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

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Thursday - February 03, 2011

From: Los Angeles, CA
Region: California
Topic: Shrubs
Title: Need to Landscape a Small Yard in Southern California
Answered by: Marilyn Kircus and Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

We live in Southern California, and have a small yard Ė approx. 40í x 20.í We want to remove the grass, which we are currently not irrigating, and replace with low maintenance, drought-tolerant plants/groundcover. Overall, the yard is quite sunny, with some summer shade on one side. The problem: our neighbors have a large pecan tree. Itís a lovely tree, but it drops A LOT of litter. So, we need things that can tolerate being raked or larger plants which wonít trap the falling leaves. Iíve read your posts about grass under pecans, but we really prefer to move away from grass. The good news: the pecanís potential toxins, donít seem to be effecting our grass or our neighbors. Any ideas?

ANSWER:

I am not familiar with your soil or climate so am going to use the tools offered by the Wildflower Center to help you find plants you will like and will be easy growers for you.  And if you plan to keep the leaves raked or blown away, you probably will only need to worry about plants in the root zone of the pecan tree, if at all.

But even before you start to choose plants, you probably want to think of what look you would like to see in your yard - something very spare and geometric or an English type border.  Something mostly monochromatic in green or grey with some bright accents or a riot of color.  What hardscapes do you want - a patio or sitting area, a pergola or  trellises to give height. An outdoor eating area.  And since your space is so small, you will need miniature trees or vines for height, then some lower plants and some very low plants. And you might want to include some decorative grasses for accent or movement.

 After you figure out where you want what kind of plants, you can go to the Explore Plants tab on the Wildflower Center's webpage and then click on Explore plants again.  Scroll down to the Recommended Species List, then click on Southern California on the map. You will get 208 plants. On the right you can narrow your choices to plants that grow in sun and dry soils. Then you can repeatedly narrow your search to shrubs, herbs, succulents, etc. to find plants you'll enjoy and which will grow easily for you. We are going to lead you through choosing one plant, a shrub, so you can see how to use the Native Plant Database to get just the right plant. For this one, we chose a shrub that can be pruned into a tree, indicated sun or part shade (because of the pecan tree) but did not select on soil moisture, bloom time, etc.

We chose from the resulting 72-shrub list Amelanchier alnifolia (Saskatoon serviceberry). By following the plant link you can learn what kind of moisture this plant needs, the soils it prefers, light requirements and expected size. Using the same technique but choosing on General Appearance for tree, herbaceous blooming plant, vines and so forth you will get lists of plants that should work for you. In terms of ground cover, let us refer you to this Las Pilitas Nursery site with a list of native California ground covers. They are closer to the area and much more knowledgeable in it than we are.

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:


Amelanchier alnifolia


Amelanchier alnifolia


Amelanchier alnifolia


Amelanchier alnifolia

 

 

 

 

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