by David Goldstein, VCPWA, IWMD, and Jessica Craven Goldstein, University of California Master Gardener

If you live near open space, you might consider ridding your landscape of certain fire prone plants. The juniper hedge serving as an icon of suburban living might now be regarded as a danger to neighbors.

FireSafe Marin, a nonprofit organization based in Marin County, has developed a website identifying primary targets for removal. That site includes helpful photos and explanations. California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) lists plants recommended for fire areas, at Lori Lytle of Ventura also emailed me a link to Sunset Magazine’s list of fire “safer” plants native to the west. It is

Plants inappropriate for fire prone areas next to open space may be suitable for areas closer to the city center, and sometimes you can accomplish this removal and reuse of your plants with minimal work. Sheri Clarke of Ventura emailed me a tip. “I was able to remove several large plants with two foot root balls by advertising them on Craigslist as ‘free.’ Truth? I could have charged money. I had a LOT of responses and several people begging to be the chosen one.”

In the manner of Tom Sawyer enlisting the neighborhood to paint a picket fence, she told the “lucky” people she selected to bring their own shovel and wheelbarrow and any manpower required. Everything was gone by noon of the next day. is another good website for listing free items, but the listing areas for Nextdoor are smaller than Craigslist, so plants too risky for your landscape may also be too risky for those in your neighborhood who would see your Nextdoor posting. For listings, note the species offered, size and of course you should include the facts about whether interested parties must be willing to dig out the plants.

Transplanting is a great way to avoid waste while moving plants out of fire danger areas, and it is also a great gardening method to avoid waste when plants are not suitable in their space for many other reasons. Here are some tips to transplant right:

Watering: This month’s rains presented an opportunity for transplanting, both by softening local clay soils and by providing the water to keep roots moist. Without rain, you will have to water before digging. Make the soil moist but not soggy. Water also after replanting to encourage root growth and help the plant settle into its new hole.

Timing: Gardening websites and books written for a national audience recommend transplanting in the early spring, before blossoming. However, Ventura County’s mild climate allows year-round transplanting. Work early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid root exposure to direct sunlight.

Shock: Reduce shock by pruning plants before transplanting. At the new site, keep soil well-watered while also ensuring adequate drainage. recommends adding sugar diluted in water to help plants’ roots resume their absorption duties. Nevertheless, expect shock. Trees may not fully recover for two years.

Root balls: The “projects” webpage says “Shrubs up to three feet tall and trees an inch or less in diameter can be moved without digging a solid root ball.” However, you should “include as much of the plant’s root system as is reasonably possible. In general, you’ll need at least 10 to 12 inches of root ball diameter for every inch of trunk diameter.” Before digging out roots, tie lower branches up to protect them and keep the out of your way.

For more gardening advice, contact the Ventura County Master Gardener helpline at the University of California Cooperative Extension office, 805-645-1455 (Tuesday or Thursday 1-4 pm) or