Planning Your Landscape

A bit of planning your landscape goes a long way toward preventing problems down the road.

Planting Smart From the Start

A bit of planning your landscape goes a long way toward preventing problems down the road.

Walk down nearly any tree-lined street in San Diego and you can find a cracked or uprooted sidewalk. Studies by the USDA Forest Service have shown that more than $10 million is spent annually by cities in California alone on claims and legal fees associated with trip-and-fall accidents from root growth. An additional $43 million is spent repairingLandscape Architect infrastructure such as sidewalks and sewers due to damage by root growth. All problems that could be avoided with the right information and knowledge about the trees root growth as the tree matures.

One of the biggest problems today is people are not asking the right questions to their Landscape Designers or Landscape Architects, before the trees go into the ground. The hope of this article is to help you plan smart for your homes future.

Despite the problems tree can and have caused in landscapes designs, the demand for trees is growing annually. Beyond the aesthetic appeal, there is an increasing awareness of the important role trees have in and around our homes landscape. They can provide shade, privacy and sometimes reducing noise, while always bringing us all a little closer to Mother Nature. Whether your landscape is Early American, South Western or a Spiritual Japanese Design, it’s the first impression your guest get when entering your driveway. It can be considered, the eye’s to our soul.

Working with trees, plants and flowers in your landscapes always involves an element of surprise. Sometimes the surprises are good: the perennials you planted last year came back despite the unusually harsh winter we just experienced. Sometimes the surprises are not so good: drought conditions and extreme heat can wipe-out thirsty perennials. Some problems develop as a result of weather events, surging pest populations or other factors beyond your control. But there are many problems that you can manage, minimize or even prevent by researching and getting as much information from the right sources from the start.

In a report published in 1977, the United States Environmental Protection Agency states that: The intrusion of tree roots into main-line sewers is probably the single most destructive element that faces those maintaining a wastewater collection system in American. Just as important, are sewer lines leading from homes to city sewer lines.Tree Trimming

Roots impede flow, causing the sewer to become sluggish and septic. In the same way that tree roots can lift and fracture cement sidewalks or walkways, driveways, fences and walls. Roots enter sewer pipes as tiny, almost microscopic, hair-like structures. These roots appear to be fragile, but their appearance can be deceiving. If you’ve done any hiking in the mountains, you’ve seen tree roots penetrate crevices in giant granite rock. The roots split the rock and keep growing despite the tremendous weight of the rock above them.

One obvious similarity between tree roots and sewers is that they are both underground, and they are not visible to the unassisted human eye. This presents a challenge; it’s easier to see the damage that roots inflict on sidewalks, walkways and driveways, by lifts and cracks. But the damage inflicted on sewer pipes is much more insidious and expensive, and goes unnoticed until the damage is already done. Considering the replacement costs for underground utilities, not to mentions uprooting your entire landscape and removal of the tree and all its roots, some simple planning can help avoid these problems down the road.

Understanding how roots grow: Fibrous-roots vs. Tap-roots

Most plants have one of two main types of root systems: the fibrous-root system and the tap-root system. Plants with fibrous-root systems, such as garden plants and weeds, are not normally associated with sewer problems. Fibrous-root systems generally do not penetrate deeply into the soil. Instead, they occupy the upper layers of the soil and extend outward from the base of the plant. The root shoots are uniform in size and fibre like.

In plants with tap-root systems, the primary root of the seedling grows directly downward into the soil. Branches, or secondary roots, grow laterally from the primary root. Tap-root systems are well adapted to deep soils and soils where the water table is relatively low. The secondary root structures can grow to several inches in diameter and can exert enough stress to break a sewer pipe.

Most plants have as much mass below ground as they do above ground. The primary root of a corn plant, for example, may penetrate the soil to a depth of four to eight feet. If the total root system of a four month old corn plant (including lateral roots and feeders) were elongated into a single strand, the total length would be 400 to 600 feet. For a ten-acre field, it could add up to 5,000 miles or more. A root system will leave no stone unturned in its search for nutrition.

The top of the plant is definitely more dependent on the root system for its survival than vice versa. You may have experienced something like this when trying to remove a willow tree without pulling out the stump. The stump will continue to send up new shoots, despite continual cutting. Roots are the most tenacious and longest-lived life forms on earth. The root systems of some of the grasses of the American Great Plains are thought to have remained alive for thousands of years.

Selecting a Tree

Before you try to pick a tree for your landscape or hire a landscaper to plant a tree, stop and ask yourself a few questions, “Why do I want a tree?” Are you looking for shade and privacy? Shade trees are usually deciduous. In full foliage, they provide shade in summer. When leaves fall, they let in the winter sun, but if they are to close too your pool or spa, you could have a lot of work cut out for yourself or your pool maintenance company. Will the tree produceEvergreen Palm Tree seeds or berries? Will they be harmful to your pets or children? Will your kids consistently be dragging leaves into the house on the bottoms of their shoes? Is your tree for privacy or a windbreak? Evergreens are the trees of choice. Would you like a tree to reduce the noise of passing cars on the street? It is important that you decide what your needs are before you start planting trees in your yard. It is important for you and for your home.

