Mesquite tree

Look for drought-tolerant trees like the Mesquite

There are many trees that do well in a landscape design. But which are the best shade trees to plant in Los Angeles? Each type of tree has its own special growth pattern, characteristic looks and cultural needs. The first thing to keep in mind in selecting the best shade tree to plant is whether you want an evergreen tree or one that will lose its leaves in the winter (deciduous).  An advantage to evergreens is that they look green and lush all year round. For planting near the house, deciduous trees have the advantage of cooling the house during hot summers while allowing the sun to penetrate and warm your home when it gets chilly in the winter. Both trees will drop leaves naturally. Whereas the evergreen sheds a little all year round, the deciduous tree will dump its leaves all at once. It’s you choice as to how you want to handle clean-up after your tree.

Other features you need to consider to select the best shade tree for your Los Angeles home is the shape of the tree, how tall and wide it will grow, if your micro-climate is the right one for the tree you want, what kind of flowers, berries, seed pods or other features the tree will have – and how much litter these will cause when those features are dropped to the ground. Some trees have surface or invasive roots, some have peeling bark and some have branches that break easily in the Santa Ana winds common to the Los Angeles area.

Some of the old favorite trees may not be right for your yard. Weeping Willows, Cottonwoods and White Birches are very popular but rarely get the kind of water they need. They prefer to grow near streams where the water table is high. Pines and fir trees offer a woodland effect, but are highly flammable for areas vulnerable to wildfires.  Choose your palm trees carefully, too, as some look charming when young but grow up looking chunky or crass, or worse, turn into nothing but trunks in your yard so it’s like having a living telephone pole in your landscape.

Grow the right tree in the right place and almost any tree will look great. Magnolias are fine trees to grow in Los Angeles so long as surface roots won’t be a problem. The showy flowers of the Jacaranda are beloved as they blossom out into lavender-purple trees in spring time. Just don’t plant them where the sticky flowers will glue themselves to cars or structures below.

It will make a difference whether you live on the coast or inland, too, since the environment can vary widely. You want your tree to thrive. Match the needs of that tree with the conditions where you live to get the best looking growth.

If you don’t mind petal drop, the small, umbrella shaped Silk Mimosa makes a decorative, easy care. The larger growing ‘Purple Robe’ Locust is colorful and an easy grower. And the small Desert Willow blooms as decoratively as an oleander without the aphid problems and poisonous sap. These are some colorful, drought-tolerant deciduous trees that do well in almost any part of Los Angeles.

Large trees like the evergreen Camphor tree, the majestic, deciduous Tulip Tree and the orange, brush-flowered Australian evergreen Grevillea robusta also do well but need plenty of room to grow.

There are many colorful flowering trees like the Catalpa, the Fringe Tree, the Crepe Myrtle or the Chaste tree that grow small and colorful and can fit in most properties, even where space is limited.

Another consideration for Southern California landscapes is to choose water-wise plantings and trees. Drought tolerant trees will not only cut your water bills down, but they are beautiful and low maintenance. Check out the Mesquite, Blue Palo Verde, some palms and some of the showy Acacias for a start.

The Australian Willow (Geijera parvifolia) — not a willow at all — is a particularly well-behaved evergreen tree that is handsome, conveniently medium-sized and can even take some drought.  You might even enjoy growing an evergreen citrus tree with its fragrant blooms and tasty oranges, lemons, tangerines or other fruit as a bonus. Or try another fruit tree like peach or apple that blooms colorfully in the spring, fruits later in the season while casting its cooling shade, then offers bright autumn-hued foliage before dropping leaves for winter.

Chose carefully from the many Eucalyptus trees since some are better behaved than others and growth habits and sizes vary widely. There are many handsome varieties of Ash that will do well in home gardens, too.

There are so many different trees that will be good choices for Los Angeles landscapes. Each tree has its pros and cons, so the best thing you can do is research the attributes you want for your own garden space to make sure you select the best tree. Just because you like the look of a tree doesn’t mean it will be the best choice for your landscape