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Saturday - April 18, 2015

From: Pacifica, CA
Region: California
Topic: Shrubs, Trees
Title: Evergreen Trees for Low Maintenance Screen
Answered by: Anne Van Nest


We live in Pacifica, CA and are looking to plant a row of low maintenance trees in our back yard along our fence, that grow to be a maximum of 15' high, that stay green year round. What do you recommend?


Let’s start first by looking at a list of native plants for California. Take a look at the Native Plant Database on the website and put in the following search criteria: State = California, habit = tree, duration = perennial, light requirement = full sun, leaf retention = evergreen.  Then select the height you 12-36 ft. This will generate a list of trees to investigate and begin narrowing down.

Here are the shrubs that fit your height requirements:

Adenostoma sparsifolium (Redshank)

This erect, tree-like shrub grows 6-18 ft. high. The bark is red-brown and freely exfoliating. Twigs are green. Small, white, tubular flowers occur in open, showy clusters.

Cercocarpus montanus (Alderleaf mountain mahogany)

Alder-leaf Mountain Mahogany is an 8-20 ft. shrub or small tree with very attractive, almost-evergreen leaves - dark green on top and fuzzy silver underneath. Non-showy flowers are followed by feathery, silvery-white fruits, occurring from May to November.

Heteromeles arbutifolia (Toyon)

A freely branched, evergreen shrub or small tree which can grow 15-20 ft. tall but usually is 6-8 ft. high and 4-5 ft. wide. Leathery, dark-green leaves provide a background for profuse white blooms and long-lasting displays of bright-red berries. The flowers and berries occur in large, terminal clusters. One of the most beautiful native shrubs or small trees, evergreen, with short trunk, many branches, and rounded crown.

The only species in its genus, Toyon is very showy in winter with evergreen leaves and abundant red fruit and is popular for Christmas decorations. A pioneer plant on eroded soil, it sprouts vigorously after fire or cutting. The common name Toyon is derived from an Ohlone word for the plant, and Hollywood, California, is thought to be named for it. It was once a major component of the chaparral that made up the original Hollywood landscape.

Juniperus californica (California juniper)

A tree-like shrub, 10-15 ft. high, with stout, irregular stems and a broad, erect, open habit. Bark is ashy gray, foliage is bluish-gray and scale-like, and berry-like cones are bluish, turning reddish-brown.

Able to withstand heat and drought, this species extends farther down into the semidesert zone than other junipers and is important in erosion control on dry slopes. Indians used to gather the berries to eat fresh and to grind into meal for baking.

Prunus ilicifolia (Hollyleaf cherry)

Small evergreen tree with short trunk, dense crown of stout, spreading branches, spiny-toothed leaves, and red cherries; hairless throughout; often a shrub. Holly-leaf cherry is a dense, evergreen shrub or small tree to 10 ft. with dark-green, holly-like leaves; white flower spikes; and red or dark-purple to black, cherry fruits.

Hollyleaf Cherry has been planted as an ornamental and a hedge plant from the time of the Spanish settlement in California. Although sweetish and edible, the cherries are mostly stone and are consumed only by wildlife. Native Americans used to crack the dried fruit and prepare meal from the ground seeds, after leaching them of poisons. The common and scientific names both refer to the hollylike leaves, which are used as Christmas decorations,

Here are the trees that fit your height requirements:

Cercocarpus montanus var. glaber (Smooth mountain mahogany) 

Hard tack, a variable, open shrub or small tree, grows from 8-20 ft. tall. Twigs may be stiff and erect or graceful and spreading. Bark is smooth gray. Birch-like, semi-evergreen to evergreen leaves are dark green, and inconspicuous flowers are followed by feathery seedheads that turn the plant silver in fall. Nitrogen-fixing and good for revegetation and erosion control. Drought-tolerant. Volunteer seedlings can be expected when well-established.

Cupressus forbesii (Tecate cypress)

A small tree, usually 20 ft. high, with an irregular/spreading to tight/symmetrical crown, light-green foliage, and exfoliating, mahogany-red, polished bark.

The common name refers to Mt. Tecate near the Mexico border, where this cypress was first found in California. It used to be considered a subspecies of a tree native to Guadalupe Island, off the west coast of Baja California.

Juniperus osteosperma (Utah juniper)

Utah juniper is a tree-like, evergreen shrub or bushy, small tree, 10-20 ft. tall. The plant forms rounded clumps or crowns. Branchlets are stiff with thin, ashy, scaly bark. Foliage is scale-like on mature twigs; needle-like on juvenile shoots and seedlings. Fruit is red-brown beneath a bloom when mature.

The most common juniper in Arizona, it is conspicuous at the south rim of the Grand Canyon and on higher canyon walls. Utah Juniper grows slowly, becoming craggier and more contorted with age. American Indians used the bark for cordage, sandals, woven bags, thatching, and matting. They also ate the berries fresh or in cakes. Birds and small mammals also consume quantities of juniper berries. Junipers are also called cedars; Cedar Breaks National Monument and nearby Cedar City in southwestern Utah are named for this tree. Scattered tufts of yellowish twigs with whitish berries found on the trees are a parasitic mistletoe, which is characteristic of this tree.

Pinus quadrifolia (Four-leaf pinyon)

Small resinous tree with spreading rounded crown and low, horizontal branches; often shrubby. A small, pinyon pine with noteable symmetry and neatness. Grows slowly to 20 ft.; rarely any taller. Needles are blue-green and in groups of four.

The edible seeds are not gathered commercially because of the trees limited distribution. Rodents (especially woodrats), other mammals, and birds consume the small annual crop.


From the Image Gallery

Adenostoma sparsifolium

Alderleaf mountain mahogany
Cercocarpus montanus

Heteromeles arbutifolia

Heteromeles arbutifolia

Smooth mountain mahogany
Cercocarpus montanus var. glaber

Utah juniper
Juniperus osteosperma

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