Opinions on good street trees? Bay Area

princesspea(sunset14)October 7, 2013

Hi fellow gardeners,

I need to ask advice about street trees. We live in an old neighborhood in San Jose and I want to put one or two trees in my sidewalk planting strip. The city has a trees program but only seems to give large trees, even though smaller ones are listed as acceptable they don't have them in their nursery.
So I will likely have to go it alone and buy trees myself.

Here is my question: the dominant trees on our street are ginkgo and evergreen magnolia. One evergreen- dont want to darken my yard that much in winter- and one with very stinky fruits. Both will go into my power lines and I don't fancy that terrible "chop the corner off" pruning for power line avoidance!

I like a deciduous, spring flowering tree- cherry or saucer magnolia kind of thing- but my street is busy and fairly windy, and I don't think these are good choices for windy areas? Ideal would be spring flowering, open branch structure, don't really care about fall color but yellow or orange would match the neighbors:)

I have a tudor - influenced 1 1/2 story, bungalow house built in 1914 and I am developing a formal style front yard . I have wires up fairly high so I would imagine a tree needs to top out around 25'? (Not sure since the city allows giant gingkos next door!) our soil is very fertile, clay based, fairly windy and on a busy road. Northern exposure but far enough from the house that it is Full sun all year.

I need to know what to request before getting the permit to plant. Any advice is welcome, I have been trying to figure this out for almost a year now.

Thanks everyone!


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That sounds like you want Chinese Pistache, It might even be offered by the city. Hayward has them..easy care,lots of fall color,not a dense heavy canopy. Flowers aren't much. You could go with the flowering Pear- who's name escapes me right now. Also a common street tree. Great flowerer in spring.

Both are small to medium sized in many years,trees.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2013 at 12:03PM
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Jacarandas have beautiful spring flowers - they are one of the few trees that make blue flowers.

I have a red gum tree in my sidewalk right of way, but it came with the house, and all houses on my small street have it. It looks nice in the fall, but it puts out way too many berries/seeds. I planted a silk floss tree in the middle of my front yard, and it makes beautiful pink flowers in the autumn and then loses its leaves by January.

You might want to consider an Australian King Palm (Archontophoenix cunninghamiana), which makes gorgeous berries. I would plant one of those if I had room, but at least someone down the street from me has one.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2013 at 7:21PM
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vall3fam(9 CentralCA)

You could go with a standard size crepe myrtle, not spring flowering, but summer flowers. Doesn't get huge, could fit in your space requirements.

If you go with the Chinese pistache, get the 'Keith Davies' grafted one, not the seedlings that are commonly sold. You will avoid the annoying little seeds that come with the seedling trees. Beautiful fall color!


    Bookmark   October 7, 2013 at 8:09PM
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socalgal_gw Zone USDA 10b Sunset 24

Jacarandas are gorgeous but messy when the flowers drop. The flowering pear name is Pyrus kawakamii.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2013 at 9:03PM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

I have a Chimonanthus praecox common name 'Fragrant Wintersweet' it doesn't get big enough to interfere with the power lines. It is deciduous and blooms before foliage in early spring. The flowers are yellow and look like tulips hanging down and VERY fragrant. Mine I purchased from Quarry Hill Botanical Garden in Glen Ellen. Al

    Bookmark   October 8, 2013 at 12:12AM
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jkom51(Z9 CA/Sunset 17)

I love the Chinese pistache - one of the few trees here that has amazing fall colors - but one thing I noticed about them that may or may not be applicable to where you want to put them:

A neighbor has three of these planted along the median strip by the street. Gorgeous, but when they drop those fine small long leaves - wow, does it make the sidewalk slippery until they're broken down! Now, the leaves DO break down quickly; but you know what they say, it only takes one unlucky fall!

I think if he only had one, or if they were in a garden bed, it wouldn't matter. But three trees dropping leaves at the same time was like walking on ice - yes, I almost fell on my rear. Fortunately it rained the next day and the leaves stuck to the concrete and then disintegrated quickly.

I've warned him that he might want to sweep that first falling of dry dead leaves off to one side. We have a lot of elderly who take walks around the neighborhood and it would be a real shame if one of them slipped and fell. So that's my only reservation about the Pistache.

