Marin Master Gardeners
University of California
Marin Master Gardeners

Marin IJ Articles

Tree & Shrub Gardening for Northern California

June 16, 2003
Euser, Barbara

Tree & Shrub Gardening for Northern California

By Barbara J. Euser

Trees and shrubs are the bones of the garden. Annual and perennial herbaceous plants enhance the structure of the garden established by these essential elements. Bob Tanem and Don Williamson’s new book Tree & Shrub Gardening for Northern California covers all aspects of the subject. Hundreds of color photographs illustrate the text.

The first section of the book is a general discussion on how to select, plant and care for new additions to the garden. Although this section comprises only about a quarter of the book, the information is essential for new gardeners and an excellent review for more experienced hands. As a Master Gardener, I appreciated their approach, as it is almost completely consistent with the gardening principles Master Gardeners promote.

The authors emphasize the importance of understanding the microclimates in one’s garden, for example how much light different sections of the garden receive during different seasons of the year. Exposure to wind, heat, cold and rain are part of this analysis.

They point out the importance of identifying the type of soil and explain how to choose plants suitable to one’s garden soil, and amend the soil if necessary. They recommend improving the soil by adding organic matter, that is, compost.

Tips are given on how to select woody plants at the nursery as bare-root stock, balled-and-burlapped, or container plants. A very useful and well-illustrated chapter discusses how to plant each of these types of stock.

Mulching is recommended as the best way to suppress weeds. However, it is important to keep mulch away from the base of the trunk or stems to avoid fungal decay and rot.

The authors point out that “Weed killers will probably not kill your woody plants but can weaken them, leaving them susceptible to attack by pest and diseases.” Tanem does suggest fall application of a weed seed inhibitor to suppress weeds, especially around groundcovers and close-growing shrubs.

The chapter on pruning is especially informative, with excellent drawings to illustrate descriptions of pruning and thinning cuts. The photographs in this chapter included topiary that struck me as gently humorous.

The authors advocate Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, to control pests and diseases that may attack trees and shrubs. They describe the four types of control available: cultural, physical, biological, and chemical. A short glossary of pests and diseases is followed by four do-it-yourself recipes for pest control, including insecticidal soap and compost tea.

The bulk of the book is a survey of 399 trees and shrubs arranged alphabetically by common name. There are numerous color photographs of each plant. Each description includes the preferred growing conditions, tips on where to use it in terms of garden design, recommended species and problems and pests it may have. I particularly enjoyed Tanem’s personal comments about each plant, for example the cutting of Angel’s Trumpet he took to his grandmother, and the Arbutus in which he and his cousin built a treehouse.

At the end of the book, there is a quick reference chart that gives the form, foliage, features, blooming season, and climate zone for each woody plant covered in the text.

As Tanem and Williamson point out in their chapter entitled Caring For Woody Plants, “Once trees and shrubs are established, they generally require minimal care.” For those of us interested in low-maintenance gardening, this is an especially important point. Careful selection of trees and shrubs, well taken care of for the first year or two, will create the basis for a beautiful garden, full of color and flowers and varying hues and textures of foliage. Tree & Shrub Gardening for Northern California is a fine new source of both information and inspiration, directing us along these lines.


This article appeared in the Marin Independent Journal on June 16, 2003.

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