California Pepper tree

Question from Linda:
Hi, Am helping my cousin landscape her yard in San Diego and she says that nothing she’s tried will grow in the ground under the dripline. Any suggestions?

Answer from Pat:
I am one of those people who happen to love the California pepper tree (Schinus molle), which is actually native to Peru and not to California. The other pepper tree is the Brazilian pepper tree (Schinus terebinthefolius.) People have love/hate relationships with both of these trees. I belong to the love group for California pepper trees but not for Brazilian peppers, though I have seen some old specimens that had been well pruned for many years and they were and are almost breathtakingly beautiful. (There are several of these stunning ancient specimens on the West side of Balboa Park in San Diego.)

But here we are discussing the California pepper tree. It is just about impossible to grow anything under a California pepper tree except in pots and containers so why try? This is not to say that one cannot use these trees in a delightful way in the landscape. There is a painting belonging to the Irvine Museum, a museum I try to visit at least once during each exhibition of their early California plein air and Impressionist paintings. The painting to which I refer is very impressionistic and is I believe on display now into June 11, 2011. If not, you can see it in some of the books that the museum sells in their gift shop. This painting shows some ladies sitting on a wicker couch and chairs at a green tea table with a white tablecloth on it under the shade of a California pepper tree and this is the way I think they should be used. All the lovely pepper trees I have known in gardens have been used as places to sit and relax in the shade or, in one case i recall, as a tree house for children. Children love playing under these trees which can arch their foliage down all around leaving a space like a house inside.

One particularly memorable specimen was fifty or more years old when I knew it. It grew in the garden of friends of mine who lived in one of the older parts of La Jolla twenty or thirty years ago. The land sloped down behind the two-story Spanish house and was covered with lawn. Today it would be probably planted with succulents or with a mixed flowering shrubbery and have some raised beds for vegetables in full sun and a level patio closer to the house. But we are talking here about the era before lawns came under attack and all this garden consisted of was simply a lawn with thick hedges on each side and the great California pepper filling the space at the bottom of the lawn. Can you imagine this was nonetheless the most charming and natural-seeming of gardens?

This California pepper tree had been pruned and cleaned out inside so that it arched up and the branches came down on the sides in a leafy fringe creating an open space beneath it like a special house. Around the outside the foliage was clipped off at a predetermined height about 3 feet above ground, but in the center, in front was a higher place so one could walk into what resembled a doorway and you didn’t need to duck your head. The upper branches were filled with singing birds. So the place had its own built-in music system.

Under the shade of the pepper tree several pieces of artistically chosen wooden and wicker chairs were carefully placed with comfortable blue and print pillows on them, and there was a table too. These items of furniture were placed in such a way that they did not destroy the magical ambiance of the place, and nor did they fight with the large and twisted tree trunk which seemed like part of the entertainment. The woman owner of the garden was a member of the Fern Society. Next to her family, ferns were her big interest in life and this is where she kept her collection. With the artistry that some people have in as natural a way as breathing she had decorated the space under the pepper tree with ferns in pots and containers. All were placed on stepping stones so roots could not invade. Some were swung from hanging baskets at various levels inside the tree. Some epiphytic plants also had been established on the tree trunk and had found homes on the huge old branches. A whole collection of interesting things like epiphyllums, donkey tails and various succulents tumbled here and there from the ancient branches and from the tree’s trunk in just the right places. I used to see gardens in Hollywood and Laguna Beach back in the forties that had collections like this in the trees. It is all part of the old California atmosphere that it is fun to create in gardens, though I grant you it does take talent. Photos in books, however, can give much inspiration and help in developing the right touch.

