One nice thing about planting native trees is that they're already suited to your climate, so they need less pampering. Another nice thing is that they attract beautiful birds. Besides, they're often very beautiful. Here are some smaller trees that can make a big impact on your western landscaping. No matter where you live in the West, at least 1 of them would feel at home in your yard.
This willowy desert tree (Chilopsis linearis), pictured above, adds an air of elegance to a sunny patio. Desert willow forms an open and delicate tree about 30 feet tall. This fast growing tree has long thin wispy leaves pendant on twisting branches. Large pink trumpet flowers appear in midsummer. These flowers are faintly fragrant in the evening and attract hummingbirds in the day. Desert willow is found in washes in the Mojave desert and therefore can withstand intense heat and long periods of drought. It needs no irrigation in areas that receive more than 15 inches of rainfall. However, it does need cold temperatures to reach complete dormancy and is not a good choice in most mild coastal areas.
With its glossy dark chocolate bark and deep evergreen leaves, Austin Griffiths Manzanita (Arctostaphylos manzanita x densiflora) is one of California's most stunning native plant choices. Its small pink flowers that appear in abundance in late winter attract hummingbirds. Austin Griffiths is one of the largest Manzanita hybrids available, reaching about 15 feet at maturity. With a little pruning, it can be trained into an exquisite small specimen tree. Water once a week to get it established; then, if you get more than 20 inches of rainfall, you can let it go on rainfall alone.
Western Redbud (Cercis occidentalis) is a small, deciduous tree with stunning magenta flowers in the spring that attract hummingbirds. These flowers are followed by the emergence of deep green, heart-shaped leaves. Western redbud matures at around 15 feet tall. It is drought-tolerant, only needing supplemental water when the annual rainfall is less than about 10 inches. This tree does need freezing temperatures in the winter to go properly dormant, so is not a good choice in most coastal areas.
This small tropical-looking tree (Aesculus californica) has compound leaves, white bark, and very large white flower spikes. Because dormancy is reached by drought and not so much by cold temperatures, it can often thrive in milder climates. This feature also allows it to ride out periods of summer drought quite effectively in more intense interior climates. California Buckeye reaches 15-20 feet at maturity. It's a great tree for a woodland look.
Photos courtesy of Penny Wilson. Article by Penny Wilson. Penny is a gardening writer who specializes in California native plants.