short shade tree with non invasive roots

beckyj412July 25, 2010

Ok, I'm new to planting anything so bear with me here . . .

We live in a moutain community in Southern California. Technically we are in zone 8 or 9. We have desert like conditions but we also get snow and below freezing temps for at least 3 months in the winter. It is incredibly dry here and our soil is basically dry rocky decomposed granite.

Our backyard doesn't have any shade. We are putting in a wooden playset for the kids and eventually re-doing our deck. We'd like some shade for those things. The problem is that the only spot that would provide any kind of shade is near power lines and about 15 feet from the septic tank. Luckily the leach lines go the opposite direction, but I don't want to take any chances with our [metal!?!] tank.

Is there a tree that would grow in our area that would not get too incredibly tall (under 25 ft), grow relatively quickly, and not have agressive roots? Our other option, as my husband just pointed out, is if the tree doesn't get wider than 15 feet, then a taller tree is fine. Please don't suggest an evergreen, as we're already surrounded by them and I want something different. I also am weary of flowering trees (although that was my first choice) since bee allergies run in the family and it would be planted near the playset.

The lady at the local nursery convinced us to try an apple tree to fit this spot. My dogs promtly tore it to shreds while still in the pot. And after I did my research I'm not sure its what we really wanted in that spot anyway. I will however plant it elsewhere to see if it can recover.

So am I asking for too much? What should I be looking at? Thanks for any help.

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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)

Did you try and look up suitable trees for your area like county extension websites?

    Bookmark   July 26, 2010 at 1:08AM
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Sounds like really tough conditions. Are there any trees growing around you that you like the look of that are the right size?

    Bookmark   July 26, 2010 at 8:03AM
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Dave in NoVA • 7a • Northern VA

I wonder if any of the Southwestern evergreen oaks would do well for you, like 'Canyon Live Oak' (Quercus chrysolepis), or perhaps a Mohr Oak (Quercus mohriana) or even the Silverleaf Oak (Quercus hypoleucoides), although it can get rather large.

You would need to protect any of these from animals when the tree is young, like wrap chicken wire around it.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2010 at 8:54AM
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There are a few different maples and aspens in other yards but I didn't think the roots would be good for our situation. There are plenty of apple and cherry trees, red leaf plums, peppers, oaks (although they're too large), and others I haven't identified yet.

My husband really likes the red leaf plum trees he has seen. But those willl attract bees in the spring, right? Is there something along those lines that doesn't flower?

I haven't found any county websites. . . .

    Bookmark   July 26, 2010 at 9:33AM
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I know they are not the best for shade, but aren't there several pines that grow well in that part of the country?

    Bookmark   July 26, 2010 at 1:16PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

2007 edition of Sunset WESTERN GARDEN BOOK (Sunset Publishing, Menlo Park) has section on garden and patio trees in the plant selection guide near the front. Probably a good candidate for you there.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2010 at 1:25PM
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Red leaf plums are not long-lived. If you get one plan on removing it within 10-20 years. With that in mind, they are OK trees.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2010 at 4:09PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Here on the west coast they can be expected to last longer than that, which is nothing for a tree. Full size will not even be achieved in 10-20 years.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2010 at 11:19AM
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Roots can extend outward about 2 to 3 times the distance from the trunk that the canopy does, it is said. So if your 15 foot specification is based on the septic tank distance, consider that.

I believe I read an online article on a 'Thundercloud' purple-leaf plum chronicling a woman's experience with it, and I think it produced that sticky crud due to aphids on things underneath; might want to check whether that's a common problem.

I'd almost be leery of most anything 'maple' near a septic tank.

When you say a taller tree is okay if it doesn't get over 15' wide, are you walking radius (from the trunk) or diameter (of the whole canopy)?


    Bookmark   July 28, 2010 at 6:55PM
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I mean the whole diameter of the canopy. I wasn't considering the roots though - I hadn't found anything on how roots generally space out.

I guess I was just hoping to get away from the 100s of pines and have something a little different in the yard. There are many other trees around town too, but they all seem to get so big.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2010 at 6:55PM
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ilovemytrees(5b/6a Western, NY)

American Hornbeam?

    Bookmark   July 30, 2010 at 9:25PM
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I don't know if you are coming back to this thread or not, but I would suggest you go to the mall and look around at the trees they plant in the parking lot.
I'm serious, they are the perfect trees for your situation.
See how tall they are and try to take pics and come back for an ID of them here.
They can't have invasive root systems to be in a parking lot, and they provide shade.
Just a suggestion.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2010 at 3:07PM
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oooh, good idea! i have actually been eyeing a couple at the grocery store. i'll have to take some pictures when i go back. although the store is a bit lower in elevation and doesn't get as cold, it can't be too much difference . . .

    Bookmark   August 5, 2010 at 9:56PM
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"I don't know if you are coming back to this thread or not, but I would suggest you go to the mall and look around at the trees they plant in the parking lot."

I'd follow up online & research the species I saw.

Just because you see a tree on a 'tree island' in a parking lot doesn't mean that species is appropriate for that location.

Now, if the tree's been there many years, is roughly full-sized, looks healthy & right for your purposes, that might be good.

But an 8 - 10' tall juvenile of a tree that can hit 50'+ might not be such a good match.


    Bookmark   August 5, 2010 at 10:55PM
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I just noticed that our little hardware store in town got some new trees. They usually only sell things native or very good for our area - which probably explains their small variety. Anyway, the ones they have right now are:

Purple Robe Locust
White Alder
Krauter Flowering Plum

. . . and some cherry and apple trees.

I've looked a little at these online and I know some get too big. Haven't done enough research to know which, if any, would work for us. But looking at these, does anything similar pop into anyone's head to give us more options?

    Bookmark   August 15, 2010 at 10:53PM
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Oaks wouldn't be any good that close to the septic. They would get root rot. I did a lot of research and asking the right people when I was considering an oak for my yard. Stupid old cesspool!

I would steer clear of the locust. Brittle, short-lived and weedy. Alders get big and are prone to attack by bark beetles and again tend to be short-lived. The goldenchain looks like it would be a good candidate but all parts of it are poisonous. Would anyone who uses the playset be prone to putting plant material in their mouth?

The flowering plum looks like the best candidate.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2010 at 2:50AM
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Some other choices :
Mexican Plum - drought resistant, long-lived, leaves turn orangish in fall, Z6-9, 15-25' tall. This is a wild plum tree that is often used for rootstock. It makes a nice small tree on its own. White flowers in spring.
Domesticated Pear tree - to 20-25', very long-lived and you get pears, nice shape to the tree
Flowering crab-apple - tend to be fairly tough trees to about 25'.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2010 at 2:36PM
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How about a citrus tree? They don't need much watering once established, and require good drainage. I have one close to my house, so roots seem rather non-invasive. Also, You can prune the trees to the shape you want. I have mine like an umbrella. The only problem is the thorns.... with kids.... maybe you can get a variety without thorns....and citrus trees are evergreens. Another might be a pineapple guava. Again, you can shape by pruning. Now, I need one without fruit.... any suggestions out there? I have a spot that is close to our roof gutters --- and don't want fruit dropping into them... and again, it must have non-invasive roots.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2010 at 11:57PM
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