Euphorbia tirucalli, native to regions in Africa, is an upright, striking plant that is often used in indoor and landscape settings for its unique silhouette. Commonly known as firestick, this evergreen plant can grow into a tree if allowed to grow without major pruning.
Euphorbia tirucalli can grow up to two feet each year, and once it’s established (after around a year from planting time) it has very low water requirements, making it an excellent choice for the water-wise garden.
A tall specimen of Euphorbia tirucalli – these plants can be allowed to grow into trees, or pruned to keep them at a smaller size
Landscape Planting – Euphorbia tirucalli basics
Botanical Name: Euphorbia tirucalli
Common Name: Firestick, Milk Bush, Finger Tree, Pencil Tree
Type: Evergreen, perennial, shrub to tree
Native Range: Africa to Asia
Size: 20 to 30 ft tall and 6 – 10 ft wide (outdoors), 6 ft tall and 1 -3 ft wide (indoors). However, they can be pruned regularly to keep the size smaller
Bloom Time: Spring and summer
Bloom Description: Yellow, inconspicuous
Sun: Full sun
Water: once established (around one year after planting), very low water requirements. 2 to 3 times in spring and summer, and once a month in fall and winter if there is no rain
Maintenance: Annual pruning if desired
Suggested Use: Screening plant, specimen plant
Small, inconspicuous flowers of the firestick
For landscape planting, firestick grows well in full sun areas, but it can do well with a bit of afternoon shade to protect it from the most intense sunlight. Our landscape designers at Creative Concepts Landscape will be happy to look over your property and determine areas that are optimal for these types of plants. Creative Concepts Landscape can also build shade wooden structures, such as pergolas and arbors, to help protect firestick from intense afternoon sun.
These plants are also deer resistant, making them a great choice in the foothills where deer damage is more common.
Our designers can take a look at your property and see if firestick’s needs can be met. We create a design plan for all of our consultations to determine what plants and needs match each individual property. Firestick makes an excellent addition to water-wise gardens. Although their succulent-like branches look at home in desert themed landscapes, they can be incorporated into many different design types. Again, Creative Concepts Landscape will help to determine the best location on your property, or create the conditions to promote a healthy, beautiful garden.
Firestick has low water requirements, perfect for the drought tolerant garden. In the first year after planting, while your firesticks are establishing themselves in the landscape, they will need irrigation systems or regular hand watering. Creative Concepts Landscape has installed many irrigation systems (drip and sprinkler), and we would be happy to take a look at your property to come up with a design that could meet firestick’s needs. Once these plants are established (usually around one year after planting) the irrigation can be reduced. They tend to like supplemental water every two to three weeks during spring and summer. If there is rain, the irrigation can be turned off completely in late fall through winter (otherwise, once a month watering will suffice).
These plants also prefer well-draining soils. Most of the natural soil in Southern California is somewhat sandy, well-draining soil.
The satisfyingly cylindrical branches of the firestick
Pruning & Maintenance
Firestick is low in maintenance needs. In many cases, providing supplemental water for these plants, while they are becoming established, is the highest maintenance requirement. Creative Concepts Landscape has been installing irrigation systems for over twenty years. We will be happy to schedule a consultation and come up with an irrigation system plan and install it. Creative Concepts landscape also repairs and refurbishes existing irrigation systems, so they are in optimal, efficient condition.
Outside of maintaining an irrigation system for firestick while it is establishing, the plant can be pruned, as needed, in early spring. Pruning shears should be used to remove all dead and damaged branches. After that, it can be pruned back to help keep it in the size/form that you prefer, although this cosmetic pruning is not required for the health of the plant. Make sure that excessive pruning does not leave the top of the plant too heavy compared to its lower section. Over pruning is a common problem, leading to a weak form that can cause the plant to topple over.
The sap from firestick is toxic, causing irrigation to skin and eyes. It will also stain your clothes, so don’t wear your Sunday’s best, and make sure your skin and eyes are properly covered. The sap is also rather sticky, so you will need to give your pruning sheets a thorough wash.
Creative Concepts Landscape has options for maintenance schedules. Many of our clients have us maintain their property weekly or two times a month, however we also offer periodic cleanups. These cleanups range from four times a year, twice a year, and sometimes once a year. We will be happy to talk with you and determine a maintenance/cleanup schedule that fits your property needs.
Firestick is a tough plant. It can grow in constrained conditions, such as concrete sidewalks in highly urban areas.
For landscape planting, firestick grows well in a variety of locations and is useful as a screening plant or as an eye-catching specimen plant. Creative Concepts Landscape gets many requests for water-wise (drought tolerant) garden installations, of which firestick can be a welcome addition. Our team of designers and technicians has decades of experience designing and installing gardens.
Creative Concepts Landscape creates a landscape plan and design for your specific property characteristics along with your wants. Our highly experienced designers will be able to see what plant types and layout will complement your landscape’s existing features to come up with a planting design plan.
Thank you for joining us again in this week’s horticultural adventures. Please come back next Wednesday for out next blog post, and as always, contact us for all your landscape needs!
By Daniel Williams
Client Liaison for Creative Concepts Landscape