small tree that will do well in 1/2 barrel with SW exposure

lucia_ca(z9 CA)February 12, 2010


I want to plant 2 small, ornamental deciduous shade trees (or large shrubs) on both sides of a driveway to give a symmetrical appearance. One neighbor completely opposes putting any tree into the ground, so I'll need to use a 1/2 wine barrel on one side.

Can anyone recommend a tree that'll fit the following critieria:


-drought tolerant (able to live in a barrel with water twice a week at the most)

-small and ornamental shrub or tree

-non-invasive roots (because the neighbor on the other side will approve of an in-ground planting....though I could put them both in barrels for symmetry)

-able to withstand hot summers with SouthWestern exposure

USDA zone 9/sunset zone 14ish

Of course I'd give preference to anything with fragrance or beauty, but I don't want desires to prevent me from finding something that would happily grow in these conditions. :)

any suggestions appreciated!


----lucia in coco county

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Would it be possible to put some kind of barrier in the ground to prevent the roots from invading the neighbor's yard? Would mean a lot of digging work, but in-ground planting will be easier to control moisture than container-grown. I understand his concern, because I am feeding and watering my neighbor's cypress trees [grrr]

Would a Hibiscus shrub do?

    Bookmark   February 12, 2010 at 10:15AM
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lucia_ca(z9 CA)

Hi borderbarb,

They are concerned about roots invading their drainage system, so it would have to be in a container, unfortunately.

thanks for the hibiscus shrub idea.


    Bookmark   February 12, 2010 at 11:06AM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)

I think two half-barrels would be nice; that way one tree would not grow bigger than the other and ruin your symmetry. Dwarf fruit trees come to mind, you can prune them into pretty shapes.

Perhaps fig, nectarine, or apple? I love the foliage of figs, and they take a hard pruning well.


    Bookmark   February 12, 2010 at 12:47PM
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Here are some good small trees for containers. I'm including a few evergreen types because I'm not sure why you want deciduous trees:

Acca sellowiana (standard) PINEAPPLE GUAVA
Acer truncatum CHINESE MAPLE
Arbutus unedo (standard) STRAWBERRY TREE
Cotinus coggygria SMOKETREE
Diospyros kaki 'Izu' DWARF PERSIMMON
Eriobotrya deflexa BRONZE LOQUAT
Ficus carica FIG
Ilex x altaclarensis ÂWilsonii WILSON HOLLY
Lagerstroemia (standard) CRAPE MYRTLE
Laurus nobilis (standard) GRECIAN LAUREL
Pinus thunbergii JAPANESE BLACK PINE
Rhaphiolepis ÂMajestic Beauty (standard) M. B. INDIAN HAWTHORNE
Sciadopitys verticillata UMBRELLA PINE
Wisteria (standard) WISTERIA
Ziziphus jujuba 'So' DWARF JUJUBE

And fyi, no tree in a half-wine barrel will ever get big enough to be a practical "shade tree".


    Bookmark   February 12, 2010 at 2:22PM
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ashleysf(9 San Jose,CA)

You can get any of the "ultra dwarf" fruit trees that are suitable for container growing and you would get fruit in addition to blocking the view. I would even recommend some dwarf/ultra dwarf trees with a "weeping" form - like weeping santa rosa plum, weeping cherry etc.
Even better would be citrus trees on dwarf rootstock (I especially like FourWinds citrus) - the dwarf grapefruits and oranges grow very bushy and are evergreen and have beautiful fruit on them for most of the year.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2010 at 5:15PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Neither one of these is deciduous, but both Pineapple Guava/Feijoa sellowiana, and Fruitless Olive 'Swan hill' would be tough, drought tolerant easy trees to grow in containers with a southwest exposure. Crape Myrtles/Lagerstroemia x fauriei or L. indica would also work, with your criteria of deciduous and flowering. Ficus carica would also be a good choice.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2010 at 12:15PM
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You cant beat the regular green leafed Japanese Maple.And they get by on average water...if they should root into the ground, become downright drough tolerant.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2010 at 5:18PM
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Dick_Sonia(Sunset 17)

