Big Trees at Home


December’s Hachiya persimmons on a tall urban tree. Photo credit

By Joshua Berman Thayer
Here in the East Bay, many of us live within the confines of an urban grid. If we have space to landscape, it’s likely to be a quarter acre at most. How can we make these small urban lots produce abundant organic produce? The answer might be to fill in the gaps. It’s something to do over time while learning which plants can co-exist in your setting. 

Let’s focus on the property line that has the most potential, the northern edge. Here in the northern hemisphere, mid-day shade is cast to the north of an object. As such, it is unwise to plant many tall perennial food plants in the middle of a small lot, since the shade they cast will change the total solar capture of the site. 

The northern edge of a property allows for nearly unchecked vertical growth without impeding light-harvesting capacity. Further, cold northern winds can be reduced by a tall buttress of biomass growing sky high on our northern boundary.

Design questions to ask:

  1. How big and wide will these tall elements grow?
  2. Will my neighbors be concerned about having light blocked from their property?
  3. Are there unsightly elements that could be blocked from my own view with a strategically placed tall element?

Joshua’s List of Tall East Bay Fruit Trees:

Haas avocado: This Guatemalan evergreen tree grows to 30 feet tall and can achieve a robust 15–20 feet in width. Note that you’ll want to plant two or more for pollination, unless there are other avocado trees growing nearby.
Persimmon: This deciduous tree from Asia provides beautiful and delicious orange-colored fruits. Visually, the tree offers loads of interest with its gorgeous bark and striking appearance in late autumn/ early winter when the leaves fall and the orange fruits are left hanging on the tree. It grows to 15–20 feet tall and 10–15 feet wide.
Black Mission fig: This lovely Mediterranean tree of life feeds humans, mammals, birds, and bugs! Flexible and mutable, it can be shaped to any dimensions you choose, but left to grow naturally, it generally achieves a spherical shape of around 15 by 15 feet.

Satsuma plum: This lovely deciduous Japanese cultivar provides delicious fruit, gorgeous bark, and lush leaves. It grows to about 15 feet tall and 12 feet wide.

For more interest on the northern edge, add these habitat plants underneath the above-mentioned production tree overstory:
Ribes sanguineum: pink flowering currant
Ceanothus Dark Star
Penstemon margarita
Want to learn more creating a home ecosystem of edible perennials in your yard? Read Joshua’s story in our current issue: here

This Oakland property line includes persimmon, pomegranate, plum, and citrus edible hedge
with habitat underneath. Photo: Joshua Berman Thayer

This Gardeners Notebook is one of Joshua Burman Thayer’s monthly columns for this newsletter, East Bay Appetizer. His longer articles for Edible East Bay’s print magazine are archived at Check out his design site: