Rent Shop Volunteer Join

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

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
6 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 Pruning Questions

Decorative Trees for Scenic Bench in Fairhope IL
June 10, 2012 - I am looking for a recommendation for a pair of small trees (does not grow taller than 18-20 feet) that can provide shade on either side of a stone bench. The site is in full sun, western exposure an...
view the full question and answer

Pruning of Desert Hibiscus Coulteri from Lubbock, TX
October 20, 2012 - Dear Mr. Smarty Plants, We have in our garden this year 2 volunteer Desert Hibiscus Coulteri----quite lanky! I notice on your website under "comments" someone notes they should be cut back "nearly...
view the full question and answer

Care for large trumpet vine in Hugo MN
June 09, 2010 - I was recently given a large Trumpet vine that has been growing in the same place for the last 25 years.I have replanted it and given it a large trellis to grow on.I live in central Minnesota. My ques...
view the full question and answer

Lifespan and pruning of cedar elm in San Antonio
October 03, 2009 - How long do cedar elm trees live? How can you estimate the age of one, or tell if it is nearing the end of its normal lifespan? Do you have any recommendations for selecting someone to prune it proper...
view the full question and answer

Failure of older branches on Bauhinia lunarioides to thrive
April 27, 2008 - We planted a sapling of the Anacacho Orchid Tree (Bauhinia lunarioides) winter (Jan, Feb?) and now it has leaves and blooms - but only off of new branches near its trunk, as the old branches haven't ...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.