Delosperma Firespinner2
Firespinner Iceplant “Delosperma”

There are a number of resources for firesafe landscaping.  This post summarizes some of the best practices, plus links for more information.

Tip 1: Create Defensible Space

Defensible space is the clearance created between a structure and the grass, shrubs, trees or any natural area that surrounds it. State of California says it is a property’s “front line of defense against wildfire”.

It is needed to slow or stop the spread of wildfire and also protects firefighters.

There are two zones; the first is 30 feet, the second, 100 feet.

Zone 1

  • Essentials are to remove dead plants, leaves, grass, weeds and woodpiles.
  • Remove branches that hang over your roof.
  • Keep tree branches a minimum of 10 feet from each other
  • Separate patio furniture and equipment that could catch fire

Zone 2

  • Keep grass height to be maximum of 4”
  • Vertical spacing between grass, shrubs and trees
  • Horizontal spacing between shrubs and trees.

Tip 2: Landscape Design

Note: no plant is fire-proof, but there are plants more fire resistant.

In addition to plant selection, factors such as size, height, density and spacing between plants are very important.

Marin County Firesafe promotes the use of masonry, gravel, stepping stone or stone walls and decorative rock.

Mulch does help conserve moisture. However, it will burn. Do not use it in garden beds near home our outbuildings. Note: stringy mulches ignite and burn more rapidly.

A Sample list of fire resistant plants (below is a link to the complete list)


Dwarf lily-of-the-Nile


Lily turf

Vinca minor

Dwarf periwinkle

Lavandula angustifolia

English lavender

Rosmarinus officinalis*

Tuscan blue’ rosemary *(when irrigated, free of dead material)

Salvia chameadryoides


Thymus serpyllum


Achillea millefolium

Common yarrow

Ceanothus ‘concha’

Wild lilac

Ceanothus maritimus

Maritime ceanothus

Cistus purpureus

Orchid rockrose

Dietes fortnight


Lavandula dentata

French lavender

Limonium perezii statice

Sea lavender

Ribes viburnifolium

Catalina perfume

Solanum jasminoides

Potato vine

Tecomaria capensis

Cape honeysuckle

Eschscholzia californica

California poppy

Mimulus longiflorus

Monkey flower

Echinacea purpurea

Purple coneflower

Rosa florabunda


Rudbeckia fulgida

Black-eyed susan

Erigeron karvinskianus fleabane

Santa Barbara daisy

Festuca glauca


Iris douglasiana

Douglas iris

Kniphofia uvaria ‘DWF’

Red-hot poker, torch-lily

Lantana camara


Lavandula angustifolia

English lavender

Rhamnus californica


Santolina virens


For more information

Tip 3: Landscape Maintenance

  • Regular irrigation is important. Plants with high moisture content will be less flammable. We must walk the fine line with enough, but not too much water. Dead and woody branches can more easily catch fire.
  • Control invasive weeds
  • Prune dead branches within tree canopy
  • Thin out dense shrubs to reduce fuel load
  • Clean up of dead branches
  • Selectively remove trees and shrubs to improve spatial separation

Sources include: State of California, County of Marin and Western Arborist


The Difference Between Landscapers

From mom and pop operations to large national companies, there are a million different types of landscapers.  Because education and training is not a prerequisite the degree of knowledge and professionalism varies from company to company.

A landscape installation is a major investment and the new landscape’s lifespan depends on how it is maintained. Managing the care of trees, shrubs, annual color, turf, soil and irrigation require skilled workers who understand proper pruning, mowing, edging, pests and a host of other issues.  Proper insurance, licenses and commercial grade equipment are a prerequisite for a majority of commercial and many residential properties.

It requires knowledge and experience with plants and all the myriad of factors that impact their health and vigor.  Within the industry are experts who specialize in its different facets: irrigation, horticulture, design, aboraculture and Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

Whether a residence or large corporate campus, talent, education, experience and resources make a big difference in preserving your landscape.  We promote Landscape Industry Certification – it’s your best insurance for protecting the integrity of your landscape.


