CHOOSE THE PERFECT TREE: There are a number of magnolias whose reassuring evergreen presence and large, fragrant white flowers are enhanced by moderate growth and a mature height of around 20 feet. One popular variety is Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem,’ but there are many others available. Boething Treeland, located just east of the entrance to Hidden Hills, has a selection of smaller magnolia varieties you can examine. Plant the largest specimen you can afford – since magnolias can be slow to establish – and make sure the surrounding soil is well composted and mulched. Other trees that bear consideration for their vertical yet controllable growth include: tanbark oak (Lithocarpus densiflorus), primrose tree (Lagunaria patersonii), Catalina ironwood (Lyonothamnus floribundus), lilac melaleuca (Melaleuca decussata), granite bottlebrush (Melaleuca elliptica) and male ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba), since the female produces messy and malodorous fruit. All of these trees may show chlorosis in our alkaline soil, so add lots ofcompost when planting and keep a layer of mulch covering the soil at all times. Use the same fertilizer you would apply to azaleas and other acid-loving plants. If you want to shift gears and transition from forest to tropics, plant skyward-growing palms or tall, clumping bamboo.
If you live on the second floor of a house, apartment or condominium complex and have a leafy tree just outside your window, you are truly blessed. Here you are, enmeshed in suburban sprawl – yet, if you just focus on that leafy tree, you may as well be in the middle of a forest.
In our part of the country, where moviemaking and reality transformation are fine arts, and a good portion of our life is spent on smog-choked freeways, the illusion of living in a woodsy retreat is too tempting to resist, and so we plant trees within a foot or two of the walls behind which we are ensconced. By doing so, we are blissfully transported, if only in our minds, to a place far more verdant and bucolic than the asphalt jungle that surrounds us.
Yet, in the very midst of our manufactured paradise, the fact that trees are planted so close to our homes is a sign of trouble to come, even if it does not appear for 15 or 20 years. Just when we begin to take their calming sylvan presence for granted, our treasured trees begin making trouble high and low. Look toward the top of that tree whose leaves rustle romantically with each passing breeze. The uppermost branches drop their leaves on roof shingles, which, unless regularly swept, will be eaten away by the humic acid of the decomposing foliage.
Roof gutters must also be cleaned out once a year to prevent cascading rain from pouring down from above instead of discretely draining away. Last but not least, pruning, although expensive, must be done continuously.
Now look at the base of your trees. Their roots are raising adjacent concrete. On increasingly frequent occasions, these roots rupture irrigation lines. Roots of trees in raised planters often crack planter walls and, even if they do not, will invariably create fissures in the waterproofing, which eventually means excavation and resealing.
Certain species of eucalyptus, California sycamore and canary pine seem to give us the most problems. If you are forced to remove them, but would like to plant related yet more controllable species, consider these: peppermint eucalyptus (Eucalyptus nicholii), ‘Bloodgood’ sycamore (Platanusacerifolia) and single-leaf pinyon pine (Pinus monophylla). They are more easily kept in bounds but should still be planted with a plastic root barrier in place, as should all other trees installed near structures, pavement or water lines.