Choosing and planting a landscape tree (or trees) is probably one of the most difficult decisions a homeowner has to make. Trees can be expensive, and many have undesirable traits that can appear once established and can be troublesome to remove. A well-chosen tree can enhance your home, providing beauty, shade and maybe even food for you or the local wildlife.
When purchasing landscape trees, the first consideration is their function. Would you like shade on your terrace? Do you need protection from strong winds? Are you trying to find a way to improve privacy? Do you want an interesting focal point in your landscape?
When looking for shade, you should consider the potential location of the tree, especially if you have or plan to install a rooftop solar system. I can’t tell you how many homes I’ve seen where all or most of the solar panels are shaded by large trees. These homeowners are obviously not getting the full benefit of their investment in a solar system. A large shady tree can reduce your air conditioning costs in the summer, but not as much as a working solar system. If you want to take advantage of shade and an efficient solar system, consider the tree’s mature height before planting.
Deciduous trees for shade should be planted on the south or west side of a property. When their leaves are gone in winter, the sun is available to provide warmth.
Evergreen trees are often used as windbreaks. Many species are fast growers, and their dense canopy and relatively flexible branches make them a good choice.
Sometimes it is the lack of certain negative traits that dictate tree choice. Invasive roots can be a major disadvantage, especially for smaller plots. Sewage and irrigation lines can clog or break sidewalks from tree roots. Builders seem to enjoy planting these shallow-rooted (but fast-growing) trees in new residential areas.
Palm trees have fibrous, non-invasive roots, but they come with their own drawbacks. They need professional trimming once they grow up and rats are very fond of them. A palm tree planted near the house will provide easy access to the eaves and possibly the attic. If you have a rat problem in the attic, consider removing any trees (especially palm trees) that allow them access to the roof.
Avoid planting under power lines. Every spring I see tree trimmers cutting back the California pepper trees that grow under the power lines along our local roads. A better choice would have been toyons, which are attractive natives that don’t grow quite as tall. Many trees shed their leaves and other debris, some year-round. Avoid planting these trees near pools, fountains, and other water features or where cleaning would be difficult.
We made the mistake of placing a beautiful four-tiered fountain under a mature lemon tree. It was such a nightmare to stay clean! We ended up replacing it with a bird bath that is a lot less trouble to empty and clean.
For more information on choosing a tree for your property, visit www.selectree.calpoly.edu.