To say that this place was magical is to put it mildly. It embraced me in a special atmosphere that stays with me to this day when I remember it. One could have hooked up a drip system, hiding the tubes with great care so they did not destroy the charm. However, I imagine my friend dragged over the hose once or twice a week to water her plant collection and she doubtless plucked out the debris that fell into the pots, but that was her joy. Obviously one had to shake off or brush off the pillows since pepper trees are constantly drippy. The ground was simply mulch and covered with small brown leaves that sifted from above. The owner/gardener raked it up so it looked clean and was soft under foot. I don’t know if she added mulch but a California pepper makes its own mulch. After knowing a tree like this one how can one ever fail to love such a tree? And so ever afterwards I have thought this is how I think they should be used. One could make a patio there of stepping stones but it’s not necessary. The main thing is ornamenting the space in an artistic way and using it for seating and growing any plants in containers, always placing them on stepping stones so no roots invade.

Comments

  1. last spring I planted 3 pepper trees (schinus molle) very close to my house. I understood that was not a good choice. At what distance should the tree be planted?
    Can I replant now?
    How long it takes for a pepper tree to start producing the fruit?
    Tank you for your advice.

    • It’s never good to plant any tree too close to a house since the roots of trees can undermine foundations and harm the house. This is particularly true of California pepper trees (Schinus molle). They need little water once established and they have aggressive roots. Pepper trees tend to spread wide and should be planted at least twenty five or thirty feet away from the wall of a house and away from drains, sewer lines or water pipes.

      The fruit of the female California pepper tree (which seems to be most of them) brings birds and the trees begin to bear fruit when they are very young sometimes while still in the nursery can. In Mexico the fruit of this tree is used for making an alcoholic beverage. Mexicans also use the fruit and various other parts of the tree for medicine and the fruit is dried and ground as a substitute for pepper which may cause allergy in some people. The bark is used for tanning.

      You could try to transplant your trees but if you do this be sure to take as much root as possible and soak the root zone with humic acid as a transplanting fluid to stimulate a lot of root growth. Usually it’s far better to cut down the existing trees and begin with new ones since transplanting can set a tree backwards for several years. Meanwhile a new young tree planted at the same time would be getting established and soon by-pass any transplanted tree in size and vigor.

  2. I have read that these trees come in male and female versions and that I need both if the female tree is to bear any fruit. I have tried to find out how to tell the sex of the tree by looking at young saplings, but so far I have not found any way to tell them apart. Do you have any idea how to go about this?

    • You are correct that California pepper trees are dioecious, that is, trees are either male or female and thus only the female trees bear fruit. So far as I know, the only way to tell whether your pepper tree is male or female is to wait until it does or does not bear fruit and this would depend on whether a male pepper tree is close enough to pollinate the blossoms. If you know the difference between the male and female blossoms you could tell that way. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/LyraEDISServlet?command=getImageDetail&image_soid=IMAGE AA:AA219F03&document_soid=AA219&document_version=50016

  3. John Masciocchi

    Sir:
    I have a (Female) Pepper Tree. (Red peppers) It is very beautiful and shades the back of the house excellent on very hot days. My question. As you are well aware a Pepper Tree is very messy with its constant falling leaves. Over several years of time the leaves build up a carpet layer around the tree. Should I rake the leaves resulting in plain dirt or leave the leaves.

  4. Hi, I have just planted 2 young California Peppers. one is from a 24 inch box & the other from a 36 inch box. How often should I water these and with how much water? And how long is the break in period before I wean them down to a once a week watering? Thank you, Steve Lain

    • When you irrigate, apply enough water to soak the entire root ball. Boxed trees sometimes include a pipe to make sure water gets to the bottom of the root ball. Page 40 of my organic book gives instructions on how to check the drainage prior to planting. As I wrote in answer to another gardener who asked me about watering a newly planted tree: All trees need frequent deep watering after planting. Also check the drainage in the planting holes prior to planting and additionally soak the holes again before putting in the trees. This avoids the problem of dry surrounding soil pulling water out of the root ball of the trees. if you are planting in heavy clay, be sure to dig about half a coffee can full of gypsum into the earth on the bottom of the hole to increase drainage. It’s also a good idea to place some slow-release plant tabs (such as landscapers use) on the bottom of the hole to fertilize the tree during it’s first year of life. Be sure to loosen up the roots prior to planting if the plants have been in the cans for some time. My recommendation for watering are no different than for any other tree: Water deeply after planting. Water again the next day deeply and again the next day if rain doesn’t fall. Then water 3 times a week for the next week, twice a week for the following two weeks and after that you can water once a week deeply for the first year or two. After that you can lengthen out the irrigations. In clay soil you might not need to irrigate as much as this but you want to make sure the water goes deeply into the ground since these are deep-rooted trees. Most people err on the side of under-watering newly planted trees and then wonder why they don’t take off as they should.

