What kind of tree can I plant that won't give my landlord headaches?
February 16, 2010 2:36 PM   Subscribe

What kind of tree can I plant in southern California that will provide shade (please!) and not annoy my landlord?

I live in Los Angeles and my landlord just, at major expense, yanked out two ficus trees. They were gorgeous, but they had been growing into the plumbing and causing other issues for years. We've gotten a lot more noise, sunlight, and heat coming into our apartment now and I'm interested in replacing the trees.

My landlord is a very nice, flexible guy, and we offered to split the cost of putting a new mature tree in. But he is very anxious that the new tree be a species that not cause problems. I was considering a magnolia species (because we already have a few that he likes on the grounds) and want to get the largest we could put into the ground without a crane, about 12-15' which looks like it would cost $300-$400 delivered. We have offered to split costs of tree replacement with landlord.

His requirements:
-Will not get sky high (he's hoping for maturing at around 30')
-Will not cause problems with roots taking out the plumbing or attacking sidewalks

-In an open courtyard. It will have 20' of free space around it, but have sidewalks within about 8' of it.
-Full sun
-Good ground- not overly sandy or anything. We have a sprinkler system and it will get watered regularly.

Can anyone suggest any good species? Thanks!
posted by arnicae to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
California pepper trees thrive in that locale, although technically they're not native.

Orange trees and avocado trees also thrive, but can be very slow growing.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:33 PM on February 16, 2010

Magnolias do really well here in Southern California - they are slow growing so I wouldn't expect shade soon. California peppers are good, but require pruning a couple of times a year. Crepe Myrtles are also great in the heat, but they are deciduous (although that may be a plus for sunlight warming in the winter). Australian Willows are also a good choice.
posted by cecic at 3:53 PM on February 16, 2010

I remember seeing lots of eucalyptus in SoCal. But I don't know if they satisfy your requirements.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:04 PM on February 16, 2010

Eucalyptus trees can become enormous.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:09 PM on February 16, 2010

Not eucalyptus!!! Eucalyptus are thirsty and will attack plumbing. Most varieties also rip up sidewalks with their rootsand can grow quite tall, though there are some shorter varieties. The larger varieties have an unpleasant habit of responding to drought by dropping limbs.

The reason there are so many in California is that they were planted in the late 19th century in a misguided attempt to start a local lumber industry, but the un-hybridized varieties have twisty grain and are too hard to cut easily.

That said, I love the trees and the smell of eucalyptus reminds me of home. You just have to be careful with them, as you would with a wild animal. There may be some better behaved varieties you could try.

This isn't the easiest question to answer as stated, because there are lots of microclimates near the coast. Are you close to the ocean or inland? In a fog belt? You'd probably do best by calling around to a few local nurseries.
posted by Araucaria at 4:15 PM on February 16, 2010

Yes, please pass on the Eucalypts. They smell gorgeous, but they not only can become enormous, but are nonnative invasives, difficult to eradicate once established, and drain aquifers.

As a fire ecologist who has fought some pretty entrenched wildland fires in California, I'd like to take this opportunity to suggest that anyone who lives in the wildland-urban interface (areas where human development and buildings mingle with undeveloped vegetation) avoid planting or encouraging Eucalyptus species. They are an incredible fire hazard, and bad if you're in an area (like much of California) experiencing drought conditions.

They do smell wonderful, though. We have a grove of them on campus at UC Berkeley, and I always enjoy walking through them.
posted by RachelSmith at 4:15 PM on February 16, 2010

Best answer: Oh, my favorite Podocarpus Henkelii!

(OK. The unusually big boy in that pic is actually Podocarpus gracilior - but you get the idea!)

If you look around your neighborhood, you will see TONS of Podocarpus in Los Angeles. They are from Africa, are drought resistant, are VERY popular for hedges, can be trimmed into anything, grow about 20 to 30 feet high (if they're well loved), they look GREAT all year long and most importantly, they are a low-mess conifer.

See those cool hedges over there with the spikey leaves? Podocarpus! See that super cool Dr. Seuss-looking tree across the street with the interesting trunk and branches with puffy pom-pom looking tufts of foliage? That's Podacarpus, too! It's just much older and pruned into a tree instead of a hedge or bush!

Jacarunda - messy. I love me some Pepper Trees, but they also drop a lot of, well, pepper berries! Your landlord will not appreciate this. Magnolia sounds lovely, I know nothing about them.

Overall, I think a citrus or an avocado trees are more useful, but the Podocarpus will be very attractive, versatile and low maintenance. Also, it might provide more privacy than other species, depending on pruning.

It does grow slowly, however, so it is good you want to purchase a more mature tree. Fertilizer, I hear from the nursey folk and online - is the key to solving that.

I know about these Podocarpus because a while back we were also seeking to avoid the Ficus invasive-root issue.


If you are in West Hollywood, I can think of two awesome specimens if you want to check them out:

a) Laurel Ave, between SMB and Fountain, east side of the street one or two buildings up from the corner of Norton Ave on the front lawn there.

b) At about 1416 N Havenhurst Dr, just below Sunset.

They're both old - the Havenhurst guy is really big, the Laurel tree is shorter and bushier.

I just spied the Havenhurst tree on street view in Google Maps. Zip is 90069. The shorter bushier version in the vicinity of 1214 N. Laurel doesn't read as well on street view, as there is another tree in front of it. That's the one that will sell you on Podocarpus, btw, so if you are in the neighborhood, swing by.

Good luck with your project:)
posted by jbenben at 4:19 PM on February 16, 2010

Response by poster: I'm in the San Gabriel foothills - Pasadena, if it helps.
posted by arnicae at 4:37 PM on February 16, 2010

Best answer: Magnolias are notoriously shallow rooted, and will lift sidewalks. California Peppers get 20-40 high and as wide and are destructive to house foundations and paving. Another choice is the Brazilian Pepper, a better behaved relative, though just as messy and with seeds that sprout. Podocarpus are lovely trees (though they are from Australia and Asia, not Africa), but can be very slow growing. My client has four, and they are nearly the same size now as when I started gardening there 5 years ago. They are dense and bushy, nicer up against a wall rather than to sit under, IMO.

You might look at Bauhinias, like B. blakeana or B.varigata (purpurea). Cercis canadensis can make great small trees if you can find a nicely formed, single trunk specimen. They do require good drainage. If you need an evergreen tree, Cassia leptophylla is beautiful, and rather more fast growing than the others. It may need some expert pruning early on to shape it after flowering.

Most tree root problems can be traced to poor irrigation practices. Trees need deep, infrequent watering. Shallow watering will cause more surface rooting, and trees that just aren't getting enough (or are very thirsty) will get into pipes. Something to keep in mind, no matter what type of tree you decide on.

Final slightly off topic thoughts: There are over 700 species of Eucalypts, with highly variable characteristics. Some are even suggested as plantings in fire-prone areas by the Australian Native Plant Society. If one of these species is planted in a residential landscape and all other good fire practices are followed (ie no accumulated leaf litter, no limbs touching houses, &c.) they are no more problematic than any other tree species.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:01 PM on February 16, 2010

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