Category Archives: screening plants

When You Need to Screen

The first “landscape emergency” call came from a homeowner in the Felton Grove neighborhood. She lost 100 feet of fencing this winter during four separate floods. ” I need plants to screen the new wire fencing from the road and I need it fast,” she said.

The next call came from Boulder Creek. A row of pesky acacias had recently been cut down exposing the house to road traffic. This homeowner wanted plants that would fill in quickly, be low maintenance and have low water requirements. Every landscape situation calls for a different solution and there’s one for every garden.

Coleonema- Pink Breath of Heaven

When you plant new shrubs that you plan to turn into a hedge, know what to expect and then let each plant develop in its own way rather than trying to make it into something its not. Any plant can be pruned and trained into any shape but that creates more work than if you selected shrubs than naturally grow into a form that pleases you.

Good shrubs for screening that naturally stay between 6-15 feet include California natives such as ceanothus ‘Concha’ or “Julia Phelps’, California coffeeberry and mahonia. Other good performers are westringia ‘Wynabbie Gem’, New Zealand tea tree, oleander, pittosporum ‘Marjorie Channon’, purple hopseed and escallonia.

Many times a screen may start in the sun but end up in mostly shade. For your sunnier spots why not mix in a few dwarf fruit trees to enjoy, ceanothus and Pacific wax myrtle for the birds, barberry for the beautiful foliage and fall color, spirea, rockrose, escallonia and quince for their bright flowers and fragrant lilacs for cutting in the spring?

Prostanthera o, ‘Variegata’

The shadier side can include Oregon grape for fragrant, yellow winter flowers, snowberry for those striking white berries in the fall, oak-leaf hydrangea, viburnum and native mock orange for blossoms in the spring. Loropetalum have beautiful flowers and burgundy foliage while variegated mint bush ( prostanthera o. ‘Variegata’) sport lovely purple flowers and fragrant foliage. Mixed hedges appeal to bees, butterflies and songbirds while also providing flowers, berries and color throughout the year for you to enjoy.

Bare spots in a hedge are caused by old age and repeated shearing without allowing the hedge to grow. The problem can be alleviated by cutting away dead twigs, branch by branch and then shearing outside the last cut next time you prune.

To keep down maintenance, mulch around your plants and install drip irrigation. There won’t be any pruning to do if you choose plants that grow to the height you want.

Purple hopseed

How close should you plant a mixed hedge? Depending on the mature size of the plant, spacing could be from 3-5 feet part If you want a quick, thick screen.This gives them room to breathe and develop their own shapes. Fast growing plants can be space 5-6 feet apart or more and will usually fill in within 5 years.

Provide the best growing environment for the fastest results. By this I mean amending the soil at planting time if your soil is not very fertile. Cover the soil with mulch and fertilize with compost or organic fertilizer. Water deeply when needed especially during the first three years when young plants put on a lot of growth. Formal hedges are fine for some gardens but think of all the added benefits you’ll get planting a mixed hedge.

 

Screen the Neighbors with Low Water-Use Plants

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ribes sanguineum

We all enjoy privacy around our homes. Even if you’re best friends with your neighbor you don’t always want to wave at them each morning in your robe. Whether you have a property tucked way back in the forest with a next door neighbor that looks right down on your deck or a postage stamp size lot that could be an jewel if you just had a screen between you and the next property, there are techniques designers use to make your home a private oasis.

azara_denata-flowers
azara microphylla

Narrow spaces can be challenging when you need to screen the house next door. There’s not room for a big, evergreen tree or hedge to solve the problem. One way is to use plants that can be espaliered against a fence or trellis. Some plants like azara microphylla naturally grow flat without much coaxing on your part. This small dainty tree is fast growing and reaches 15-25 ft tall. The yellow flower clusters will fill your garden with the scent of white chocolate in late winter. They are ideal between structures. I’ve used the variegated version to screen a shower and it’s working great.

Another small tree, the Compact Carolina cherry laurel can be espaliered also in a narrow space if needed. It grows 10 ft tall but that may be all you need to screen the neighbor. They are drought tolerant once established, deer resistant and the perfect host for birds, bees and butterflies. The leaves smell like cherries when crushed which gives this plant it’s common name.

A dwarf tree that also works nicely in this situation is a Southern magnolia called Little Gem. Naturally a very compact narrow tree it grows to 20-30 ft tall but only 10-15 ft wide. It can be trained as an espalier against a wall or fence and the sweetly scented flowers will fill your garden with fragrance.

Other small trees that make a good screen are purple hopseed, and leptospermum ‘Dark Shadows’. Both have beautiful burgundy foliage. California natives that can be espaliered against a fence include Santa Cruz Island ironwood, Western redbud, mountain mahogany, toyon, pink flowering currant, Oregon grape and spicebush.

If you have a wider space to grow screening plants, one of my favorites is Pacific wax myrtle. This California native grows quickly to 30 ft tall with glossy, rich forest green leaves. Its dense branches make a nice visual and noise screen for just about anything or anybody. I’ve never used the subtle spicy leaves for flavoring sauces but I might try it next time a recipe calls for bay leaves. Best of all the fragrant waxy purplish brown fruits attract many kinds of birds.

Italian buckthorn is another evergreen screening shrub to consider. It reaches about 15 feet tall by 6-8 ft wide and has low water needs. It can grow 2-3 feet in its first few years making a quick screen. There’s a variegated version with stunning foliage that looks awesome mixed with the green variety in a hedge.

Another favorite hedge plant, the California coffeeberry grows 6-8 feet tall and gets by with very little summer water once established. Birds love the berries.

I also like osmanthus fragrans for a screen with a sweet scent and pittosporum ‘Marjorie Channon’ or ‘Silver Sheen’ with their showy variegated foliage.

If it’s just not practical to screen the perimeter of your property redirect your line of sight to keep attention focused on the garden instead of on the landscape beyond. A recirculating fountain as simple as an urn spilling onto cobbles at the base can disguise noise and become the focal point. There are lots of ways to add privacy to your home.