  5. I’m very disappointed in my CA pepper tree, as is my wife. I bought her a small tree as a birthday gift a few years back. She loved the trees with the red berries. I went to a nursery, bought the tree, planted it and now it is a huge 40-foot tree with no red berries and all it does is shed leaves into our front porch patio area. I had no idea I had to pick a female or male tree to get the berries. The nursery certainly didn’t mention it. Sorry; I just had to vent

    • Though you wanted the berries, perhaps you can console yourself by thinking that at least you don’t have to sweep up messy berries along with the leaves. But if you still hanker over berries, why not plant another somewhere on your property? Unless there is another Schinus molle in the neighborhood, it is possible that you have a female tree that doesn’t bear fruit due to lack of pollination.

  6. Why can’t anything grow under the California Pepper tree?

    • There is more than one reason that most plants won’t grow under a California pepper tree. One reason is that the roots of this tree are so aggressive throughout the root zone that other plants cannot compete. Another is that the tree casts too much shade for most plants. But the third reason is the main one and that is that both the California pepper tree and the Brazilian pepper tree tend to be allelopathic, or “death-dealing” to other plants that grow near them. Alleopathy in a plant usually means the leaves contain compounds that inhibit the growth of other plants and poison the ground under the tree.

      Despite this fact it is possible to grow hanging baskets of some succulent plants such as donkey tail and orchid cactus under pepper trees, but it’s a lot of work to take care of them and probably not worth it. Best way to use this area, as I have often said, is to make a charming seating area under the tree. There is a great painting owned by the Irvine Museum of ladies sitting under a pepper tree probably painted in the 1930’s. Having written this I then read what I wrote on this subject already and note I already mentioned that painting. I believe it was displayed again recently though I failed to attend that particular exhibit.

  7. I’m in the same boat as Jon Roe – I got my mom a pepper tree as a 60th birthday present because she loved the berries and the whole tree. It’s been 12 years and it flowers every year and no fruit. It makes me really sad – it’s like getting fruitless apple tree – bummer. I wish someone at the nursery had mentioned it or if the info tag said fruitless or some kind of heads up. Our property only had one spot left that was good for a tree and that’s where it is now. I guess next time I have to take a swab, get out my centrifuge and electrophoresis gel and test the DNA of the tree so I can know – congrads! It’s a girl!

    • Love your comment about DNA. I am so sorry that you did not get the female pepper tree you wanted for your mom. On the other side of the ledger are all those folks who complain about their messy California pepper trees. It’s still a beautiful tree in my opinion, but I agree, I like the berries because they bring birds.

  8. Hi,
    We have a large female California Pepper Tree. I’ve been searching the internet trying to find out how long they live. I can’t find the info anywhere.
    Yes, I hate the blanket of peppers/berries it leaves all over the ground, but it is a beautiful tree and provides wonderful shade.
    It would be great to know when’s the best time to trim it please?
    Also, I’ve heard of them simply imploding or falling over when they die.
    Our tree seems super hardy but I know it’s old and we’ve already had one branch fall on the roof and cause some damage.
    Any info would be greatly appreciated. Most importantly, if the tree is 50 years old, how much longer will it continue to live and not present a danger to the house below? And cars! 🙂
    Thanks

    • California pepper trees (Schinus molle) can live to be two or three hundred years old or more, as attested to by the ancient pepper tree at the Mission San Luis Rey, near Oceanside that was planted in 1832 and is still alive today. California pepper trees are not good choices for planting close to houses due to litter, invasive roots and falling twigs and branches. Also, they should not be overwatered. For all these reasons and more, neither I nor anyone else could possibly predict for how many years it would be safe for your tree to remain standing. After the strong winds we had last night, I hope it did not damage your home already.

