The Basics on Landscape Design, Tree and Shrub Selection for Southern California Landscapes
I am most definitely a native SoCal. Born in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, educated at UC Santa Barbara and California Polytechnic University, living in San Diego for many decades, I have lived in Southern California my entire life.
Yes, we complain when we have hot spells, (last summer was ridiculous), Santa Ana winds, and the fog, but overall, we have the best climate in the world for growing plants. Whether for ornamental landscapes or vegetable gardening, we a blessed with a climate and environmental conditions that allow us to grow an incredible variety of trees, shrubs, ground covers, turf, vegetables and fruits pretty much 365 days a year.
Walk or drive throughout our neighborhoods and check out the incredible plant diversity. We are very accustomed to the trees and plants that surround us. However, if you are from the midwest, east coast or other parts of the country or the world, you are most likely amazed at the variety of plant material. Botanical gardens and arboretums from Santa Barbara to San Diego boast incredible displays of plants from around the world that flourish in our mild Mediterranean climate.
We have neighbors recently moved to San Diego from Kansas City. They purchased a home and want to landscape but are completely baffled about what to plant. Obviously, the trees and shrubs they were accustomed to in Kansas City were very different from what is available for landscaping in San Diego. I offered some suggestions to help simplify the plant selection process.
There are many approaches one can take to designing and installing an ornamental landscape for their home or place of business. Using a landscape architect to design a planting and irrigation plan is an excellent choice, however it can be costly. Landscape contractors can provide design services as part of a design build contract, however you might feel uncomfortable about possible conflict of interest, and whether the contractor is truly knowledgeable about plant material and design. Then, there are the millions of property owners trying to do it themselves. This article is for you!
Where to Start?
Don’t get caught up with or distracted by endless design themes and details. If you have a certain theme in mind, fine, then you most likely already know the kinds of plant material you want to use. I prefer to design and select plant based on the site environmental conditions matched to the cultural requirements of each plant to be used in the landscape. What does that mean?
What are Environmental Site Conditions?
The first step in selecting plant material is determining your specific site conditions. There are many factors that affect plant growth and they are reflected in your site. Analyze your location and be able to answer the following questions:
- Does the site face the north (full shade), east (part shade part sun), west (part sun – full sun), or south, (full sun). Determining the site sun exposure is one of the most important environmental conditions.
- What are the temperature extremes. Does the site receive cold weather extremes such as frequent frosts, freezes, snow or hail? Does the site receive intense heat? Determine the temperature extremes as well as the average seasonal temperature for your location.
- Is the site near the coast where it will receive constant salt air and sea breezes?
- Is the site windy, contain microclimates, protected by a structure?
- Is the soil a heavy, poorly drained clay or lighter, well drained loam, or sand?
- Is the soil structure friable and fertile or dry and compacted?
- Does the site drain well or is water trapped onsite or on top of a perched water table or spring?
- Are there rodent or pest or disease problems?
- Are there physical site constraints such as overhead or underground utilities, concrete or masonry improvement?
These are just a sampling of typical environmental site conditions that affect plant growth. The more you know about the site to be landscaped, the better informed you will be in order to make appropriate plant selections.
In the next installment, I’ll discuss plant cultural requirements and the importance of selecting plant material with cultural requirements that match the site environmental conditions, a key to successful landscape project!