tree for sloped yard

MeeraWengerJune 3, 2014


I am a new homeowner and new to this forum and new to gardening too. I would very much appreciate some insights into planting trees / flowers on sloped backyard.

I have attached a picture of our sloped backyard. This is held together by a retaining wall - stone facade with wood behind it. The structure was probably built in 1996. I would estimate the incline to be about 15 - 20 degrees.

We would like to plant a tree in the middle (towards the upper right of the photo and within the larger bed).

What trees would be suitable for such a slope? We stay in the San Francisco Bay Area (zone 9B).

Our gardener suggested planting a tree with wide roots but not heavy branching. He suggested Chinese Elm. I understand that these trees have mostly surface roots. Is this OK, or are there better trees / options?


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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

Chinese elm: professional tree-trimmers love Chinese Elm, because they put their kids through college on the money they make trimming them for homeowners.

What is the purpose of the tree? Shade? Screening? Focal point? That's the place to start. Do you want evergreen or deciduous? What kind of litter can you tolerate (none, a little, a lot)? What will your budget be for maintenance, or do you plan to maintain them yourself? What about fruit trees--are you/your family big eaters of fruit? What is the style of your garden? What is the style of your home? All these questions can lead you to a great choice.

A medium to large shrub may be an excellent solution for your needs and be better for that retaining wall, so don't discount the world of shrubs--a large shrub can be as large as a small tree. Is that going to work for your needs?

Those are the basic questions that need to be decided on first. If your landscaper didn't ask those,--that's not good.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2014 at 3:55PM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

The fact that your ground ls not flat,should not be the issue. Are you lookig for shade or screening? The chinese elm grows fast to 40 to 50 feet, your space does not look like it will accomodate such a tree. From your picture your space looks limited. Al

    Bookmark   June 4, 2014 at 6:23PM
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Hello hoovb, calistoga,

Thank you for your responses.

Screening and fruit are not important to us. Foliage is.

We are looking for a tree or shrub that will look good in the middle and also hold the soil together. We have 2 pine trees growing on either side (both planted by the previous homeowner) that we plan to retain. On the attached picture, the 2nd pine tree would behind and to the right of the persimmon tree.

Since we are redoing the entire slope, we were looking for a tree that can hold its own in the middle. We wanted a flowering tree, but I understand that the branching may be very heavy. A shrub is a great idea, but may not be suitable for us as we plan to have flower beds towards the bottom of the slope.


This post was edited by MeeraWenger on Thu, Jun 5, 14 at 10:47

    Bookmark   June 5, 2014 at 12:51AM
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BarbJP CA 15-16/9B

I think that "Pine" on the far left side is not a pine. Looks more like a Redwood tree, "Sequoia sempervirens".

Redwoods get very wide, as well as tall. It will most likely fill your slope top to bottom within 10-15 years. They can get 15'-25' wide in that time, and easily 60' and more tall.

Just something you'll need to take into consideration in choosing the middle plants.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2014 at 1:09PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

Why not move the two you have away from the neighbor's fences, which they will likely be butting up against in a few years. The previous owners placed them without understanding how large trees grow. A tree that can get 30' wide or more should not be planted 5 feet from a neighbor's fence. Then you would not need another tree. Two large trees is plenty for that area.

Or take out the "pines" and put in three Crape Myrtles, not so close to the fence. 'Dynamite' has beautiful glossy red-tinged foliage as well as bright red flowers, and won't get too large for the space. In the long run you'll save a lot of money on tree trimming if you get rid of the "pines". The previous owner probably spent all of $20 on them.

Make wise and informed choices on trees, and think long term, because they can end up costing you serious money.

Here is a link that might be useful: Cal Poly right tree right place

    Bookmark   June 5, 2014 at 5:31PM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

If you are in the city of San Francisco, check with the city and local nurseries, many crepe myrtles have a mildew problem in foggy summer areas, others will do fine and would be an appropriate tree for your space. Al

    Bookmark   June 6, 2014 at 10:36AM
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Just for the record, I hate the Chinese elm that was planted in front of my house long before I moved in. And I agree with hoovb's comments--the more the tree is pruned/cleaned up, the more it sprouts branches. We removed a large branch that extended over the garage, and many smaller, uglier branches sprouted to take its place. We removed another branch that was reaching for the front porch, and the same thing happened, so now we leave it alone. Plus, It is tearing up the driveway. Our next big home project will likely be to take it out (along with the juniper planted at the base), redo the driveway, and decide on a native tree and shrubs to replace what we remove.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 10:58AM
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