      On the other hand, if it withstood those gale force winds without major breakage, then you can rest assured those branches are pretty strong and you most likely don’t need to worry. But you have to follow your own instincts on this matter. We all have that “still small voice” inside and it’s wise to listen and obey it. Never push it away and ignore it because that is asking for disaster.

      Regarding pruning, young trees need training, such as encouraging high branches if you wish to walk under them.
      This pruning can be done in spring or fall. But once the branches are 4 or 5 inches thick it’s best not to saw into them because they can easily rot. Very old trees with thick trunks have often lost many branches either through pruning or rotting away. Often the beautifully gnarled trunk is all rotted away inside and still putting out green growth. Go look at the specimen at the San Luis Rey Mission and you will see what I mean.

  9. A good thing for allergy sufferers to read is Thomas Leo Ogren’s books on pollen in the landscape. For example, female pepper trees – and female trees in general (for trees that do not possess both male and female flowers on the same individual plant) do not pose problems. According to Ogren, however, male pepper trees, have the unfortunate potential to cause severe allergic reactions. Just thought I’d pass that along to my fellow sneezers and wheezers.

  10. Have been reading all the comments about pepper trees. We are thinking of purchasing but now am not sure. We have a large concrete patio and have three 5′ x 5′ spaces to plant so we can get some shade. From what I am reading pepper trees would not be a good idea due to root growth. We would like trees that will provide shade and are evergreen. Any suggestions?

    • You are correct in thinking that 5’X5′ spaces in a paved patio are not spacious enough for pepper trees. You need to choose a “patio tree.” If you have a copy of Sunset Western Garden Book consult the list of patio trees in the “Plant Selection Guide” located after the zone maps in the front of the book and study their characteristics. Rhaphiolepis ‘Magestic Beauty’ would be ideal but I gather you hope for something larger. One of my books, called “the American Horticultural Society Southwest SMART GARDEN™ Regional Guide” published by D.K. also contains a list of smaller trees. Several trees trees that should grow successfully in this situation are Cassia leptophylla, Pyrus kawakamii, Stenocarpus sinuatus, Michelia doltsopa and Xylosma congestum. If you choose Xylosma, don’t start with a shrub. Instead, look at tree farms for a large enough specimen already trained and pruned like a tree.

      If you prefer something very drought resistant, Leptospermum laevigatum would be an excellent choice, but once again you need to begin with a specimen already growing upright with one to three sturdy trunks. Also, to keep them in shape they need steady maintenance consisting of shearing them twice a year all over the top like a giant mushroom. I have a 60-year old row of these trees that I planted myself as shrubs flanking the entrance of my garden. Walking under them today is like walking through a grotto. I call them my “Hobbit trees”, and they are magical. However to manage something like this takes unfailing devotion, since they must be sheared all over the top twice a year, in May or June and once again in October. My gardener who has worked for me for 60 years does this job and knows exactly how to accomplish it. However, I always need to remind him when the foliage has grown long enough so I know it’s time to shear them.

  11. Hello Pat,
    Thank you for all of the wonderful information on the California Pepper tree. Your description of them is exactly why I’d like to plant one in the backyard. I desire to plant one thirty four feet away from pool equipment, gas and water lines. I read your earlier post about keeping them twenty five to thirty feet away from the wall of house and away from water lines.
    Is thirty four feet a safe distance from these lines? Is there anything else I can do to protect the lines?
    Thank you for your advice

    • It makes me happy to know that you found the information I gave regarding pepper trees to be helpful. Yes there is something else you could do to protect the lines but it is difficult and might be expensive and perhaps an unnecessary expense and that would be to install a root barrier near the pipes. To do this you would need to dig a 3-foot deep trench and then install a root barrier on one side of it and then refill the trench. You can find professionally manufactured root barriers online. Bamboo growers frequently use root barriers. I have a 30-foot-long stainless-steel root barrier installed in the bottom of my garden to keep the roots of a thick plumbago hedge from invading the rest of my garden. In your case I think this is over-kill. Time enough to do something if trouble eventually arises, but I doubt that it will.

