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Open by Appointment Only

Tropical Vibe Nursery and Landscape Design

20321 Kline Dr
Newport Beach, CA 92660

Creating Canopy

By John Mendoza, Owner and Landscape Designer

I always get excited when the landscape design process finally reaches the plant selection stage. I am like a kid in a candy store as I walk through our nursery to review the ever-changing inventory and ideal plant selections for the landscape project. Whether my project is a new landscape creation or renovation, one of the most important and enjoyable processes for me is the selection of canopy trees. Canopy trees create a sense of time for a landscape and help to establish a theme. In tropical habitats, canopy trees create microclimates that allow other plants and animals to exist. The picture below illustrates how dense the canopy cover is in the Peruvian Amazon. This dense coverage acts like a blanket that helps to regulate temperatures, provided protection from the elements and enable ecosystems.

Below are some pictures taken during my garden tour during the Summer of 2007 that illustrate various types of canopies that I can create. Some are very dense and other are more open but all have a canopy and an understory of plants that might not otherwise survive. I also included some delightful plants that survive only because the effective establishment of their canopies.

A beautiful Ti Plant (Cordyline terminalis ‘Red Sister’) and Anthurium flourish under the canopy of the Teddy Bear Palm (Dypsis leptocheilos).

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Various palms create this dense front yard canopy that piques the interest of all those walking by. The canopy palms used in this young garden include Caryota urens, Roystinea regia, Syagrus romanzoffiana, Caryota gigas, Archontophoenix purpurea, Dypsis decaryi, and Butia capitata.


Sometimes one palm can create a canopy for an area. The Bismarck Palm below was much smaller when planted and eventually grew large enough to create a canopy coverage for the bromeliads below.

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The Caryota gigas below is a great example of an open canopy. As it emerges from the landscape it creates a sense of time and belonging to this garden. Stretching its wing-like leaves, it adds beauty and grace as well as creates a microclimate below.

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Canopies also create natural spaces for friends and families to interact when purposefully planned.

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With foresight and careful planning, a canopy around a pool area provides coverage for planters and allows plenty of sun on the pool and sunbathing areas. Along the left wall stands a row of palms including Dypsis ambositrae, Howea forsteriana and Dypsis baronii. The understory for this planter is just getting started with the addition of a few Alocasia wentiis. With the addition of a few more thoughtfully selected and placed plants, this planter will continue to come alive.

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Another example of deep canopy around a pool area – plenty of sun on the pool while creating the feeling of a tropical resort. Old Man Winter (freeze of January 2007) still left a mark on some of the canopy palms but thank God they were there. They helped save many plants below. Despite some leaf browning, this garden still looks cheerful and gregarious.

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By creating a mini-canopy in your garden, you will help your plants thrive throughout the year by providing some protection for smaller plants during the winter and filtered sun during the summers. The temperatures under the canopy can even be altered higher or lower by a few degrees depending on the season. Since I am known best for creating tropical landscapes, I am usually deciding which palms and tropical trees will be used to create the environment that my client desires. Selecting canopy trees is a very important stage in the landscaping process and well worth hiring a Landscape Designer to help steer you in the right direction or designing your complete landscape. The most common problems that I see in many landscape canopies are the lack of effective canopy trees, scale of the trees with the structures, invasive root systems, leaf litter, lack of cohesiveness with the rest of the landscape, irrigation requirements and too much redundancy in leaf shapes, color and textures. If you are trying to establish a canopy for your backyard, consider some of my favorites in the list of trees below that we typically have in stock or can order for you.

John Mendoza’s Favorite Canopy Trees

  • Archontophoenix – alexandrae var beatricae, cunninghamiana, purpurea
  • Bauhinia – blakeana
  • Bismarckia nobilis
  • Brahea – just about any specie except the smaller forms
  • Brugmansia – most species
  • Butia capitata
  • Caryota – gigas, maxima, urens, mitis (coastal areas)
  • Chamaedorea (smaller gardens) – plumosa, glaucifolia, costaricana, glaucifolia X radicalis
  • Chamaerops – humilis, humilis var. cerifera in smaller gardens
  • Chambeyronia (coastal areas) – macrocarpa, macrocarpa var. watermelon, hookeri
  • Coccothrinax miraguama
  • Coffea arabica
  • Cotinus coggygria
  • Dypsis – decaryi, leptocheilos, lutescens (coastal areas), lanceolata (coastal areas), pembana (coastal areas), sp. Mayotte Is. (coastal areas)  Enterolobium cyclocarpum
  • Gaussia – maya, attenuata  Hedyscepe canterburyana (coastal areas)
  • Howea foresteriana
  • Hyophorbe indica
  • Livistona – just about any specie
  • Phoenix – canariensis, sylvestris, rupicola, reclinata, roebellinii (smaller gardens)
  • Ravenea – glauca (smaller gardens), hildebrantdii (smaller gardens), rivularis
  • Rhopalostylis – sapida (coastal areas)
  • Roystonea – regia, oleracea, borinquena
  • Syagrus – amara, pseudococcos, botryophora, sancona, romanzoffianum, x costae
  • Schefflera puekleri
  • Schizolobium parahybum
  • Wodyetia bifurcata

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