Lately, I have received several letters requesting names of plants that grow well in specific situations.
The best way to select plants is to walk around your neighborhood and choose from among those species that are growing well. Plant growth factors such as soil quality and climate can change significantly over short distances.
Here are some other letters:
Q: Recently our hedge of Leyland cypress trees succumbed to insect pests and diseases. What evergreen trees would you recommend as replacements?
– Verne Evans, Sylmar
A: Sylmar was once the home of a thriving olive industry. Olive trees, given sufficient room to grow, would make a distinctive evergreen hedge. The Carolina laurel cherry (Prunus caroliniana) is more frequently used for this purpose.
You might also consider two Western native conifers: Arizona cypress (Cupressus glabra), a fast grower with blue-gray foliage and red bark, California incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens), known for its striking conical symmetry and fragrance.
Q: What, if anything, can I plant on a hill of decomposed granite behind my home (elevation 3,200 feet)?
– Dennis Walsh, Green Valley
A: Except for frost tender plants, you can grow virtually everything. Roses and herbs grow best in the kind of well-drained soil you have and many bulb-type plants such as tulips, daffodils and irises will appreciate the winter chill you get in the San Gabriel Mountains. Deciduous fruit trees and lilacs should also perform admirably for you.
Q: We have a 4-year-old fig tree that needs a more spacious location. Can we move it without harming the tree?
– James and Anna Merrill, North Hills
A: Almost any tree can be moved, as long as you have the patience and the back for the job. Oak trees, hundreds of years old have been successfully moved.
Your greatest concern should be the integrity of the rootball. Dig the deepest and especially widest rootball you can physically manage. Slide a large piece of burlap under the rootball while it is still in the ground, then wrap and tie it tightly, so that the rootball is completely bundled up in the burlap and the soil holding the roots together cannot crumble away.
Transplant as soon as possible, digging a hole twice as wide and the same depth as the rootball. Remove the burlap before filling in the planting hole. Timing is important; deciduous trees, such as the fig, are best moved at the end of winter, just before spring bud break.
Q: I recently lost a Brazilian pepper tree due to the high winds frequently experienced in the West Hills area. I have thought to replace it with a sapphire dragon tree from Australia. What is your advice?
– John Todd, West Hills
A: Your dragon tree is Pawlonia tomentosa, which originally came from China. It would not grow well in your area because of its inability to withstand wind and heat. Two trees you might consider for their distinctively contorted trunks, interesting leaves and flowers are the Australian tea tree (Leptospermum laevigatum) and the Western tea myrtle (Melaleuca nesophila). Both cope well with wind and heat.
Q: I have a large palm tree that I have to get rid of because it is growing into my fence. Someone told me there are tree farms tha will buy palm trees. I have called several places from the Yellow Pages but have had no luck. Do you know of any places that would buy this palm tree?
– Cathy Crowley, Canoga Park
A: Certain species of palm trees are more desirable than others, and this might explain your lack of success in finding a buyer. Washingtonias – the classic palms of Southern California that come up like weeds – are usually not purchased from homeowners by tree farms.
The squat palm varieties are the most valuable and eagerly sought: the Mediterranean fan palm (Chamaerops humilis) and especially the Sago palm (Cycas revoluta), which is botanically closer to a pine tree than a palm anyway.
The Senegal date palm, Phoenix reclinata, is the most valuable tall palm, with choice specimens selling for several thousands of dollars; it is the multi-trunked palm you associate with shipwrecks and desert islands. Should you think you have an exotic palm, call companies listed in the section Nurseries/Wholesale section of the yellow pages. They will probably ask to see a photo before they come out to inspect your tree.