  12. Do both the male and female California Pepper Trees provide the pretty berries? And are the flowers and berries poisonous to dogs and horses?

    • Only the female pepper trees bear berries. Regarding horses and pepper trees: A bored horse with nothing better to do might munch on the berries and leaves. Whereas these won’t kill a horse, they can cause bloating and digestive upset. Ask your vet, and I’m pretty sure he or she will tell you that a pepper tree is not a good choice of tree to provide shade in a pasture used by livestock of any kind.

  13. Thank you Pat for this helpful information! It’s good to know that I can install a root barrier in the future if needed. I look forward to a beautiful pepper tree!

  14. AaronandTrish

    This has been such an informative thread! I have a very large pepper tree in our backyard….the original owner of our new home said it’s been here for at least 30-40 years. We love the look of this tree but the leaves are falling at such a drastic rate and I have yet to see much new growth over the past year that we have lived here. It was very neglected with a lot of dead underbrush so we had a professional come trim out the dead to give it some breathing room. However the leaves are still falling at the same rate. I’m terribly worried we could be losing this tree and it is the focal point of our yard. Is this normal behavior for these trees? We have been in the middle of the California drought bit have had significant rain fall over the past few months. Any ideas or advice?

    • First, 8 hours of sun a day is not too much for a pomegranate tree. In fact it is good. It sounds as if you live in a very interesting climate, perhaps on an island? Or in Morocco?

      Yes, it is possible for bonsai trees of several species to grow dwarf fruit as well. However, pomegranates must be about five years old before they will begin flowering and fruiting. Also bonsai is an entire art form and a science that requires special treatment, such as dwarfing the tree by root pruning and sometimes by twisting one root around the trunk. These kinds of skills are specific to the art of bonsai and are not the purview of my blog. I suggest you join a bonsai club if there is one in your locality, though I would guess there is not. But it is also possible to learn the art of bonsai by reading books on the subject. At any rate I can tell you for a fact that there is a lot more to the art of bonsai than simply sticking the plant into a pot that is too small for a full size tree.

      The good news, however, is that you might have a very good start towards a proper bonsai, since many artistic specimens came originally from plants that had been accidentally dwarfed through neglect in a nursery or dwarfed out in nature and then dug up by some bonsai specialist who saw the possibilities of that particular plant and then continued to grow and train it in a pot.

      I suggest you purchase a good book on bonsai or better yet several books since each book will offer a different approach and you want one that covers flowering and fruiting plants. In this way you can learn how to dwarf your tree correctly and make it into a proper bonsai by using the various skills of root pruning, pruning, training, feeding, and watering correctly according to the ancient art of bonsai.

  15. Wonderful facts about the California Pepper tree. We have a courtyard and just had to take down a European White Birch which was maybe 30-40 years old. It was past it’s date but also with the drought, I’m sure it wasn’t getting enough water. I am very sad taking a tree down, although — turns out it was hollow inside, so it was the right thing to do.
    We’re in Santa Barbara County, Lompoc, which is north county, different climate than the City of SB itself.
    We’re looking for a replacement tree. We ‘kinda’ wanted the California Pepper but after reading all your responses — we know it’s not right for the location, too close to the house foundation and water lines. Although we see it all over town, so we know it’s good for this climate.
    Can you suggest something — a tree — for that area, our climate? The spot is about 6 ft. from foundation & water/sewer lines and partially shaded by the house. The local City urban forester was unhelpful. And most of the sites online have not been much help either. What can we do?

