San Diego Tree Choices

During the classes and workshops we teach throughout San Diego county, we are often asked about tree choices.

Our personal view is that planting a tree that will ultimately be too large for a space is wrong. Many justify it to themselves by saying “We will be long gone by the time it’s a problem”. Others plant trees that grow to be giants because they just don’t know how big it’s ultimately going to get.

In our classes we teach you how to choose trees (and plants) according to the space you have in your yard. By drawing up your yard on paper, you can see exactly if something is going to fit. 

Here are our top tree choices for San Diego County

  1. Cercis occidentalis (Western Redbud) – A small deciduous tree or shrub to 15 feet tall or more and as wide that usually has several trunks from its base unless pruned into a single trunk.
  2. CRAPE MYRTLE OR LAGERSTROEMIA HYBRIDS Many different types Deciduous tree, loses leaves in fall Have hybrids that are resistant to many diseases Narrow trees that can grow to 25 feet tall and 12 feet wide
  3. Lemon Bottlebrush OR Callistemon citrinus Can grow up to 20-25 feet Has bright green leaves, flowers are bright red ‘brushes’ with gold tips Available in Multi Tolerant to heat and needs little water Evergreen tree, does not shed leaves for fall
  4. Fremontodendron mexicanum (Southern Flannel Bush) – Native to the San Diego County and Baja California, this evergreen shrub produces leaves with distinct 3 to 5 lobes and irritant hairs on the underside. The velvety leaves sparsely cover the branches. A great abundance of lemon-yellow flowers with a reddish tinge to the outside of the petals is displayed in the spring and summer. This bush will grow to 20 feet tall and wide. It does best in full sun with no supplementary water.
  5. Agonis flexuosa ‘Jervis Bay Afterdark’ (After Dark Peppermint Tree) – A selection of the West Australian willow myrtle that grows to around 18 feet tall by 10-15 feet wide with a weeping habit. It has brilliant scarlet-colored new growth in spring that darkens to dark burgundy. It is slower growing and has narrower leaves than is typical for the species but has the same small white flowers with burgundy centers that appear in clusters from spring into early summer.
  6. Acca sellowiana (Pineapple Guava) – This is an evergreen small tree or large shrub reaching 16-25 feet tall and as wide. It produces oval shaped leaves that have a silvery-white underside. In late spring to early summer appear the showy flowers with the inside of the fleshy edible flower petals a shiny pink while the outside of the petals are white.
  7. Bauhinia x blakeana (Hong Kong Orchid Tree) – This small tree grows to about 20 feet tall with a light gray smooth bark and an umbrella-shaped habit. It has rich rose-purple fragrant flowers with pink stamens; the flowers are larger than on other Bauhinia (5-6 inches in diameter!) and it flowers over a longer period, often starting in fall and extending to mid spring.
  8. Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ (Purple Smoke Tree) – This deciduous shrub has foliage that emerges a rich maroon red in the spring and darkens to purplish red by late summer. Airy puffs of purplish hairs surround the flowers which begin appearing in late spring and early summer.
  9. Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’- Compact strawberry tree is a four-season evergreen shrub with outstanding flowers, fruit, leaves, and bark. The branching is denser and the growth rate is slower than the typical form. Small, urn-shaped, whitish-pink flowers are produced from October to December. Round, ¾-inch, knobby fruits gradually ripen to orange-red and are often in color when the shrub is in full flower.

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Diane Downey and Sheri Menelli specialize in earth-friendly landscaping practices, including vegetable gardening, rainwater capture, soil health, native plants, and efficient irrigation. Diane is a professional landscape designer with over 10 years’ experience, and Sheri is a certified permaculture designer with a six-year-old food forest in her backyard. Combined, they have over two decades of teaching experience. Their classes are taught to the public in the classroom, in the field, and via one-on-one garden coaching sessions.
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