MONEY DOES GROW ON TREES : Best Investment a Homeowner Can Make in Yard Is to Plant a Tree


When Phil and Ana Hernandez’s first child, Jane, was born, they planted a crape myrtle in the front yard of their Echo Park home.

Now 11 years old, Jane’s tree is about 25 feet tall, a flowering beauty that has bestowed an unexpected bonus: It’s worth about $2,000, not a bad return on the initial $5 investment.

But you don’t need the occasion of a new baby to reap the same profit.

“Planting a tree should be the first priority for a new homeowner,” says Corona landscape architect Kenneth K. Kammeyer. “Don’t get carried away with the fancy landscaping; you can even hold off on the irrigation system, but get those trees in the ground and get them going.”


It makes financial sense, Kammeyer said. “A tree is one of the few things that won’t depreciate every year” while still increasing its value and the value of the property.

But not just any tree. For maximum value, both aesthetic and financial, a tree should be properly placed and carefully tended, and it should complement the architecture of the house.

“A single palm in back of a bungalow isn’t worth all that much,” says Kyle Smith, a real estate agent with Progressive Properties in the Los Feliz area. “And if the tree is on a hillside and looks like it might fall, it could be a liability.”

In Smith’s area, he says, a handsome deodar cedar in the front yard “could have a value of $20,000 to $25,000. A giant bird of paradise in the front of a Spanish Colonial can have almost the same value, or giant palms.”

Added Peggy Mueller, owner of New Frontier Century 21 in Sherman Oaks: “Aesthetically, people love it when there are full-grown trees on a property. In Palmdale and Lancaster, where trees are scarce, developers are putting them in for shade value. We use it all the time in ads, ‘tree-lined street’ and so on.

“Where the trees are mature, it adds a value to the neighborhood almost more than it does to the specific house because there’s a difference in looking at a sterile neighborhood compared to one that has trees.”


According to experts, landscaping in general--but especially trees--can amount to 20% of a property’s total value--and that’s as true in Beverly Hills as it is in Bellflower.

In many neighborhoods, though, as Mueller points out, the trees that warm a homeowner’s heart aren’t even on the homeowner’s property.

City-owned street trees are, to many people, even more desirable than an isolated first-class specimen in the front yard. Dozens of mature trees lining a street--forming a canopy if they’re shade trees, elegant sentinels if they’re palms--make homeowners’ hearts beat faster.

In Beverly Hills, where 30,000 street trees are petted and pruned as often as three times a year, residents come home to some fancy public greenery.

“Our street trees are worth more than $450 million,” said Marcelino Lomeli, superintendent of parks for the city of Beverly Hills. “That’s already an asset you have.”

Although some of us think we shall never see a poem lovely as a tree, there is a more practical aspect. Though we may not like to think so, every tree has its price.


“There is an absolute formula for figuring the value of a tree,” Kammeyer said, a formula usually invoked by insurance companies when a tree is injured or destroyed. But homeowners wishing to know the value of a tree they own might heed Kammeyer’s general procedures.

“We take into consideration four things:

“First, the kind of tree. If you were building a cabin in Idyllwild, which is forested with pines, a big pine wouldn’t be so valuable. But an oak tree in San Marino would be worth a lot.

“Second, look at the tree itself. What is its condition? Rank it and rate it.

“Third, look at its ambience: its quality, health, uniqueness.

“Fourth, measure it 38 inches above the ground for the diameter, and measure the height and spread. Each inch can have a dollar value.”

Perhaps an easier way to find out how much a tree is worth is to find a comparable replacement tree. Or try to. It is often impossible to replace mature trees because they just don’t transplant at that size.

Generally, a large tree in a 10-foot box will cost about $2,000, plus $1,000 for the crane and labor to install it. While $3,000 will buy a new tree, it won’t replace the tree that was growing on site for many years, and age counts.

A fast-growing poplar, Kammeyer said, has little value, but “a 300-year old oak tree is priceless. The age would be more important than the species.”


