Why Consider A Woodland Garden Your Landscape?

Designed to evoke the sheltered, comfortable, and cool feeling of a natural wooded area, these plantings can be calming and simple while maintaining a magical sense of a wild landscape. Birds also benefit from the shelter, finding places to nest in both young and mature tree canopies.


Trees Large and Small

Woodland gardens are largely about creating a shade canopy. If you have room for one or more large trees, plant them! Native oaks are often the best choice, with coast live oak being the most common option for its relatively quick growth, low water demand, and incredible value to many bird and butterfly species. 

Even if you do not have room for a large tree, you can achieve a woodland effect by planting a few small trees, or even large shrubs that can be pruned as trees over time. Our favorites are toyon, western redbud, and elderberry, which all combine very well with the larger oak species.


Selecting Smaller Plants

Choose a number of smaller shrubs and ground covers that will grow around and under your trees. Remember that it will be a number of years until the canopies grow in enough to make the area shady, so select plants that thrive in either full sun or partial shade, or plan to remove the full sun–requiring plants once the area is shaded. Our favorite choices can be found in our Woodland plant palette on our Waterwise Garden Planner website.

Remember to leave yourself a place to sit and enjoy the shade. Because it will take a while to grow in, remember that the best time to plant a tree is as soon as the weather is right for planting (fall through spring). If you want a rapidly growing tree that can provide some shade right away while the other trees grow in, consider planting one or more elderberries. However, be aware that these rambunctious plants will take quite a bit of pruning to shape them into a classic tree form. If you want tips on how to do that, be sure to come to our free seasonal Garden Care Workshops at the Waterwise Community Center!

Top Tips

Elderberry, Catalina Island cherry, and toyon are a few of our favorite fast-growing species that help an area start to feel like a woodland while waiting for the larger, further-spaced tall canopy trees to grow in.
Native oaks are the heart of a true Southern California woodland garden. Coast live oaks and Engelmann oaks are our top choices. Coast live oaks grow more quickly and broadly, whereas Engelmann oaks grow more slowly and vertically for many years. If you have room, grow both!
We recommend planting your trees from a small pot size, usually one- or five-gallon, and never larger than a fifteen-gallon pot. Smaller plants usually grow quicker, so after a few years, trees planted from any size pot will be about the same size. Since smaller trees are easier to plant properly and have spent less time sitting in nursery pots, they will often outgrow trees planted from larger sizes in the long run.

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