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
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


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.


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

Mountain hemlock
Tsuga mertensiana

Smooth mountain mahogany
Cercocarpus montanus var. glaber

California live oak
Quercus agrifolia

More Trees Questions

Seeds or seedlings of Texas madrone (Arbutus xalapensis)
January 03, 2009 - Where can I obtain seeds or seedlings of the "Texas Madrone" tree? Thank You.
view the full question and answer

Project on natives in Connecticut from Chino CA
April 13, 2010 - Hi Mr. Smarty Plants, My 10 yr. old daughter is doing a project on Ct., and would like to know what the most common plants, trees and flowers are found in this state. A few of each would be a great ...
view the full question and answer

Chlorotic disease in scrub oak from Katy TX
July 04, 2013 - Please tell me how to treat my scrub oak as it has chlorotic disease. Parts of the tree are fine and others have yellow leaves. It has not been injured in any way.
view the full question and answer

Trees for home in Kansas
April 01, 2012 - I am needing help planting trees in my yard. It's a new construction home and I would like a tree that won't get into the septic system easily. Also, I have to plant 3 other trees as well due to the...
view the full question and answer

Tree ordinances re Magnolia Ladybird Johnson tree
July 02, 2006 - What exactly is a Ladybird Johnson tree? Also, is there any type of federal or state law(s) that prohibits the cutting, trimming or removal of a LadyBird Johnson tree? Thank you for your time!
view the full question and answer

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