, CA, says yes. Dr. Newton started her six-year-old succulent garden mostly from cuttings. “It’s my go-to place after work,” she says, noting that gardening is a stress-reliever. The land’s nutrient-poor, decomposed-granite soil serves as a coarse, fast-draining substrate that she top-dresses with composted horse manure. (From another hobby: breeding Andalusians.) Irrigation is by overhead sprinklers. The land slopes, so densely-planted succulents also provide erosion control. On Dr. Newton’s frost-free, west-facing hillside grow swaths of jade (Crassula ovata), aloes, agaves, aeoniums and brilliant orange, ironically-named Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’.

A house next door burned to the ground. The only green thing left was a semi-cooked Agave vilmoriniana.


Dr. Newton, whose garden is in my book, Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.), was initially surprised that her garden “stopped the fire in its tracks,” she says, adding that houses next door and across the street burned to the ground. “You’d think succulents would burn, but they don’t.” This is likely because wildfire, which travels at around 15 MPH, doesn’t linger. Plants with thin leaves catch fire immediately and are carried aloft by strong winds, further spreading the blaze. In contrast, succulents—which by definition store moisture in thick, juicy leaves—cook and collapse. They may sizzle and char, but succulents don’t transmit flames.

When Dr. Newton and I were on TV, the segment was called “Saved by Succulents.”

In December 2017, soon after the Lilac Fire destroyed eight neighboring homes, Dr. Newton and I were interviewed on local TV news for a segment titled, “Saved by Succulents.” It’s available on my YouTube channel along with two other videos about  succulents as fire-retardant plants, including a post-wildfire tour of Dr. Newton’s own garden.
Because succulents are colorful, waterwise and low-maintenance, I hope landscape professionals in wildfire-prone, mild-climate regions consider adding firebreak installation to their services. It takes a lot of succulents to surround a house, but here’s good news: It’s possible to do so without buying plants. Numerous Southern CA succulent gardens are becoming so well established that owners have plenty of trimmings that they hate to throw away. “I’ll give cuttings to anyone who asks,” Dr. Newton says, adding with a laugh, “and hopefully they’ll take some manure, too.”
Debra Lee Baldwin
Award-winning garden photojournalist Debra Lee Baldwin authored Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens, and Succulents Simplified, all Timber Press bestsellers. Her goal is to enhance others' enjoyment and awareness of waterwise plants and gardens by showcasing the beauty and design potential of succulents via books, articles, newsletters, photos, videos, social media and more. Debra and husband Jeff live in the foothills north of San Diego. She grew up in Southern California on an avocado ranch, speaks conversational Spanish, and at age 18 graduated magna cum laude from USIU with a degree in English Literature. Her hobbies include thrifting, birding and watercolor painting. Debra's YouTube channel has had over 3,000,000 views.
Debra Lee Baldwin
Debra Lee Baldwin
8 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

Evie Keith June 11, 2018, 1:51 am

Well done great work keep it up. And congratulations for Award-winning garden photojournalist. love your post

Resindrive September 11, 2018, 11:00 am

Fantastic. You learn something new everyday. thank you so much for sharing.

reasons to buy a custom October 15, 2018, 6:27 am

The help of this kind is priceless. We could not even think that succulents could be so important for the preservation of our own property.

Kiye Sic October 15, 2018, 9:27 pm

Great article! Thanks for sharing..

Jane Clarke@Lawn Mowing Melbourne November 6, 2018, 10:34 am

Succulents are truly amazing plants. One of my favourites. I’ll definitely buy that book. Love the humour.

Snow Removal November 6, 2018, 4:52 pm

Never thought landscaping could have such an effect to prevent fire hazard for your house. I will definitely be implementing this information into my own home landscaping I was planning for next summer.

Jane@Lawn Mowing Melbourne November 7, 2018, 4:06 am

Love the idea and the humour. Succulents are one of my favourite plants. I’ll definitely buy that book.

Caleb January 3, 2019, 12:38 am

Interesting information. Thanks for getting the word out there. I am sure this is something that people never would have considered for fire prevention. Hopefully it catches on where wildfires are a concern.

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