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?

Share

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
Not Yet Rated

Tuesday - November 10, 2009

From: San Rafael, CA
Region: California
Topic: Trees
Title: The perfect tree for San Rafael CA
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Want to plant a tree that is slow growing and has shallow root system that won't lift the concrete, that does not shed, and is green throughout the year.

ANSWER:

Boy, so do we. If you ever find one, will you please share the information with us, because we get a lot of questions like this. We call them "designer plants," where the gardener specifies their requirements and places the order, like having a suit tailored. Unfortunately, Nature is not that civilized. Plants, even those that are evergreen, will shed things. They bloom to make seed so they can reproduce. The blooms fall off, the fruit (which contains the seeds) falls, and leaves die continually, falling off to be replaced by fresh ones. Slow growing is a little easier to come up with, and most trees have root systems of which the majority is in the upper 12" of the soil. That doesn't mean they won't lift concrete, interfere with foundations and discourage growth of other plants beneath them. You must always plan for that tree to get bigger, no matter how slowly, and trying to plant a tree in a confined space or too close to sidewalks and driveways is just to ask for trouble down the line.

All that being said, we will try to recommend some evergreen trees for the San Rafael area. The evergreen part eliminated a lot of lovely trees. The ones we found native to Northern Califonia seem to be mostly firs and pines, which will drop cones and needles, but at least the cones make good Christmas decorations, and the needles smell good. We tried to find a magnolia, one of our favorite evergreen trees, that would grow in California, but no luck. The magnolia requires an acidic soil, and most of western America has pretty alkaline soils. Sorry. Follow each link to the page on that particular plant to find their projected ultimate size, whether they grow quickly or slowly, and what conditions and soils they require.

Evergreen trees for Marin County, CA:

Abies concolor (white fir)

Pinus contorta (lodgepole pine)

Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas-fir)

Tsuga mertensiana (mountain hemlock)

Cercocarpus montanus var. glaber (birchleaf mountain mahogany)

Quercus agrifolia (California live oak)

 

From the Image Gallery


Beach pine
Pinus contorta

Ponderosa pine
Pinus ponderosa

Blue douglas fir
Pseudotsuga menziesii

Mountain hemlock
Tsuga mertensiana

Smooth mountain mahogany
Cercocarpus montanus var. glaber

California live oak
Quercus agrifolia

More Trees Questions

Transplant shock in pecan tree in Garner NC
July 19, 2012 - I transplanted a pecan tree about 3 weeks ago & been watering it 3 times a day. The leaves are turning brown & crumbly before I water it. After I water it, the leaves are brown but I can scratch the t...
view the full question and answer

Encouraging branch growth of live oak trees in Austin
February 10, 2009 - I recently had an elm tree cut down that was crowding out 2 live oak trees in my front yard. The oaks have no branches on the sides that were next to the elm. The elm stump is still there. I need to ...
view the full question and answer

Western soapberry dropping leaves in San Antonio
June 03, 2013 - My Western Soapberry tree (China berry?) Suddenly started dropping full, perfectly healthy green, leaf units. Now half the tree is turning yellow. There is a second tree in the yard not far from this ...
view the full question and answer

Is the palm tree a true tree?
December 18, 2008 - Hello, There has been constant debate here about the Palm Tree. I'm in Las Vegas and I have heard everything from it not being a true tree but a cacti or a giant thistle?! I've tried to research...
view the full question and answer

Growth in oak tree in San Antonio
April 05, 2011 - We have a very large gorgeous oak tree in our backyard here in San Antonio, Texas. I noticed a thickness high up in the tree. Thinking it was a nest of some sort, I used binoculars and saw a parasiti...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center