And with so many choices, it can sometimes be hard to choose the right tree to meet the unique requirements of your project.
To help you with the challenge of selecting the right trees for the Bay Area, we have assembled a great group of beautiful specimens that many residents have fallen in love with. Our list includes trees with these attributes:
- | Do well in Bay Area microclimates
- | Grow well in specific conditions or location
A tree-friendly environment like no other
The Bay Area has a unique, highly-desirable Mediterranean climate that includes many micro-climates. This diverse environment presents an opportunity to plant a wide variety of trees that are both familiar and less common which will tolerate a wide range of conditions.
It’s important to recognize all factors that can affect a tree in the location that you’re considering including:
- | Space | Between other trees + structures
- | Competition | Proximity to other trees reaching for air + light
- | Grade | Slope of landscape affecting drainage + access to nutrients
- | Soil | Composition compatible for growth
- | Wind | Potential stress for development
- | Sun | Right exposure for health + disease prevention
- | Water | Volume + frequency
- | Care | Sustained maintenance, fertilizing + pruning for long-life
It’s always better to choose a tree that aligns with the requirements of the location as it matures. Relying on excessive pruning to force fit a tree into a challenging location can be a disaster.12 #trees that clients of Bay Area #Landscape #Pros #love | Pacific Nurseries Click To Tweet
Tree recommendations for the Bay Area
The Urban Forestry Council | UFC works with key urban forest stakeholders, including San Francisco Public Works and Friends of the Urban Forest to create lists of recommended trees to plant in San Francisco.
They have composed a list of Uncommon and Special Trees to promote diversity in yards, parks, and Open Spaces. They have also identified trees for the Bay Area that are considered to be well-adapted to our climate and conditions.
Many of the trees in their list are great options. Unfortunately, they are often not used in gardens or open space.
Trees that your clients will love
With the help of some experienced and talented Bay Area Landscape Pros, we’ve assembled a group of a dozen trees with unique qualities that their clients fall in love with. We recommend that these trees for the Bay Area be considered as “standards” | single trunk specimens.
Common name | New Zealand Christmas Tree
Metrosideros excelsus has become a favorite tree\shrub for us. It works well in salt air along the coast and on the Peninsula as well. We use it as both a shrub and a standard specimen tree. As a multi, with a little thinning out, it looks incredible at night with low-voltage lighting. And as a privacy shrub, it grows very quickly, has beautiful flowers, and is relatively deer-proof and drought resistant. It flowers in winter with a peak in mid to late December.
The flowers attract hummingbirds and bees which clients love in their gardens. The opaque colored grayish leaves make the surrounding foliage of the other plants really pop. It can reach 82′ high with a spreading, dome-like form and is able to thrive in poor rocky soil and steep grades. We really like that it’s available in both a ‘standard’ and multi-trunked spreading tree form.
Michael Moore | Masterpiece Gardens
Common name | Marina Strawberry Tree
Arbutus Marina is one of our favorite medium-sized, evergreen trees for the Bay Area. It grows to 50′ tall with a broad dense crown. Growth causes the older bark to peel away from the trunk and branches revealing the beautiful shiny red new bark underneath. The pendulous clusters of urn-shaped white-blushed-pink flowers are produced year-round along the coast with peaks in spring and fall.
The flowers are followed by red gritty fruit that is edible but not very tasty. Plant in full to part day sun. It’s drought tolerant but looks best with occasional summer watering. It will be challenged in compacted soils such as DG. It can also be a bit messy as flowers, fruit, spent inflorescences, twigs, and bark drop year-round. Consider installing with easy access for cleaning up debris.
Eric Rosen | Arborist Now
Common name | Sweet Shade
Hymenosporum flavum is a slender evergreen tree that grows to 40′ with light gray bark and shiny green leaves that form clusters at the ends of the branches. The fragrant flowers bloom spring into early summer.
Plant it in full sun to light shade with deep, infrequent watering. As a native from New South Wales in Australia, it’s appropriate for areas where a narrow upright tree is needed. It can also easily be maintained and pruned to have a tidy form.
Ceanothus ‘Ray Hartman’
CA Native Common name | California Lilac
Ceanothus ‘Ray Hartman, originally selected as Ceanothus ‘Blue Sky’, is one of my favorite evergreen specimens for coastal installations. I planted one in my garden over five years ago and it has bloomed almost continuously since it was installed. The blue flowers are lightly fragrant, great honey bee attractors, and really sparkle against the dark green abundant foliage. It can require staking and maintenance to support it until it’s well established. Thinning in the autumn helps to prevent winter wind damage.
With its naturally twisted trunk and branching habits, it makes a great specimen for night lighting—especially downlighting over a path. It’s also very drought tolerant and fairly pest-free. As a CA native, it can grow to 15′ and does well in heavy soils or sand with an upright form. It can also be trained as a single trunk standard or low branched to work as a very effective hedge.
