En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
11 ratings

Wednesday - May 28, 2008

From: Redondo Beach, CA
Region: California
Topic: Trees
Title: Native trees for small backyard in California
Answered by: Nan Hampton


I have a small backyard and very close to my neighbor. I want to plant trees that grow 15/20 high that can work as a screen although I have to be very careful with invasive roots. Also I have two small kids that love to be outside. Any suggestion?


Here are a few suggestions for large shrubs/small trees that should work well.  Dr. Connie Vadheim, a professor at California State University and a specialist in native plants of the area, provided suggestions for the selections below.   These all are found in Los Angeles County, California.

Amelanchier alnifolia (Saskatoon serviceberry), 3-18 feet tall, deciduous

Comarostaphylis diversifolia (summer holly), up to 20 feet, evergreen

Heteromeles arbutifolia (toyon), 8-20 feet tall, evergreen

Juniperus californica (California juniper), 10-15 feet, evergreen, photos from CalFlora

Morella californica (California wax myrtle), 10-25 feet, evergreen, photos and more information from University of Washington, Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture

Cercocarpus montanus var. glaber (birchleaf mountain mahogany), 8-20 feet, semi-evergreen

Cornus nuttallii (Pacific dogwood), 15-40 feet, deciduous

Cupressus forbesii (tecate cypress) around 20 feet high, evergreem and here are photos

Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp. aspleniifolius (Catalina ironwood), 30-50 feet, evergreen and here are photos

Umbellularia californica (California laurel), up to 40 feet, evergreen

According to the Poisonous Plants of North Carolina or Cornell University Poisonous Plants Informational Database, none of the plants above has any toxic parts that you should be concerned about for your children.

You can find other suggestions for native plants by visiting our "Recommended Species" page and choosing Southern California from the map.

Amelanchier alnifolia

Comarostaphylis diversifolia

Heteromeles arbutifolia

Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis

Cercocarpus montanus var. glaber

Cornus nuttallii

Umbellularia californica



More Trees Questions

Native evergreen tree for horse pasture in New Jersey
April 05, 2009 - I just pulled out a laurel that was hiding a stand pipe in our horse paddock. We had trouble this winter with the horses eating it when there was little grass to graze on. Can you suggest an evergre...
view the full question and answer

Possible webbing bark lice on oak tree
August 08, 2008 - We live near the Center and have a large live oak tree in our yard. Recently the lower trunk has been covered with thin, white weblike material (not sure if spider web). What could this be and is it d...
view the full question and answer

Madrones in Michigan?
November 01, 2010 - Will a Arbutus menziesii (Pursh Pacific madrone) grow in Huron County Michigan? I'm at the "tip of Michigan's thumb".
view the full question and answer

Will Prunus caroliniana (Carolina laurelcherry) be toxic to chickens?
July 25, 2010 - We are considering planting Carolina Cherry Laurels around our yard for dense hedging purposes. We are concerned because we have a small flock of free-ranging chickens who eat every seed and leaf in ...
view the full question and answer

Why is cedar pollen so heavy this year?
January 08, 2011 - Dear Mr Smarty, Is this year a heavier than normal year for cedar pollen?? If so why?
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center