Mow and Blow

When meeting with a prospective client we have often heard these complaints. 
“Our contractor is a mow and blow operation.”
“They don’t seem to lack the knowledge of plants”. “Bad pruning”. “Dry patches in our lawn”, or “some plants appear to be not getting water.”

Fair Pricing is Sustainable

We’ve also heard this – “When we hired our current landscape contractor we hired them because the price was low.  Now we understand ‘you get what you pay for’”.  But sometimes low price continues to drive decisions.  There is always a company willing to discount their rate.  But low price and good quality work are not sustainable.  Low price means one of three factors: the people doing the work are insufficiently compensated, they lack knowledge/skill, or the scope of work is being compromised.  We believe in charging a fair price for high quality professional work.  It benefits the worker, the client and the environment. 

SLV Path2

The Components of a Professional Landscaping Service – Attributes of a Qualified Landscape Maintenance Service

Develops a clear scope of work

It takes a high level of skill and experience to develop a professional scope of work.  For landscape maintenance – location, plant types, trees, irrigation, environmental factors and traffic are considerations when developing a scope.   It’s a valuable road-map that should stand on its own.  A prospective client is able to compare – apples to apples – between multiple bidders.  And, when the landscaper is hired the client knows what to expect.

Is Licensed

C27 License

A valid contractor’s license is required for installing gardens, irrigation systems or hardscape – if the value is $500 or more.
Other licensing includes Liability insurance, Workers’ Compensation, pesticide applicator’s license and business licensing are all required for our commercial work.

Landscape Industry Certified

The landscape industry’s certification program is the best measure of skills, knowledge and experience from a theoretical and practical perspective.  Our managers have a range of different certifications that demonstrate their competency in horticultural practices, maintenance and irrigation.  The logo “Landscape Industry Certified” is a powerful distinction. It means that employees have taken their experience and skills to the next level of professionalism.  And, like any profession, there is an ongoing re-certification process.

Horticultural knowledge

Understanding how environmental conditions, light, soil and water impact the health of an infinite number of plants can be complex.  It requires training and experience.  One example: a stressed plant that looks like it’s not getting water may have an issue that is completely unrelated. 

Commitment to In-house Training and Green Industry Involvement

Gardeners’ Guild, as do other professional landscape companies, offers in-house training. Our subjects include horticulture topics, irrigation and state of the art products, IPM (Integrated Pest Management*) as well as different aspects of communications and leadership.

Over the years Gardeners’ Guild has been involved in the green industry helping to shape its testing programs, curriculum.  We have also been active in municipal water districts and IPM program.


Has Staff with Irrigation and Water Management Expertise and Certifications

The drought reshaped our thinking about water.  New regulations and an ever increasing array of irrigation products require our landscapers to be water experts. 

Irrigation professionals should know how to design, install, use, test and repair a system.  He or she must also be continuously updated in the various products in order to recommend the most appropriate one.  New technology also requires client education. Gardeners’ Guild has a commitment to regular training on the latest products and trends so we can be an important resource for  clients. We also keep up to date on rebates in order to assist on how to leverage them.

Gardeners’ Guild Promotes these Important Certifications:

CLIA (Certified Landscape Irrigation Auditor) professional
A CLIA is authorized to conduct a water audit on a property. They supervise the collection of site data. Based on their findings they can recommend an irrigation schedule for effective water management.

QWEL (Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper)
Gardeners’ Guild managers are QWEL certified. QWEL is recognized by EPA’s Water Sense and gives our managers specialized expertise in water management, efficient irrigation, system design and audit.

CLT – Irrigation
Landscape Industry Certified Irrigation Technicians are qualified to install, maintain and repair irrigation systems.