Ken Coverdell | Blue Sky Designs
Common name | Victorian Box or Mock Orange
Pittosporum undulatum is an evergreen tree and grows to about 50′ tall with wavy leaf edges. It features orange, woody fruit for several months after fragrant flowering in spring or early summer. Sometimes also known as Sweet Pittosporum, Victorian Box or Mock Orange, it’s a fast-grower that has a handsome profile in Bay Area gardens.
Common name | Water Gum
As a native to Australia, Tristania laurina performs well near the coast and along the banks of streams. Often, its trunks and branches tend to be shaped in the direction of a water current. It’s a slow grower and usually reaches between 15—30′ tall. It is often multi-branched and can be pruned to maintain a compact shape.
Flowers are bright yellow and have a distinctive scent that is attractive to bees. It usually blooms in the late spring or early summer. This beauty is an excellent choice for a medium-scale evergreen tree.
Common name | Persian pear
Parrotia persica is a deciduous tree that we use on the coast when we want beautiful light green leaves in the spring, the widest possible range of autumn leaf color, interesting branching habit in the winter, and fairly wind resistant dark green textural foliage in the summer. We do not put them in gardens right on the ocean or indirect winds. We use standards in some installations but prefer multi-trunked specimens for accents in the garden.
The Persian pear is somewhat dry tolerant, but it does need seasonal watering. This is a fairly pest-free tree. Autumn leaves are spectacular, even on the coast. It can grow to 40′ and as it matures, the bark exfoliates to patches of green, tan, and white. This beauty prefers full sun and likes acidic soil that’s moist and well-drained.
Ken Coverdell | Blue Sky Designs
Common name | Maidenhair Tree
As one of our favorite trees for the California coast, Ginkgo biloba is one of the oldest trees in existence. This eye-catching tree features parallel venation in the leaves along with a unique spur attachment point for the leaves. In the fall, the iconic leaves turn a brilliant, stunning yellow and leaf drop is almost instant and in unison. The result is an easy cleanup. Since the tree is dioecious, it’s important to choose an improved cultivar such as ‘Princeton Sentry’ or ‘Autumn Gold’ that doesn’t have the smelly fruit of the female tree.
This tree can be found often in urban landscapes and on many campuses because it has virtually no insect or disease weaknesses. As a tall, hardy tree native to eastern China, it grows to 66-110′ in full to partial sun. It will also thrive in most well-drained soils but grows best in acid to neutral soil that’s evenly moist and fertile.
Mark Morgan | Davey Tree
Acer rubrum ‘Armstrong’
Common name | Columnar Red Maple
Acer rubrum ‘Armstrong’ is my new favorite City tree. Its distinctive conical shape is optimized to fit tight urban spaces and small back yards while still attaining reasonable height. As a deciduous tree, it grows quickly to 45′ with moderate to regular water. It prefers full sun and will tolerate heavy soil.
The classic, maple green, palmate leaves turn vivid orange-red in the fall. And for our Bay Area clients from the east coast, this beauty reminds them of the deciduous fall colors of the season.
Remy Hummer | Arbor Upcycle
Laurus nobilis ‘Saratoga’
Common name | Sweet Bay
Laurus nobillis ‘Saratoga’ is a favorite evergreen tree for coastal installations. It’s extremely wind-tolerant with waxy, leathery, foliage that’s useful for cooking. It is also very drought tolerant when established and offers dense foliage for screening or as a wind barrier.
This hard-working tree has interesting golden blooms and seed pods, yet it’s not very messy. It retains its foliage well, tolerates plantings in its root zone and it adds interest to Bay Area gardens with a well-structured form.
Ken Coverdell | Blue Sky Designs
Common name | Paper Bark Tea Tree
Melaleuca quinquenervia is a small to medium-sized tree that grows to 30–50′ high. Young growth is hairy with long and short, soft hair. The leaves are arranged alternately and are flat, leathery, lance-shaped in dull grey-green color. The flowers are arranged in spikes on the ends of branches which continue to grow after flowering.
It blooms from spring to early autumn and is followed by fruit which is woody, cylindrical capsules. What is especially interesting about this tree is the unusual, light-colored bark that splits and spreads with growth revealing the new bark beneath peeling layers of older bark.
Jean Claude Rochat | Arborist Now
Common name | Primrose Tree
My go-to tree lately has been Lagunaria pattersonii. As a fast-growing, evergreen tree to 30′ tall, it bears beautiful, star-shaped, pinkish-white flowers that bloom in the summer and last thru fall.
It can thrive in a variety of soils and requires little to no water once established. It performs best in full sun but tolerates part-day sun as well. Originally from the Australia area, it is suited to coastal conditions and is a stalwart to consider.
Paul Spencer | I can Dig it Landscape
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Share your favorite trees.
Have you installed any interesting trees in your recent projects? Share what has been a hit with your clients and what you’ve found to be beautiful and different.