Question: We were in the path of an incredible windstorm last year in the San Gabriel Valley. It took out all of our large trees. Since we now get to start from scratch, I would love some advice about which trees to choose.
One will go on our front lawn, and it will be about 10 feet from a small retaining wall at the edge of our property. We would love something that provides shade but will not have vicious roots. Our last tree there was a ficus that had monster roots.
The second tree would be about 5 feet from the house. I am wondering if you could recommend something that would not spread out too much and also not pull up the house. Again, our giant ficus tree was always a problem here.
The third tree would have room to grow up and out. The only root restrictions would be no more than 10 feet away in any direction, and then they would hit the house and a retaining wall. I was wondering if a plum tree might work here? We live in the hills above the city of Duarte. Our soil is rocky, but things seem to grow well.
One last thing … our children love to climb trees, and we are all heartbroken over the bare yard. Any recommendations on where to purchase trees that are a bit larger than what the local nurseries sell? That would give us a head start in regrowing our shade!
— Beth Wolterbeek, Duarte
Answer: As for a lawn tree, European white birch (Betula pendula) is a good bet. Its roots are not too aggressive, it has attractive white bark and a weeping growth habit, and it handles lawn moisture well. For your second tree, you might consider a lemon bottlebrush (Callistemon citrinus). I have one growing 5 feet away from my house. It has probably been there at least 40 years and has reached its maximum height of around 25 feet. It displays a plethora of scarlet bottlebrush flowers on and off throughout the year.
For your third tree, a plum tree would probably be fine as would a crape myrtle. I prefer the hybrid crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia x Fauriei) since they are resistant to a powdery mildew fungus that appears on the more common crape myrtle species (Lagerstroemia indica), but either would probably work well for you.
It is widely acknowledged that the best quality trees in the Los Angeles area come from Norman’s Nursery in San Gabriel. You can find trees of all sizes there, up to 60-inch boxes; that is, boxes that are 5 feet by 5 feet in size on their top edge (boxed trees always taper down to their base, which is smaller), containing trees that may be up to 30 feet tall.
The nursery is not open to the public, so you will need to engage a landscape contractor or landscape architect through whom you can procure your trees. Norman’s is a third-generation, family-owned nursery. It was started when the founder, Francis Norman, who worked as a gardener on a San Marino estate, began to propagate trees he tended there from cuttings.
A nursery business is one of the easiest to start since the raw materials that go into it — cuttings and seeds — are everywhere. Building that nursery into a quality-driven enterprise is something else again.
You should never compromise on quality when purchasing a tree. It is better to pay more rather than settle for an inferior tree at a lower price. Unfortunately, you cannot always tell the quality of a tree from its appearance at the nursery. What looks like a gorgeous tree could be root-bound, a condition created when a tree remains in a plastic container or wooden box longer than it should and its roots grow in circles around the interior of the container.
A root-bound tree may look identical to a tree with proper root development. However, soon after planting, the root-bound tree will fail to exhibit new growth, begin to lose its leaves and eventually die.
The economic slowdown hurt the nursery industry and some growers, unable to sell their trees, allowed them to become root-bound, compromising the ability of those trees to thrive after being planted.
Question: I planted Mexican evening primrose seeds two years ago in my garden. They grew fast and spread like wildfire. I’ve tried since then to dig out the roots but as you probably know, that’s far more difficult to do. Is there a way to get my garden back by getting rid of this new pest? By the way, it has crept under the low planter wall and onto my lawn.
— Rick Tello, Castaic
Answer: I am sorry to hear that your Mexican evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa) has assumed pestlike proportions. I, too, have witnessed its invasive tendencies yet have been able to control, and even eradicate, it by diligent pulling over a two-year stretch. By the same token, its weedy tendencies make it a wonderful plant for low-maintenance parkway strips, around driveways, or for erosion control on slopes.
There is a chemical solution to your problem, should you wish employ it. You can either spray the invading plants wholesale or, if they are intertwined with desirable plants, you can sponge the offending evening primrose with herbicide.
In this procedure, after donning rubber gloves you spray Roundup or a similar product on a sponge, and then brush the sponge onto the primrose foliage.
The chemical migrates through phloem vessels down the length of the plant until it reaches the rhizomes, those redoubtable vegetative reproductive organs, of the primrose. Repeat applications, at two-week intervals, may be necessary for complete eradication.
Tip of the Week
- If you wish to economize and still have loads of annual flowers this spring, summer and fall, now is a good time to plant seeds. For just a few dollars, you can purchase packets of seeds that sprout reliably and provide lots of color for months. Some of the easiest seeds to germinate are marigolds, zinnias, calendula, alyssum and bachelor buttons. Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella damascena) is a favorite of mine with its lacy foliage and blue to purple flowers. You can also visit the Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley and choose from a variety of native wildflower seeds available there.