The city of Los Angeles thinks many of its oaks are an important heritage: Coastal and valley live oaks, including some oaks growing on private property, are the only trees protected by a city ordinance.

If one or more oak trees eight inches in diameter or larger are growing on property of one or more acres, the city’s Street Tree Division has to be notified before the tree can be removed.

The ordinance doesn’t apply to smaller city lots, although oaks on those properties are sometimes protected by city Planning Department restrictions.

There are no formal procedures for identifying these oaks. The ordinance is more or less “general information,” which encourages professionals to report oaks that may be protected.

“For instance, if you buy a lot in Encino,” says Duane Gute Sr., superintendent of Los Angeles’ Street Tree Division, “the developer, tree surgeons, landscape architects and even community groups are aware of the ordinance” and would contact the city if they knew or suspected that a homeowner meant to destroy an oak.

If an oak falls within the ordinance guidelines, the homeowner cannot cut it down unless it is badly diseased and declining.


“But if homeowners have any questions about removing oak trees, they should communicate with Los Angeles City Bureau of Street Maintenance, Street Tree Division,” Gute said.

A slightly different approach is being tried in Supervisor Sharon Bulova’s Fairfax County, Va., district, where a new ordinance requires the county arborist to assess the value of all trees more than 10 inches in diameter on property to be developed. The developer must then post a bond and pay for all trees removed or destroyed.

Tree values range from $10,000 to $100,000 in that area, so a developer “has a financial incentive, and they will actually design around the trees,” Bulova said.

Developer Jim Comparato told Governing magazine that he had saved 50 trees on an 11-acre site, and he was happy about it “because a property with mature trees has a higher value.”

That’s fine for trees that have been around for a while, but many Southern California homeowners must start from scratch, with trees taking several years to grow from twig to real tree size. One advantage of that, however, is that trees are cheap when they’re small.

Average trees, such as eucalyptus, chorisia, pines and birch cost about $8 to $20 in 1-gallon cans. Put off buying one until next year, and the same tree, potted up to a 5-gallon can, will cost $45 to $60. Procrastinate for another year or two, and the same tree will repose majestically in a 36-inch box and will cost $200 to $300.


Keep in mind, Kammeyer warns, that some trees such as eucalyptus and birch will grow faster and be healthier if planted when small. A 1-gallon eucalyptus will often surpass a 5-gallon or larger tree planted at the same time.

If price and status are important to you, the palm is your tree; palms are the most expensive and the most valuable in the Southern California landscape. Not the dime-a-dozen skinny fan palms dotted here and there, but the more unusual kinds--and especially the venerable ones that have been around for a few decades.

Valley Crest Tree Co. in Sylmar offers a Chamaerops humilis palm tree, a multi-trunked piece of exotica, for $45,000. The most expensive tree Valley Crest ever sold, says company President Stuart Sperber, was a $100,000 Phoenix reclinata , a 75-year-old Senegal date palm that had towered over a house in Glendale before being moved and resold by Valley Crest.

“So many people come here from the East Coast, and they want to see palm trees,” Sperber said. “They are very popular and very expensive, but they create a beautiful look.”

A $100,000 palm isn’t necessary, Sperber said, if a homeowner starts small.

“You can plant a smaller palm tree of the same variety. It will take a long time to grow, but many people live in their homes 20, 25 years.” If they had planted such trees when they moved in, they’d now have something really valuable, something their descendants could squabble over.

For those who think any tree that doesn’t cast shade is completely worthless, Sperber recommends oak trees: “Those really enhance the value of property.”


Better yet, do what Phil and Ana Hernandez did for their daughter, Jane, more than a decade ago.

Plant a tree you like , one you wouldn’t mind sharing your life with for the next several years. It will change every season (even the evergreens have cycles) while at the same time giving a property a sense of permanence and stability.

It will bestow grace, serenity and shade on a shack, a mansion, a whole neighborhood; it will clean the air, reduce noise and soften the wind. It will restore the soul.

And it will put all that money in your pocket.