    Thanks for any help

    • Perhaps the fact that the site is close to your foundations and only 6 ft. away from water and sewer lines is why your local urban forester was unhelpful. I suggest that you line you sewer pipe so that it is safe from roots. Also make sure that your water lines are in good shape and that there are not leaks in them. Tree roots cannot invade a well-sealed pipe with out leaks for them to sneak into. Then you can plant any small tree that can take part shade and is adapted to your climate zone—most likely Sunset Zone 15 but could be 14 if you live further inland than the center of Lompoc. I suggest a Michelia doltsopa— probably my top choice: Good patio tree, very beautiful and takes takes part shade, European olive tree: Olea europaea is good in patios, not too big and usually uncomplaining but full sun would be better and finally Lily of the Valley Tree (Clethra arborea.) Another thought is fern pine (Podocarpus gracilior). Or—come to think of it— If you actually live in Zone 14 instead of Zone 15 you could grow crepe myrtle ( Lagerstroemia indica), but it gets awful mildew in Zone 15 . (Ask at your best local nursery or ask the Master Gardeners or a local garden club to be sure.) It has beautiful bare branches and trunk in winter and spectacular summer flowers. Just be sure to get it in summer when in bloom to make sure you like the color of the flowers. Some are very very bright, almost neon in brilliance. Also, I do not like the white one. There are much better flowering trees with white flowers.

      • Thanks for some wonderful ideas — all new to me. I love crepe myrtle, but we don’t get enough full sun there for it to truly shine. I lived with one for a few years in L.A. where it was glorious. It doesn’t do well in Lompoc, I’ve seen it here. We get a lot of fog.
        I will research your other suggestions. And you’re probably right about the plumbing lines, they are old, too, 1964.

        Thanks for the info.

  16. We are in escrow of a home in Banning, CA. There are what we believe to be two very large California Pepper trees lining either side of the driveway. I can direct you to the website that will show you the front of the house if you would be so kind as to look (please advise via email and I will give you the site). Perhaps you can tell by appearance if we are correct? They are beautiful, but, we think, need pruning and are concerned about their proximity to the house (especially the sewer line). We would so appreciate your opinion.

    Thank you in advance for any help you can offer.

    • Gardeners living in Sunset climate zones, 8, 9 or 12 to 24 can safely grow Dietes ‘Orange Drops’. The rule regarding frost applies to all plants that have been damaged by frost: Don’t cut off the frozen portions of the plant until the plant begins to grow again in spring. Then you can safely cut off the dead and damaged portions.

  17. Overgrown pepper tree I’m back yard at least 30ft tall 45 ft wide..bought house 4 years ago, l am sure the tree is at least 20 years old
    have spent $4000 on lacing…how far back can we prune the tree safely….always fearful it will fall on house

    Appreciate any help

    • It seems as if even after lacing out the tree you are still worried about your house, so why not get rid of your worries once and for all and get rid of the tree? The best solution to a huge pepper tree growing in the wrong place is to cut it down and remove or grind the stump. (After grinding stump, apply nitrogen and water to rot the remaining sawdust.) Then replace with a better tree and this time plant it at an appropriate distance from the house. (i.e.: more than the length of the eventual height of the tree. That way if it fell it could never touch your home.)

      Cutting back pepper trees hard may lead to weakened and rotting trunk and branches. This may make the danger far greater than if you had left the tree alone. Hollow trunks and rotting branches are common in old pepper trees.

