Question: I need to replace several oleander trees, and I would prefer to replace them with small trees that have blooms or colorful foliage. What do you recommend?
J.V., Newport Beach
Answer: There are a variety of trees to choose from. To narrow down the possibilities, you need to evaluate what it is that you want the tree to do. Would you like it to provide shade, bloom or screen an unwanted view? Is litter OK, such as from dropping nuts, seeds or fruit?
Below are some suggestions to help you choose the right tree for your yard:
* Take a good look around your area and see what grows well there. Visit local arboretums and gardens to view trees that have reached maturity. If you are unsure of a species' name, take a leaf sample to your local California Certified Nursery professional for evaluation. Find out how fast the tree grows, if there are problems with pests and diseases and its water requirements.
* Decide whether you want a deciduous tree that loses all its leaves at some point, or an evergreen tree that loses leaves gradually throughout the year. Will it be close to a pool where you wouldn't want leaf drop?
* Does the tree need to be compact or can it be sprawling? How close is the planting area to existing buildings, eaves, porches? Keep in mind that the branches should not touch any structures or utility lines when the tree is full size.
The following are some small trees (and some large shrubs) to consider for replacement of your oleander trees:
* Arbutus unedo (strawberry tree) is a beautiful evergreen large shrub or small tree. It prefers good drainage and infrequent deep watering and will tolerate the more frequent irrigation found in lawns. The strawberry tree thrives in sun or part shade and tolerates heat, smog, drought and wind.
It grows at a slow to moderate rate and reaches 8 to 35 feet, with equal spread.
Leave it unpruned to make a screen or prune it to make an open-crowned tree. Its trunk and branches are a rich reddish brown. White or slightly pink blooms form on red stems October through January. Red and yellow fruit follows this in fall and winter.
Two free-flowering shrubby forms are also available. Arbutus unedo 'Compact' grows to 6 to 10 feet, and A. unedo 'Elfin King' never grows greater than 4 to 6 feet. Both are ideal in containers.
* Bauhinia forficata (Brazilian butterfly tree) is an evergreen to deciduous large shrub or small tree that can grow to 20 feet. It has deep green leaves and creamy white blooms spring through summer. Its angled branches and twisted trunk lend a unique quality to the yard. Good shade tree.
* Callistemon citrinus (Lemon bottlebrush) can be pruned as an evergreen shrub at 10 to 15 feet or trained as a 20- to 25-foot tree. A number of varieties are available in different shades of red. The lemon bottlebrush blooms off and on throughout the year. It requires full sun and needs little water once established.
* Camellia japonica (Camellia)--many cultivars. Most C. japonicas grow to about 6 to 12 feet tall.
* Cassia leptophylla (Gold Medallion tree) is a graceful weeping nearly evergreen tree that quickly grows to 20 feet. Deep yellow blooms peak in July and August, and scattered bloom occurs later. Requires full sun and infrequent, deep watering.
* Cercis canadensis (Eastern Redbud) is a deciduous tree that can grow 25 to 35 feet. Small, rosy pink blooms appear in large quantities on bare branches in early spring. Provide with full sun and some shade in hot areas, with regular water. A choice variety to consider is 'Forest Pansy,' which has attractive purple foliage.
* Citrus--numerous standard and dwarf varieties to choose from including lemon, orange, grapefruit, etc.
* Erythrina crista-galli (Cockspur coral tree) is a rough-barked deciduous tree or shrub that can reach 15 to 20 feet high and wide at maturity. (Thornless coral tree). Size can be controlled with pruning. Warm pink to wine-red blooms appear intermittently from spring to late fall.
* Lagerstroemia indica and hybrids (Crape myrtle) is a deciduous, slow-growing single or multi-trunk tree or shrub, which can grow to a height of 15 to 25 feet, with a 10- to 15-foot spread. Crape myrtles prefer full sun and infrequent deep watering once established. They will bloom profusely from July to September in a variety of shades, from pink to purple to white.
The following Indian tribe hybrids provide mildew resistance and should be considered: 'Catawba' (dark purple), 'Cherokee' (bright red), 'Pecos' (pink), 'Seminole' (pink) and 'Zuni' (dark lavender).
* Ligustrum japonicum (Japanese or wax leaf privet) is an evergreen shrub with creamy white blooms and a dense, compact growth to 10 to 12 feet. Another Ligustrum to consider is L. ovalifolium (California Privet) a semi-deciduous to evergreen shrub that can be sheared to the desired height.
* Magnolia grandiflora (Little Gem or St. Mary) are two evergreen dwarf varieties with white blooms that reach 10 to 20 feet at maturity. Prune to the desired shape. Both grow well espaliered, in pots, and in confined areas.
* Melaleuca ericifolia (Heath Melaleuca) is an evergreen shrub or small multi-trunked tree that grows fast to 10 to 25 feet. Yellow-white blooms appear in early spring. This melaleuca resembles heather with its needle-like, dark green leaves.
Melaleuca elliptica is a shrub or small tree to 8 to 15 feet, which bears crimson bottlebrush blooms early spring to fall.
* Michelia champaca is an evergreen tree that can reach a height of 25 to 30 feet. It has large, glossy leaves and 3-inch pale orange blooms off and on throughout the year (especially winter and summer). This tree requires sun or part shade in hot inland areas, regular water and is very fragrant.
* Photinia fraseri (Red leaf photinia) is an evergreen shrub or small tree that grows quickly to 10 to 15 feet, with a wider spread. New growth of showy, bronze-red and white flowers appear in spring. Good espalier or single-stemmed tree.
* Pittosporum (P. crassifolium) is an evergreen shrub/tree, which has pretty gray-green leaves, an open habit and can be kept at 6 to 10 feet. P. tobira, a dense shrub or small tree, grows 6 to 15 feet.
* Prunus cerasifera 'Krauter Vesuvious' (Flowering plum) is a deciduous tree that can grow to 18 feet with a 12-foot spread. Pink blooms appear in spring complementing the trees purple-black leaves.
* Pyracantha coccinea is a round evergreen shrub that grows to about 8 to 10 feet, or 20 feet against a wall. Creamy white blooms appear in March and April, followed by red-orange berries.
* Rhaphiolepis 'Majestic beauty' can be trained as a background shrub or small tree peaking out at 15 feet. Fragrant, light pink blooms appear winter to late spring.
* Tabebuia chrysotricha (Golden Trumpet tree) is a mostly evergreen tree with a rounded growth pattern that can reach 25 feet in height. Showy golden yellow blooms (often with maroon striped throats) are heaviest in April and May; sporadic other times.
* Tipuana tipu (Tipu tree) is a deciduous or semi-evergreen tree that grows fairly quickly to 25 feet can peak at over 35 feet. Clusters of apricot-yellow blooms appear June and July with pods following. It can be grown in the lawn and prefers full sun.
* Have a problem in your yard? University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Master Gardeners are here to help. These trained and certified horticultural volunteers are dedicated to extending research-based, scientifically accurate information to the public about home horticulture and pest management. They are involved with a variety of outreach programs, including the UCCE Master Garden hotline, which provides answers to specific questions. You can reach the hotline at (714) 708-1646 or send e-mail to ucmastergardeners @yahoo.com. Calls and e-mail are picked up daily and are generally returned within two to three days.