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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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Tuesday - March 05, 2013

From: Lincoln, CA
Region: California
Topic: Container Gardens, Trees
Title: Small tree for Northern California backyard
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Dear Mr. Smarty Plants, I'm looking for a small tree for backyard (west side of house). I'm replacing a Calif.Laurel which is not doing well because it is planted on a downward slope and gets too much water. I could plant this new tree (or shrub) 18" higher on the slope making it 7 feet from the side and back fence. Also wondering if I should plant a small tree in a decorative pot instead. I'd appreciate any suggestion. P.S. Do you think a sweet olive might be an alternative?

ANSWER:

Because our expertise and focus are with plants native to North America, we would not recommend Osmanthus fragrans (sweet olive tree) since it is native to Asia.

We do have the following recommendations for native large shrubs or small trees that are known to grow in Placer County or an adjacent county.  They should do well in the area you describe but be sure to read the GROWING CONDITIONS on each species page to compare to your site. 

Amelanchier alnifolia (Saskatoon serviceberry) grows to 18 feet, but can grow taller in rich soils.

Calycanthus occidentalis (Western sweetshrub) grows to 15 feet in sun or part shade.

Cornus nuttallii (Pacific dogwood) grows 15 to 40 feet in sun, part shade or shade.

Acer macrophyllum (Bigleaf maple) grows 20 to 75 feet in sun, part shade or shade.   Here is more information with photos from Calflora and North Coast Native Nursery in Petaluma.

Prunus virginiana (Chokecherry) grows to 20 to 30 feet in sun part shade and shade.

Aesculus californica (California buckeye) grows 10 to 20 feet in sun and part shade.

Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis (Common elderberry) grows to 12 feet in part shade.

You can look for more possibilities on the California-Northern Recommended page.  You can use the NARROW YOUR SEARCH option to choose the features you want.

In our "How to Articles" you will find Container Gardening with Native Plants with helpful information about growing native plants in containers.   Although it doesn't address trees specifically, its suggestions for container growing are applicable for all sizes of plants.  You will need to consider that roots of plants are sensitive to cold and within a pot they will not be as protected as they would be planted in the ground.  Plus, the pots you will have your trees in are not likely to be easy to move because of their size and weight so that you can transfer them inside to a warm place to protect them from freezing temperatures. You can find several articles on the internet with advice about growing trees in pots, such as Growing Trees in Containers from Gardening Know How and 9 Tips for Growing Container Trees from Urban Farm Online.

 

From the Image Gallery


Saskatoon serviceberry
Amelanchier alnifolia

Western sweetshrub
Calycanthus occidentalis

Pacific dogwood
Cornus nuttallii

Chokecherry
Prunus virginiana

California buckeye
Aesculus californica

Common elderberry
Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis

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