A list to consider before the work is done:

  1. What purpose will this tree serve?
  2. How big will the tree get? When planting a small tree, it is often difficult to imagine that in 20 years it could be shading your entire yard. Unfortunately, many trees are planted and later removed when the tree grows beyond the dimensions of the property, or after some damage is done to the home or landscaping.
  3. What is the average life expectancy of the tree? Some trees can live for hundreds of years. Others are considered “short-lived” and may live for only 20 or 30 years.
  4. Does it have any particular insect, disease, or other problem (water consumption) that may reduce its usefulness? Certain insects and diseases can be serious problems on some desirable species in some regions. Depending on the pest, control of the problem may be difficult and the pest may significantly reduce the attractiveness, if not the life expectancy, of the plant. Other problems to consider is consumption on water, a full grown willow can consume 1,000’s of gallons of water per day.
  5. How common is this species in your neighborhood or town? Some species are over-planted. Increasing the natural diversity will provide habitat for wildlife and help limit the opportunity for a single pest to destroy all plantings.

Benefits of trees

  • Aesthetic appeal
  • Reduce heating and cooling costs indoors
  • Reduce heat reflected from paved areas.
  • Provides shade
  • Convert carbon dioxide to oxygen.
  • Help prevent soil erosion.
  • Increase your property value.
  • Attract and sustain wildlife

Consider space and growth potential for your tree

How much space do you have? Plan for the tree’s size at maturity. The mature height and width should be considered when selecting the right tree for you landscape. Remember the space needed for proper root growth. A tree’s roots can grow up to three times the diameter of the canopy. Don’t plant a shade tree too close to other trees. They’ll compete for water and nutrients. Don’t plant a tree with a large root system to close to pools or spa’s. Research trees before your landscaper plants them. Trees with large root systems includes, oak, maple, sweet gum, sycamore, poplar, river birch, and Bradford pear (to mention a few). “While most Palms roots will never be a problem, and are a prefect choice to plant in Southern California’s climate. As long as you plant them 4-5 feet away from walkways, walls and structures since most palm roots grow only 15 inches away from their trunk” states Edward Pendergast, owner of Landscape Systems in Ventura County.

“Trimming is an important part of maintaining your tree and it’s growth, as you trim the tree you are also reducing the root system at the same time”, explains Pendergast. Pruning palms is generally necessary to remove unwanted andHome Pond unattractive materials such as suckers, clusters of fruit or dead fronds. Removing Fronds will help minimize sheltering vermin like rats, and birds, as well as preventing a fire risk.

“Planting one of these varieties in this chart can definitely be a gift for future generations or just the opposite, so take that into consideration when choosing a tree , not only for the well-being of the home but also consider the well-being of the tree and your local environment. Though you might not still own that home when the tree starts to outgrow it’s spot in the landscape or when it start to crack walkways, but the next homes owner will have to deal with the problem and when a tree is destroyed, no-one benefits”, stated Pendergast.




Queen Palm

Syagrus romanzoffiana

25 feet

Solitary trunk ringed with old leaf bases, feather, plumose, fast growth.

Date Palm

Phoenix dactylifera

60 feet

Solitary or clumping trunk, feather with leaflets, slow growth.

Sugar Maple
Acer saccharum

100 feet plus

Fall foliage varies from yellow to orange to scarlet. Slow to medium growth rate.

Red Maple
Acer rubrum

80-100 feet

Foliage appears early and falls early. Fall foliage varies from yellow to scarlet. Medium to fast growth rate

Red Oak
Quercus shumardii

60-90 feet

Fall foliage is dark red. Provides brown acorns in the fall. Fast growth rate.

Green Ash
Fraxinus pennsylvanica

50-60 feet

Fall foliage is bright yellow. Drought resistant. Fast growth rate.

Green Weeping Willow
Salix babylonica

40-50 feet

Yellow fall foliage. Thrives in wet areas, needs 2,000 gallons of water a day. Fast growth rate.

White Pine
Pinus strobus

50-80 feet

Evergreen with blue-green needles. Produces 6-8″ cones. Fast growth rate.

River Birch
Betula nigra

30-40 feet

Green leaves turn tan in fall. Tolerates wet soil. Bark naturally peels away from trunk. Fast growth rate.

Leyland Cypress
Cupressocyparis leylandii

50-60 feet

Drooping evergreen branch form is unique and attractive. Fast growth rate.

Southern Magnolia
Magnolia grandiflora

60-80 feet

Large, dark green leaves. White blooms in spring. Medium growth rate.

London Plane Tree
Platanus x acerifolia

Up to 100 feet

Also known as sycamore. Yellow foliage in fall. Mottled bark and small fruit add interest. Fast growth rate.

San Diego Premier Vol 16 October 2007

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