Experienced Practitioner of Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
Using the least toxic practices is the increasingly preferred method of dealing with weeds and other pests in the landscape. Gardeners’ Guild has incorporated these practices since the 1980s.  We also have a licensed and certified full service IPM division.  Keeping up to date on local ordinances and trends is critical and we are involved through  organizations such as SF Department of the Environment, IPM Technical Advisory Committee, PAPA (Pesticide Applicators Professional Association) and San Francisco IPM Task Force .  Sometimes a pesticide application is necessary, a pesticide applicator’s license is required.

Ecological Practices
These go hand in hand with the above.  As the San Francisco bay area’s awareness of climate changes proliferates, the demand for landscape contractors using ecologically friendly practices has grown.  Gardeners’ Guild has been a pioneer in developing its own green landscape management program called LivingSolutions.  A new (or really old) way of thinking – healthy soil makes healthy plants. It requires continuous training, but the results are worth it. 

Imagine for a minute. 

You go to the store to buy strawberries. There you discover that strawberries are not available – ever. 

It could happen.  Not likely, but it could.

Not just berries, but apples, oranges, lemons, limes, carrots, avocados, cantaloupes, cucumbers, alfalfa and almonds – all gone.  No more guacamole.  Goodbye apple pie.

How is this possible?

Pollinators, as in bees, are our hidden lifeline.  We depend on them for food yet that fact is easy to forget.  But, now we really need to pay attention as they are in jeopardy.

Author, Biologist, Naturalist EO Wilson once said – “every third bite of food you take, thank a bee or another pollinator”.

Okay, I’ve made my point. 

You will never be as busy as a bee

30 percent of world’s food crops and 90 percent of wild plants are pollinated by bees.  Translated into dollars, that represents a breathtaking $15 billion a year in the US.   Bees also produce honey – about $150 million worth.


The biggest news: honeybees are still declining. 

To underscore the financial impact. It’s a loss of upwards of $5.7 billion per year. 

Putting this in perspective, season to season it is normal for bees to die off.  17 percent is an average annual amount. 

The losses are troubling when that die-off amount doubles.  And, it has in recent years. 

A survey of U.S. beekeepers from April 2015 through April 2016 showed a loss of 44 percent of their colonies.

It began a decade ago with Colony Collapse disorder, prompting a massive and sudden disappearance of worker bees.  While the surge of deaths has slowed a bit, beekeepers continue to report alarming losses.

The USDA and other organizations who have studied the decline have settled on three or four reasons for it.  

  • A parasite mite called the Varroa destrictor. Referred to as the vampire of the bee world, Varroa feeds on developing bees, thereby suppressing their immune system. Remedies to control the mites have had mixed results.  Other treatments have been hampered due to Varroa’s growing resistance to them. 
  • Pesticides.The EPA has now publicly acknowledged that a common insecticide called neonicotinoids has been shown to harm bees.
  • The California drought. Lack of rainfall means fewer crops and wildflowers that have nectar bees need to produce honey.
  • Deficient Nutrition. Bees need nectar in order to survive.  Studies show when they have access to this ideal nutrition they are able to combat diseases.  Cane sugar and water is considered the preferred substitute for nectar.  Unfortunately, many industrialized farms feed bees high fructose corn syrup instead which can weaken their defenses from pesticides.

Sources include: USDA, EPA, University of California Cooperative Extension, Greenpeace

The Solution – Individuals and Businesses Are Making a Difference

Kevin Davis, President of Gardeners’ Guild Landscape Management, is becoming part of the solution.

Besides the day to day of running Gardeners’ Guild, Kevin is also an avid home gardener.  Not only does he have an enviable drought tolerant garden, he also grows produce and sells it to neighbors.  His most recent venture is becoming a beekeeper.  More information including photos to follow!

Hotels in San Francisco Build Hives on their Rooftops

An idea that grew out of concern about the plight of honeybees, several San Francisco Hotels including the Clift and The Fairmont are seeing its other benefits.  Using their own honey in cocktails, beer and even ice cream not only raises awareness about bees but compliments efforts to serve products that are local and sustainable.  Source for this story: Associated Press.