Contact Us Host an Event 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
Not Yet Rated

Monday - May 09, 2011

From: San Jose, CA
Region: California
Topic: Trees
Title: Trees for small spaces from San Jose CA
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

What tree can you plant in a corner of a yard 3ft from a fence? What is the best shade tree for a small yard with a pool?

ANSWER:

Mr. Smarty Plants hates to disappoint gardeners, but some requests are for plants that really won't work in the described situation. There are several trees that could be planted in the corner of a fence that would do well in your area. The questions you will have to ask yourself are: (1) can the roots go under the fence and are they going to interfere with any paving or landscaping on either side, yours or the neighbor's? and (2) ditto for the top of the tree. Depending on how tall the tree and how tall the fence, the crown or leafy top may already be at the top of the fence or soon get there. Then what? Is the tree going to shade something in your neighbor's yard that he doesn't want shaded? Or drop leaves, flowers, seeds, etc. on both sides of the fence? In terms of shade in a small yard with a pool, we don't want to be flip, but have you considered a large umbrella?

Roots of trees generally extend at least as far out as the shadow of the canopy of the tree. This area is referred to as the Protected Root Zone (PRZ). While a tree and its rootball would probably initially fit into the 3 ft. space in the fence corner, the roots will quickly grow beyond it.  Additionally, the roots of the tree have the potential to damage/crack any concrete they encounter as they grow trying to reach water and oxygen.

We are frequently asked for "taproot trees," on the assumption that a root that grows straight down will not interfere with concrete walks, driveways, sidewalks and foundations. Alas, some trees do begin with a taproot but there are few trees with a true taproot; as time goes by roots will spread from that center root, both in search of water and nutrients and also as a base to stabilize the tree in the ground. A tree tall enough, and with comparable width to provide shade for your pool area, is going to have roots extending far beyond the initial area, if either the tree or the pool survive the planting there. A tree big enough to cast shade, say, 20 ft. tall, will usually have about the same spread-20' wide. The roots beneath that tree will normally spread out from two to three times farther than the crown.

There are shrubs that might fit into that corner space and or not interfere with your pool, but they will not get big enough to cast appreciable shade. What they will cast is leaves, twigs, bugs, fruit and seeds into that pool, that will need cleaning up.

We are going to list a few shrubs that are native to the Santa Clara Co. area in central coastal California, USDA Hardiness Zone 9. Shrubs have less invasive roots than trees, can maintain a space in the landscape; some are evergreen, but they won't get big enough for shade. We will find suggestions for you by going to our Recommended Species section, clicking on Northern California on the map, and searching on the sidebar at the right-hand side of the page on "shrub" for Habit. Follow each plant link to our webpage on that plant to find out more about size, growth habits, care, sun requirements, etc. You can use the same technique to make other choices or select trees, herbaceous blooming plants and so forth.

Shrubs for Central California:

Amelanchier alnifolia (Saskatoon serviceberry) - deciduous, 3-18 ft. tall, blooms white April to June, can grow in sun, part sun or shade

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (Kinnikinnick) - trailing, 1-3 ft., evergreen, blooms white, pink March to June, sun, part shade or shade

Ceanothus velutinus (Snowbrush) - evergreen, 6-12 ft., sun, part shade or shade,  blooms white April to August

Garrya elliptica (Wavyleaf silktassel)- evergreen, 10 ft., sun or part shade, blooms white December to February. Pictures from Google.

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:


Amelanchier alnifolia


Arctostaphylos uva-ursi


Ceanothus velutinus

 

 

 

More Trees Questions

Watering newly-planted Afghan Pines
May 11, 2015 - I just planted some Afghan pines in Amarillo, tx (avg. rainfall about 2O in. Per year) What would be the appropriate amount of water and how often would I need to water during this time.
view the full question and answer

Lack of fruit on Texas persimmon
July 08, 2008 - I have several Texas Persimmons on my property, most have nodules covering most of the leaves that I am presuming to be insect eggs. Between my neighbor and I we have over a dozen of these tress grow...
view the full question and answer

Patio Privacy Screen Suggestions for Central Texas
March 17, 2013 - I have just built a patio and want to plant some small trees, bushes or shrubs to form a visual barrier (rather than to erect a fence)to the neighbors yard.
view the full question and answer

Small native evergreen tree for Long Island, NY
October 06, 2008 - Hi, I am looking for an evergreen tree to plant on Long Island NY. I plan on planting it in my front yard. At maturity to about 10-15ft about 5 ft wide. Not sure about soil, the area gets good AM sun ...
view the full question and answer

Native species of tree for Rockwall TX
March 19, 2014 - Hello, I am attempting to plant a native species of tree 20 miles east of Dallas, Texas (Rockwall, TX) in honor of my brother's marriage. He is a biologist and a huge supporter of native species....
view the full question and answer

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