Want to add some local San Diego native plant character to your personal outdoor space? You’re in luck. San Diego County is home to some exceptional native trees that transfer well into a residential landscape design. In selecting plants, we begin to develop the softscape by choosing the tree. With a few exceptions, trees are the largest components of an outdoor design and therefore need to be placed first.
Try some of these local native selections. Here are a few top choices:
Western Redbud (Cercis occidentalis)
grows in one isolated stand in the Laguna Mountains. It can be used as a small tree or large bush to 15 feet in height. Design highlights: one of best native flowering trees or large shrubs; delightful show of deep pink, pea-shaped blooms as leaves begin to unfurl in spring; good in small spaces; large leaves turn yellow in fall; tolerant of clay soils; looks better with occasional watering in summer.
- Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis) is seen along washes in the Anza Borrego Desert. Looks true to its name with a wispy canopy of long leaves. Grows to 20 feet tall. Design Highlights: another excellent native bloomer; many trumpet-shaped flowers; light pink blooms have throats sketched in purple; good in small and narrow spaces; strap-like leaves provide light shade; certain to attract hummingbirds; likes some summer water.
- Blue Palo Verde (Cercidium floridum). Several Palo Verde species are native to the California deserts. All are spectacular when in bloom. Blue Palo Verde is a fast growing tree to 20 feet or more in height. Design Highlights: beautiful and long lasting bloom display begins in late spring and lasts well into summer; hundreds if not thousands of yellow flowers; green trunk is a botanical oddity; lacy leaves allow filtered sun in for plants below; loves heat and tolerates months of drought. Palo Verde hybrid ‘Desert Museum’ is a superior thornless hybrid.
- Coastal Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia) makes a stately evergreen tree in cultivation and should sit at the top of most native tree lists. Grows to forty feet in height and width in the landscape. Design highlights: dense canopy of evergreen leaves; good overhead tree for dry shade gardens; nursery grown trees tolerate periodic irrigation; good candidate for non-native themed landscapes.
- California Bay (Umbellularia californica) has a spicy fragrance that can turn heads when discovered along a trail in our local mountains. It makes an excellent evergreen tree or large shrub to 25 feet in height. Design Highlights: delightful leaf fragrance; light green leaves offer nice foliage contrasts to darker hues; small yellow flowers are aromatic and followed by decorative fruits; dense growth; can be pruned to shape as a tree, shrub, or column.