A friend who lives in Santa Clarita called me the other day with a problem or, to be more precise, a riddle. He wanted to know which evergreen tree he should plant next to his backyard pool. The tree would be planted in a lawn, would have to provide shade but should not produce litter that would fall into the pool.
Remember: An evergreen tree is not necessarily a pine, a cedar, a cypress, a fir or a redwood. Any tree that keeps its foliage year-round is considered an evergreen, including live oak, eucalyptus, olive, avocado and citrus.
Whenever someone asks me to recommend a tree (or any other type of plant, for that matter), I always encourage the person to take a walk around his neighborhood and see what strikes his fancy. This is good advice for two reasons: First, a tree that grows well in his neighborhood is likely to grow well in his own back yard; second, he will most likely notice trees that are mature, established specimens and so have no illusions about what to expect, in time, after he plants a smaller version of one of these fully grown trees.
One practice to be avoided is to select plants solely because they appear on lists of species that are supposedly compatible with your climate zone or exposure. There may be other factors – which plant lists do not take into account, such as soil quality or strong winds – that could contribute to the demise of otherwise sensible plant selections.
My friend mentioned the possibility of a pepper tree. The California pepper tree (Schinus molle) has delicate, weeping foliage and a distinctive trunk that becomes gnarled and distinguished with age. However, the heavy litter it produces would not encourage placement near a pool. The Brazilian pepper tree (Schinus terebinthifolius), an enormously popular selection in the Valley, is more tropical than the California pepper tree and could suffer in the Santa Clarita winter. In addition, the Brazilian pepper tree has a haphazard branching structure and requires frequent, expert pruning in its early years to create a symmetrical canopy. Brazilian pepper trees also have brittle wood that breaks easily in a storm. Like the olive, the Brazilian pepper tree should not be planted in a lawn because of its susceptibility to soil-borne fungi.
Why We Chose a Carrotwood
After discussing the pros and cons of many trees, we finally settled on a carrotwood (Cupaniopsis anacardioides). The carrotwood, so-called because its wood is orange under the b
ark, is not a classic shade tree – but at its mature height of more than 30 feet it will definitely block the sun. It is a reasonably clean tree but may produce nuisance fruit. To minimize fruit production, select a specimen with larger-than-average leaves, water it regularly and prune it on a regular basis. Pruning of any tree stimulates vegetative or foliar growth at the expense of fruit formation. You can also spray flowers with a fruit eliminator product that contains ethophon, a natural plant hormone, to prevent fruit formation.
Q: My home is located on a corner lot. I want to plant two to three trees on the side of the house facing east. What type of trees would you suggest?
– Tom Posivak
A: Since this yard faces east on a corner lot, you should get enough sun to consider a variety of fruit trees, many of which will not grow to more than 20 feet in height. Keep in mind that fruit trees enhance property value.
Fruit trees that grow well in the Valley include the Santa Rosa plum, Anna apple, Dorsett Golden apple, Oro Blanco grapefruit, Valencia orange and naval orange. If you plant an orange, make sure it is grafted on a semi-dwarf root stock; otherwise, your orange tree will grow quite large.
A popular Valley tree that would grow well for you is the crape myrtle. I would suggest that you select a crepe myrtle hybrid called Lagerstroemia x fauriei because it is mildew resistant. Another advantage of this species is the rich cinnamon-colored bark carried by some of its varieties, all of which are named after American Indian tribes. In the winter, when the tree is leafless, its smooth, cinnamon bark is guaranteed to delight and amaze anyone who sees it.
Another tree you might consider is the mayten (Maytenus boaria), a captivating if often misunderstood tree. The mayten is a manageable tree – unlike the massive weeping willow, for example – and it therefore appeals to homeowners who appreciate the weeping look but are wary of the size and temperamental nature of the weeping willow. When people see the mayten in a nursery, however, they are likely to pass right by it since it is a slow grower and does not develop its characteristic weeping habit right away. On the mayten, you can encourage quicker development of pendulous branches by pruning back vertically growing shoots.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Three kinds of poppy seeds can be planted now: silky orange California poppies; Shirley poppies, which bloom mainly in red, pink and white but in other colors as well; and Oriental poppies, among the most spectacular of all flowers, with deep orange-red blooms up to 6 inches across. Packets of each kind of poppy should be available at your local nursery