The city planted a Western redbud in front of our house. I soooo wish it had been a pistache! Or even a crepe myrtle - slow to bloom, but they really take the summer heat very well.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2013 at 12:00PM
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Intriguing ideas. I worry about jacaranda being high enough as a street tree for our busy street with no parking lane- beautiful though, love the fragrance and exotic appearance.
So... I have noticed that orchard pear flowers have a nasty smell. Do the ornamentals share this unfortunate quality?
How about ornamental crab apples? I don't know how they do here in San Jose, they were everywhere In the northwest where I grew up- Seattle and Portland- wondering if its too hot here.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2013 at 12:30PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

Jacarandas get huge here, well over 40'. Are they smaller in the bay area?

Here is a link that might be useful: Cal Poly SLO Tree Selection Guide

    Bookmark   October 10, 2013 at 10:55AM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)

Get a Chinese Fringe Tree. I love mine- it flowers in spring, drops very little leaf litter, no thorns, and it has a naturally beautiful shape. It's the perfect tree.

Here is a link that might be useful: Chinese Fringe Tree

    Bookmark   October 12, 2013 at 12:48AM
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I love the Chinese fringe tree, also- however it was our of my consideration as I worry it will do poorly in my situation: full sun, afternoon winds and a busy street with no parking lane on my side. The fringe trees I have seen are lower branching and spreading - can they be limbed up or is there a more upright variety? I hate when the city cuts a big chunk out of trees for traffic and wires. I also considered and rejected another favorite for the same reason- the adorable Japanese Snowbell (styrax japonica- link here: http://m.monrovia.com/plants/2121/japanese-snowbell-tree.php)

    Bookmark   October 12, 2013 at 1:20PM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

The Chinese Fringe Tree is very slow growing and trouble free. I have seen them much taller than the nursery suggested height, with a well rounded canopy at about 35 feet after about 15 years, well grown. Al

    Bookmark   October 12, 2013 at 1:27PM
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One used as a street tree for narrow planting areas is the Swamp Myrtle. The name doesn't sound enticing,but its a zero care tree once it gets going. Nice mottled bark.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2013 at 4:46PM
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Swamp myrtle looks very nice, but I prefer deciduous trees, as this is in front of my north facing house, and I need the light in winter.
That being said, great recommendation, for a nice small and tidy evergreen. Very formal looking . I have seen these trees up in Hayward, near my friends house up in the hills. Great in midsummer, they look so fresh in the heat!

    Bookmark   October 13, 2013 at 11:42AM
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Then,there is always the Liquid amber..but it can get large and makes those Sycamore like balls in fall-winter I believe.

Now,there are some rare small tree's that would work in the bay area..but they are tender and your taking a chance. Tree's like Tabebuia or one I would love to try here. Cassia leptophylla or maybe C.fistula. Not having grown them I'm not sure which one is the better choice for norcal. But,both seem within our zones for the most part.
btw,San Jose is more zone 15-17 Sunset. z14 would be central valley's higher areas or Livermore.

    Bookmark   October 14, 2013 at 2:49PM
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Ceanothus 'Ray Hartman' can be trained into a small tree. Really nice flower show and grows very quickly as well.

    Bookmark   October 14, 2013 at 3:37PM
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Thanks stanofh . I used to live in a colder area, and assumed it was the same! But a little investigation told me that my feelings were right, San Jose is big enough and varied enough to have three zones. I gotta change my profile! Now if I can just figure out which one...

    Bookmark   October 15, 2013 at 10:35AM
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One more- the Tallow tree. Nice color,leaves are interesting,small tree.
I was admiring them along one street in town..thought I would mention it.
Good Luck!

    Bookmark   October 19, 2013 at 1:01PM
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An update for my street trees situation! I decided on the Chinese fringe tree, and had a site visit from the city of San Jose.....
And they said I can plant three small canopy trees like this, but also, I have to redo my cement driveway approach, grind three parts of sidewalk, and replace 48 square feet of sidewalk, by march- or I get a bill from the city for $1500. Also they are fining the neighbors in both sides for planting without a permit, non approved trees- one has to take out a mature hedge, the other has to take out some cherries. Both have to fix their sidewalks and driveways and replace the trees also.
I guess that's what I get for going the legal route ! Next time I will just ask for forgiveness rather than permission. There goes my kids piano lessons for the rest of the year, into the flipping sidewalk that was here when we bought the place and passed a stringent FHA inspection.
Thanks city of San Jose!'

    Bookmark   January 10, 2014 at 6:18PM
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