In this era of "Big House, Small Yard", choosing the right size tree can not only enhance the beauty of your backyard, it can forestall serious and expensive pavement problems that might force you to crack open your wallet in five to ten years. Planting a tree with a future height and spread of more than 40 feet in a small backyard will eventually make you recall that old TV show title, "Dark Shadows". Even spookier will be the repair bills when the extensive root systems of these larger trees start heaving and cracking your concrete patio, driveway, sidewalk and foundation.
The Sacramento Tree Foundation recommends planting large trees at least 15 feet away from any construction. If the site you've picked out for a new tree can't be situated that far away from any concrete, electrical systems or sewer pipes, here are some good, small trees for our area that need only six feet of planting distance from building foundations, walks and driveways.
Most of these trees will get no taller than 25 feet: Amur maple, Japanese maple, eastern redbud, eastern dogwood, Washington hawthorn, crape myrtle, saucer magnolia and Bechtel crabapple.
Needing only 10 feet of "growing room" from tree to concrete are these medium-sized (25-40 feet) ornamental plants: trident maple, hedge maple, Japanese white birch, goldenrain tree, tupelo, capital pear and chanticleer pear.
Before your shovel hits the ground, here is an easier way to plant your tree or shrub: instead of digging deep, dig wide. Then, refill that crater with the native soil. Current research from the University of California has shown that digging a hole an inch or two less than the depth of the tree's root ball (the portion in the container) is more beneficial than digging a deeper, narrow planting hole.
The trick to a successful planting also includes loosening the surrounding soil at the planting site. Loosen up the soil (again, to the depth of the root ball) in an area at least twice as wide as the container (for young trees and shrubs) or the entire diameter of the tree canopy. Even better, rototill out to six feet from the location of the tree trunk. A tree that can easily send out its lateral root system will have better access to water and nutrients.
Check the tree for girdled roots before planting. If the roots are encircling the rootball, slice through the length of the root ball on four sides about an inch deep. This will help the roots to spread down and out, not round and round.
Plant the tree so that the top of the root ball rests on solid soil, one to two inches higher that the surrounding soil; this allows for settling and helps avoid crown rot. Avoid soil amendments; by refilling the hole with the original soil, the tree more quickly adapts to the native environment where it will have to reach out in order to be successful.
Staking should only be done if the tree can't stand on its own. And by all means, remove the single stake that comes with the tree from the nursery. Use two stakes, one on either side of the root ball. Tie the tree to the stakes using old nylons or another flat, wide, ribbon-like article. Tie loosely in a figure-eight configuration at the lowest point on the trunk where the tree will stand upright. Remove the stakes as soon as the tree will stand on its own, usually not more than one year.