Ground Cover Herbs on a Slope for Fire Control
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Sam Parnes
Posted on: October 23, 2005

I last wrote on October 7 regarding rosemaries. I since learned that the upright variety seeds germinate at 55 degrees Fahrenheit or less. Our only refrigerator is for food, not for seeds. Is there a place that sells the creeping rosemary seeds?

I know of no one that sells seeds of the creeping rosemary varieties. We would carry them if seeds were commercially available.

Perhaps they can germinate at normal indoor temperature. Perhaps the two other good edible herbs for steep hills, the seeds of which you sell: sage and lavender, would do better. Since I wrote you so much, I will have to buy something with you, even if it fills barely a twelfth of what I need to avert a dangerous fire condition next summer. I decided to probably accept another flurry of weed growth, but preferably, time permitting I can plant the entire 24 by 34-foot plot by the end of November before the worst of the rains.

I don’t know if lavender and sage are well suited for a steep hill. They certainly can grow in sloped situations but I wonder how they will give the aesthetic effect you are looking for. They are upright in growth, quite in contrast to creeping rosemary, which is lower growing and almost mat forming.

I cannot comment on the fire retardant properties of herbs. I am not aware of any data on the relative merits of rosemary, sage and lavender in this regard. In my opinion, these are all equally flammable, and perhaps no less than geraniums and grasses.

If I decide to buy a plant, how can it survive a trip from near Toronto to Southern California? How is it shipped? I am sorry I asked the question on spacing. The answer is right there in the Sunset Western Garden Book.

We ship from Buffalo, New York, but UPS 3 Day Select service. We ship Mondays so you should have your plants by Thursday. Please note that our shipping season for plants is now ended for 2005.

I wrote on October 7 the following: Beverly Hills residents living north of Sunset Boulevard, in other words, in the foothills, must obey strict fire regulations in the summer. A wild form of geranium and grasses grew on the plot over the record-breaking rains of last winter. These are flammable. For this reason, I cannot wait until 2006 for your $60 plug trays of creeping rosemaries. Whatever I buy, they should be planted early in the rainy season, in other words, in November. Although our neighbors are very rich, we are not. I will pay no more than $50. Hopefully $20 worth of seeds will fill up the plot.

I cannot determine how many seeds I should buy. You do not say how many seeds are in a packet, especially the "Sow Natural" types. Regarding lavender and sage, nor do I know the percentage success of germination (on average, since the moon, according to Jeavons, might affect the germination), nor whether they can germinate in normal temperatures for Southern California, both indoor and outdoor.

You can get the sowing rates from the ProGrowers section of our website. Please see:

Note however that we do not recommend direct sowing of lavender in the seed bed. Sage on a slope may also be a problem if the rains are excessive enough to wash the seeds away. You may have the best results sowing in plug trays and then transplanting the finished plugs into "pockets" dug throughout the sloped bed area. As indicated in the ProGrowers data sheets, lavender takes 12-16 weeks to reach plantable plug size, and sage takes 8 weeks.

Finally a newsletter came in the mail that had just the article I needed: "Slip Slidin’ Away - Hillside Ground Cover," volume 5 n8 of the Benedict Canyon Homeowners Association newsletter ( that mentions the three herbs as growing amid any of 11 ground covers. I will have to visit a local nursery regarding the latter (I assume you do not sell non-herbal ground covers), then reach a total price to plant the entire plot, before buying even a little bit from you.

We have a few other ground covers that can be grown from seeds. Have you seen my article on this topic? Please see:

You may wish to consider crown vetch, wild thyme, roman chamomile, and faassen’s catnip -- all of which we sell in seed form.

Algerian ivy used to be there, but after it died, I discovered that the plot was outside the sprinklers’ range. Good crop rotation means I would prefer not to transplant the surviving ivy from the rest of our hillside.

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