Drought-Tolerant California Trees

Anytime you intend to install a set of new trees, you’ll need to select species that satisfy a number of criteria. Some of these criteria will vary from person to person and from one location to the next, while others are relatively universal.

For example, you may want a tree with nice fall color, while your neighbor is interested in the fastest growing trees available. Similarly, the spot outside your front porch may be perfect for a shade-tolerant tree, while the sun-bathed spot by your swimming pool will be better suited for a sun-loving species.

On the other hand, some criteria are relatively uniform – at least for a given area. And for those living in southern California, this means selecting trees that exhibit three important characteristics: They should be able to withstand the droughts common to the region, and they should be as fire-resistant as possible.

Triple-Crown Contenders: Six Trees for California Properties

The following six species all satisfy the three criteria we’ve identified as important. Nevertheless, they all exhibit key differences, and you must still consider the other characteristics and requirements they present when making your choice.

1. California Buckeye (Aesculus californica)

The California buckeye is a tree with a lot going for it, and it makes a great choice for most southern California properties. Rarely reaching more than 20 to 30 feet in height, the buckeye is fantastic for small planting locations, and it will adapt to most growing conditions. It is important to note that these trees often drop their leaves in the summer to help protect themselves from drought.

3. Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens)

Named for their fragrant leaves, incense cedars are fantastic conifers for properties in southern California. They are great for providing shade or privacy, but they can cause problems for allergy sufferers. They also reach enormous sizes, so they aren’t suitable for small properties. Many approach 80 to 100 feet in height, and some even reach heights of 150 feet or more.

4. Western Redbud (Cercis occidentalis)

A great tree for planting near utility lines or in other tight spaces, the western redbud usually reaches about 30 to 40 feet in height (although occasional specimens may reach up to 60 feet). Characterized by bright purple blossoms in the spring, attractive green foliage in the summer and hanging seed pods in the winter, the redbud provides year-round aesthetic appeal.

5. California Sycamore (Platanus racemosa)

The California sycamore is a gigantic tree (occasionally reaching 75 feet or more in height), which typically grows best in riparian areas. However, because it is a pioneer species, the sycamore handles most environmental challenges – including high temperatures, strong winds and droughts – relatively well. If you have the room to host one of these big trees, they’ll reward you with very dense shade throughout the summer.

6. Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia)

The coast live oak’s suitability for southern California properties is obvious by simply noting their ubiquity – only trees that are well-suited for the local environment can thrive in such numbers. Somewhat small by oak standards, coast live oaks usually remain less than 50 feet high, and some never become much more than shrubs. Coast live oaks are, however, susceptible to Sudden Oak Death, which is important to consider when picking the species for your yard.


If you’d like to add a few new trees to your property, and you’d like a little professional help making your species selection, give your friends at Evergreen Arborist Consultants a call. We’ll have one of our experienced arborists visit your property, assess the growing conditions and then make several recommendations. We can even help with the installation process if you like.