  18. Growing many Shinus Molle, “Peruvian Pepper”, “California Pepper” trees up here at the edge of the Mojave Desert, in Oak Hills, California. Like maybe 100 or more. It pretty much never rains here until winter. And it’s over 100 degrees in summer. Sun is extra-strong at this altitude. And, being in a mountain pass, we have daily 20 – 30 mph winds, at 5 – 10% humidity. Once established, these trees need no water, at all, and they stay super green and shiny all summer long.
    I’m actually trying to find out how they can possibly survive like this. It seems impossible that they could stay this green and grow this fast with no water. I have plants that will die in one day without being watered in this environment. The California Pepper Tree is one of the very few trees you can plant around here with confidence, especially if you are not watering it. Without watering, it is one of the VERY few that will survive. But you DO have to water the first two (2) years or so. I trim them any time of year. Sculpt them to any shape. I’ve seen old huge ones cut back severely. They grow back. We trim them back and my girlfriend screams at me that I am ruining them, then later they grow back looking better than ever. She likes to me to clean up the inside up in the branches. The goal is to get the trunks strong first, then tall, so we get that weeping willow effect. After a trim, they are back to weeping within a few weeks. Some neighbors have a few that are laying (leaning) downwind at 45 degrees. Those owners should have kept the amount of wind resistance down by keeping them well-trimmed when they were young. That way the trunk and roots can get disproportionately strong, and the tree can stand up to the wind. When we have a windy day, it would be called a hurricane in most places. One factor that scares some people away from these trees though, is the cold. We buy our trees “down the hill”, (civilization) where it stays warm all winter. Up here it can drop into the 20’s or even teens sometimes. We’re almost in the mountains – we can see the ski slopes from here. Every year is different, but we always lose a few of any first-year pepper tree, due to cold. Hard to predict which ones will survive that first winter. The ones that die often “come back” after a few months, putting out green shoots. So you water them and let them grow back, usually into a bush with many trunks, then you pick one trunk (or two or three for some people) and cut away the rest. The one trunk will grow into a tree in one year. Just cut away everything that doesn’t look like a tree! Next winter it could even happen one more time, but eventually, most of these trees get used to the cold winters, and really do well up here at 3600 feet altitude. Within a few years they get huge and picturesque. If they can stay this green in this environment with no water they might be good for reversing desertification, which is what we’re doing here, on a small scale.

    • Thank you so much for sharing your invaluable information with our readers. California pepper trees are among our most rugged and well-adapted exotic trees. I agree with you this is a great tree to grow for its superior drought-resistance once established. You are exactly correct to say they need water for the first couple of years.

  19. I just read lots of good info about Calif. Peppers on your site but did not get the info I was looking for. I have just planted 12 Peppers & we’d like to have them grow fast…really fast! I set up tree spikes for deep watering & now I need to know how much(and what type) fertilizer I can use and how often I can apply it. Your input will help us achieve our goal…I appreciate your expert & experienced feedback! Thank-you, Steve Lain

    • California pepper trees are naturally fast growing and will thrive in most soils. Trying to speed up growth by fertilizing heavily would be more likely to kill the trees than to hasten growth. When planting any young tree it is wise to insert slow-release “Tree Tabs” on the bottom of and inside the planting hole before refilling the hole. These are available at most farm and garden supply stores. Once established, California pepper trees need no additional fertilizer. In event that your garden suffers from particularly poor soil, however, it will not harm trees to fertilize them for the first three years annually in March with any balanced fertilizer, applied according to package directions, that is recommended for feeding the general landscape. After the first three years this is totally unnecessary and might be more harmful than helpful.

      Regarding the growth speed of your trees, I have good news that strangely enough may be the serendipitous result of some really bad news. Currently as part of global warming which in turn is causing climate change, the percentage of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased markedly. (The highest daily average of CO2 ever recorded was experienced at the Mona Loa volcano once in April 2017 and again in May 2017.)This may be a bad thing in many ways, since we won’t be able to survive on this planet if this rate increases forever, but there is also a benefit to plants. If you are in the habit (as I am) of noticing plants as you drive around you may have already perceived that this autumn (2017) plants are growing at an astounding rate, much faster than normal during October. In non-technical terms and without going into the complications of plant chemistry, we can safely say that CO2 combined with water is acting in a similar way inside plants as a fertilizer taken in by the roots. In other words you could not have chosen a better time to plant since your trees are most likely going to flourish and grow rapidly even if you do nothing else but water them.

      I have often said how to water newly planted trees. Water 3 times a week the first week, twice a week for the next two weeks and once a week for the first 2 or 3 months when rains are inadequate. Once established, a California pepper tree (Schinus molle) can survive on normal irrigation to little or none other than natural rainfall.

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