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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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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!

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Monday - November 07, 2011

From: Newhall , CA
Region: California
Topic: Privacy Screening, Shrubs, Trees
Title: Trees with non-invasive roots or tops in Newhall CA
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

We would like to plant a tree with noninvasive roots near our garden wall and concrete driveway in a grassy area in the front yard facing west. This spot is very sunny in the afternoon with automatic sprinklers. We also need to plant a second tree to hide a telephone pole that would be somewhat under the electrical wires that run across our backyard that is facing east. We would like to plant a tree that is not likely to interfere with the wires. The electric pole is at the top of a hill. We had to cut down a 40 year old Alder that had begun to die and was entangled in the wires. It was very tall over 100 feet. We can plant the tree at the base of the hill. Thank you

ANSWER:

We are frequently asked by visitors to Mr. Smarty Plants site for non-invasive roots or trees that won't grow too tall. In an urban area like Los Angeles County we can certainly understand your need to maximize your space. Because we are asked so often for non-invasive tree roots, we will exhibit a little laziness and link you to a Mr. Smarty Plants previous answer to explain about tree roots.

The gist of our argument is that a tree that grows very tall is going to need lots of space under ground (and not very far down from the surface) to gather sufficient nutrients from the soil, storing water and, perhaps most importantly, anchoring that tree in the ground. You have heard the expression "top-heavy" we are sure; apply that to a large tree and you can perhaps visualize a tree that topples in a wind or even if someone leans against it. And with an instinct for survival, tree roots stand up for themselves, or perhaps we should say "push up" because they will push up sidewalks and driveways, as well as crack foundations in search of water. We realize you are probably looking for shade in a sunny area, but since your wall and driveway are in that same sunny area, we don't think they will co-exist. We don't know how much space you have available or how far the trunk would be from the wall and driveway, but you need to remember that roots are radiating out in all direction from that trunk for as much as 2 to 3 times the width of of the top of the tree.

We would suggest you rethink your landscaping for that area. There are shrubs that can be trained in small tree-like shapes, perennials and grasses that will not have roots that interfere with the concrete, but will fill the space attractively. In terms of a tree that will disguise a telephone pole, it is better to select a small tree that will not be expected to ever get high enough to invade the wires, but that, with a leafed-out top, will at least distract the eye from the telephone pole in the background.

We suggest you go to our Recommended Species section and select Southern California on the map. This will produce a list of 208 plants native to Southern California. Mr. Smarty Plants does not recommend any plants that are not native both to North America but also to the area in which the plants will be grown. These plants will be conditioned by centuries of experience to do well in your climate, rainfall and soils. Using the sidebar on the right-hand side of the page, you can select on "Habit" (tree, shrub, herbaceous blooming plant), "Light Requirements," "Soil Moisture" and even projected height of the plant. Following the plant links on the resulting list will take you to webpages on the individual plants, where you can learn more about them, and decide if they are suitable for your space.

 

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