Many people underestimate the maintenance involved in permanent container planting. It's not as carefree as the lifestyle magazines make it look. Don't plant anything too tender as the roots of containerized plants have to deal with a wider swing of temperatures than those in the ground. Even plants that are drought tolerant may need irrigation every other day in the summer due to the limited root space (and the increased drainage of a container). You will also need to replace all the growing medium in the container at least once every two years because the particle interstices will collapse and it will become anaerobic. This will give the opportunity for much-needed root pruning as well.

Unless you buy them as large boxed specimens, step your plants up to half-barrel containers slowly. The formula for potting up a plant whose roots fill its current container is n+2, where "n" = the diameter of the current rootball and "2" = 2 inches. Pot a plant in a 6-inch container up to an 8-inch container, etc. You can use the half-barrel as a cache pot for plastic nursery cans and fill them with landscaping bark in the interim. Once a 14-inch pot is too small, you can plant directly in the half-barrel if you want.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2010 at 6:44PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

It isn't really necessary to repot and replace soil every two years if the soil mix is properly chosen to begin with. Roof top gardens are a similar situation, and rely on sand as a major component of the soil mix to avoid major drops in planting soil depth. I generally prefer to avoid organic/bark based soil mixes in large planters in favor of using a mix of sand, perlite, and pumice, with 25% maximum coconut coir. This sort of mix, even though it is totally artificial and has little organic/humus content, does not get anaerobic or evaporate over time as a bark based soil mix does. It will require regular fertilizing to maintain plant growth, as there is nothing to hold onto nutrients in such a well aerated planting mix. Repotting can be as simple as removing only the outer 1.5 to 2 inches of soil and applying fresh soil, similar to how bonsai plants are treated, and doesn't necessarily require removing the plant from the container.

I'd agree that in general, keeping a small tree in good health in a hot southwest location does require more work than the same plant in the ground, but it isn't difficult if the right plant is selected for the conditions and degree of maintenance to be given. I wouldn't be recommending something like a Japanese Maple for a hot southwest facing wall, as a tree like this can't survive on just twice a week watering in heatwaves, and will most likely get leaf tip burn by mid summer. It would be a much better candidate for an east or north facing wall.

Given that the OP wants to only water twice a week, it makes more sense to choose an extra drought tolerant species such as the Olive, or something equally tolerant of heat and drying out. If it is at all possible to provide automatic drip irrigation to these containers, it widens the possible list of potential plants exponentially.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2010 at 8:46PM
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lucia_ca(z9 CA)

thanks for all the ideas everyone!

Bahia-it will definitely be on auto. drip irrigation....

...and unfortunately I cannot have fruit in the front (it's messy and attracts critters....not to mention passers-by enticed by the offerings!)....

that being said, does the possible list of potential plants still expand exponentially?

Hope you all enjoyed the sun today!

    Bookmark   February 15, 2010 at 8:54PM
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wanda(Z9 CA)

I think that the smaller Crape Myrtles are probably one of the best choices for 1/2 barrel.

To add a few more names to the choices:

Chilopsis (CA native desert willow), takes drought, heat, and is deciduous. It also has pretty flowers.

Chiltalpa (a Chilopsis hybrid) with similar attributes.

Vitex (Chaste Tree) - deciduous, pretty flowers, drought & heat tolerant

I'm not sure how well these will do in a container, but they meet the other criteria.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2010 at 12:00AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

One of my favorite shrubs for a large container is the softly gray Melaleuca incana, which looks good all year round and has pale yellow flowers in spring. You probably won't go wrong with a dwarf Crape Myrtle, and another vividly flowering shrub to consider might be the Callistemon viminalis, or the dwarf Callistemon 'Little John'. If you were to consider something that could be more sculptural, Dasylirion longissima would work well, and Aloe arborescens might also be a good choice.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2010 at 11:37AM
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