Pepper Trees

Gardening Question From Glennis:

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.

Answer From Pat:

Yes these are California pepper trees and they look wonderful. The last thing I would do would be to cut them down—it would be a tragedy, but if I were you i would have your sewer pipes roto-rooted and then lined to the street. This is one of the most worthwhile expenses I ever did. I lined my sewer lines down to the street. (You can take out a small loan to cover the expense, if necessary.) Then you will have no more roots and no more problems or worries. My incoming water line comes a different way. Down a steep hill and it goes past many trees with invasive roots. It is copper and has never ever been a problem for 60 years. 

I would also hire an arborist to advise you of a good pruning company and have those pepper trees pruned about every 5 years in either fall or spring. (Ask your local UC Extension and the Master Gardeners to recommend to you an arborist for his advice on this.) Pepper trees can live to be hundreds of years old so take care of them and line those pipes! NEVER over-prune your pepper trees since they are subject to attack by shot-hole beetle. It would be better not to prune at all than to weaken them. 


Photo by kla4067


  1. Thank you so much, Pat. Your input and recommendations are invaluable to us! I so appreciate your taking the time out of your busy schedule to address my question.

  2. Actually this is more of a suggestion of the inquiries about what to grow under a Pepper tree. I like to ask this question myself once in a while. I have had this “problem” for over 30 years in the front yard of my house. I have had some success with allysums. When they drop seeds and they pop up after a while can transplant to more spots under tree. This way is economical and earth friendly. One issue I have found out is in my exasperation with all the peppers and leaves to rake I get too aggressive and take the alyssums with the raking. (Ha) So be careful with new plants. And unfortunately esp. in So Cal where I live have to water more in the beginning.
    Thank you for your time and an informative new website for me to learn.

    sorry I forgot to mention it is easy to trim, mow, (they come back) and clean up under the alyssums just be gentle.

    • Good point! Once again thanks for comment. When I was young I lived in Claremont Ca with my husband and children and I went back and taught ancient history as the graduate assistant in Freshman Humanities at the college from which I had graduated (Scripps College.) The woman who owned our rented house asked me not to plant a lawn. Sweet alyssum grew instead. I mowed it and watered it by hand, some birds added grass seeds and our landlady accused me of having planted a lawn against her wishes. I explained that nature had done it and I had merely mown it. She was very understanding but it was a funny situation, since for me everything grew and even the weeds cooperated and became a garden.

  3. Los Angeles has a tree program. City can provide up to 9 trees per household. City provides list of available trees and you choose from the selection. The owner is responsible to plant trees, water, etc.

    I choose 3 pepper tree (have no idea if trees are Californian type or Brazilian type). Unfortunately, I learned only today the planting recommendations. The delivered trees were about 4′ height and the trunks thickness about 3/8″. Trees were supported by posts of about 1″ x 1″. The tree were planted 6 months ago. They grew up very quickly. By now, the trees are about 7-8′ height, but the trunks diameter is about the same -1/2″. I continue to raise up the trunk support.
    My questions:
    1. Why tree trunk is still low in diameter and flexible? Is it OK?
    2. For what height tree truck needs support?

    Thank you in advance.

    • Your question is excellent since the answer might help many people. It sounds as if the City of Los Angeles failed to provide you with adequate information on how to plant trees and how to care of trees after planting. No, it is not a good thing that your trees have failed to grow a good strong trunk but luckily this problem can be corrected. The reason most likely that the trunks of your trees failed to grow thick and strong is that they were too tightly tied to stakes and failed to move in the wind.

      When young trees are sold, very often they will have a stake tightly tied with green plastic ties to the trunk of the tree. After planting the tree in the ground, the first thing to do is to cut off the green plastic ties and remove the stake. This is because a young tree needs to flex in the wind in order to develop a strong trunk. However, unless the sapling is planted in a very sheltered spot it most likely will need some kind of staking. Most garden supply stores sell tree staking systems that come with instructions but you can make your own. In order to stake a tree properly, one needs to drive two stakes in the ground on opposite sides of the tree and at least three feet away from the tree. Then loop a rubber tree tie around the tree and tie wires from the tree to the stake. (Do not put wire around the trunk since this will damage the bark.) Make the wires loose so that
      when a tree has been planted in the ground it will be able to flex back and forth in the wind. As the tree grows, remove the stakes or enlarge the staking system always allowing the tree to move back and forth but not blow over in a strong wind. Another important thing to know is not to prune off the lower branches too early since they help strengthen the trunk while the tree is young.

      Since your trees did not receive proper staking when they were planted, be sure to do this now. You will need to hammer very strong stakes in the ground and use three instead of two. If you want, you can use hunks of old garden hose to surround the tree trunk and thread the wires through these loops which you should place above the lowest branch to hold them up. Then tie the wires to the stakes that are driven into the ground most likely 6 or 8 feet away from the tree trunk depending how big your trees now are. Check that the wires are loose enough so the trunk can move back and forth in the wind. I am sure this will make your tree trunks eventually grow strong. Also you can lightly prune off some of the foliage so the tree is not quite as top-heavy.

      You said you don’t know which pepper tree you have. They are undoubtedly Peruvian pepper trees (Schinus molle) often called California pepper trees because the Brazilian pepper tree is invasive and prone to sucker.

      If you go to the internet and look for the words “how to stake a newly planted tree” you can find pictures of this process, but at this stage you need low stakes hammered into the ground since tall stakes would not be strong enough to hold up your trees in strong winds. Don’t worry too much about your trees since I once saw about 50 California pepper trees planted next to a road and all of them were staked too tightly and had thin trunks. I drove past them the other day for the first time in several years and they are now large trees with thick trunks, despite the fact that I could see some of them had grown into crookedly when young due to improper staking.

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