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
4 ratings

Sunday - July 24, 2011

From: Los Angeles, CA
Region: California
Topic: Pruning, Trees
Title: Tree with no invasive roots for Los Angeles
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I have a large in ground planter sharing the outside wall (on south/east corner) of my house in east LA 90032. I would like to find a tree that grows quite tall (2 story building), but grows roots vertically rather than horizontally as not to destroy my foundation. in other words: I am looking for a tree that grows its roots straight down & deep, I guess. Preferably a non-too-messy tree since so close to the house. Preferably a tree that provides bird food. Any advice? thank you so very much.

ANSWER:

Yes, prepare to compromise. See, here's the problem -  Nature doesn't take custom orders. The root systems of trees have evolved over millions of years.There are a number of trees that at least begin with a taproot, especially in the conifer family. However, transplanting those trees, even when they are very young, is problematic. Damage or breakage to the taproot can result in failure to survive.

Many people look for a tree with a taproot, like a carrot has. They think that it will grow straight down and the roots won't get into their lawns, foundations or swimming pools. Taproot trees develop outlying roots to get more water and nutrition from the soil, but also to stabilize the tree in an upright position. Those outlying roots are usually at least as wide as the tree is tall. You want a 20' tall tree? Plan on roots extending out at least 20 ft. in all directions.

Next, roots aside, what are you going to do when the house needs paint? The painters are going to ask you to prune back any tree close to the wall. You can prune the tree as the painters ask or you can have paint all over your tree.

To address your other requests: There are lots of shrubs and trees that produce berries that the birds love, score one. Those berry-bearing plants are going to be very messy and you will have junior trees popping up all over everywhere. The birds will eat the berries, they will pass through the birds' digestive system, and be redeposited, ready to grow. Score minus one.

Bottom line: you need to rethink how you want to landscape that wall. There are tall native grasses and perennials that have fibrous roots and won't interfere with your foundation. There are plants that will attract hummingbirds and butterflies, but won't be very tall. We suggest you go to our Native Plant Database and, using Combination Search, indicate California, and then select tree, shrub, herbaceous blooming plant, etc. under Habit. Follow the italicized names to our webpage on each plant to learn more about it. Among other things, you will find out how big around and/or tall that plant is going to be. Considering what its mature size is going to be, get it far enough away from the wall so the wall doesn't constrict the plant. Any trees should be far enough way so they don't invade the foundation.


 

More Trees Questions

Transplanting a bald cypress from Houston
December 10, 2012 - We would like to transplant a bald cypress from front yard to back. It is about 10 ft tall, 3" trunk diameter, 2-1/2 years old and in good health. Any idea how large the root ball might need to be du...
view the full question and answer

Brown spots on young redbuds in Lincoln TX
August 01, 2010 - I have lined my driveway in Lee County Texas with Red bud trees purchased both in Dripping Springs and in College Station. The 14 trees are of varying ages and heights (planted during the fall and wi...
view the full question and answer

Evergreen replacement for liveoaks with oak wilt in Austin
January 26, 2008 - One day after moving into our very first home and first home in Texas (just north of the Wildflower center in Sendera Southwest Austin) we discovered that all of our Live Oaks have Oak Wilt. After tre...
view the full question and answer

Non-toxic trees for cattle, horses and swine in Washington state.
December 04, 2015 - What non-toxic trees can be planted in cattle pastures in Central Washington? We also have horses and swine on the property.
view the full question and answer

Plants wilting too quickly in Toledo OH
May 27, 2012 - The garden I have had recent issues with plants wilting all too quickly. I would like to know what types of plants would be hearty for the climate in Toledo, Ohio. I have a partly sunny front yard and...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP | STAFF
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center