7 Excellent Screening Hedges/Trees

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Ficus Nitida
Ficus Nitida

Ficus Nitida and Ficus Benjamina are not the solution.

Whenever a client asks about installing a hedge they’re usually thinking of planting a row using Ficus Nitida (Retusa) or Benjamina.  They have been Southern California’s “go to” trees for privacy hedges for decades, but there are a number of reasons to pass them by. They can be very invasive and their roots grow close to the surface, damaging sidewalks. While they grow fast, they need frequent trimming and are not drought-toelerant. They require a substantial amount of water to establish and a moderate amount once established.

What follows is information on seven excellent hedges provided by the  North Park Nursery. If you’re thinking about adding a hedge and are concerned about how it will behave and how much water it will consume, here is valuable information about the best plant material for the job.

Best Screening Trees

What makes the the perfect screening shrub? The answer to this question may vary depending on the individual, but. generally, the desirable characteristics are as follows:

  • Between 15 and 20 feet tall.
  • Evergreen and dense.
  • Tolerant of full sun.
  • Fast-growing.
  • Low maintenance, particularly low water use.
  • Non-invasive.

Podocarpus, fern pine, yew pine, yellow wood, Japanese yew

Podocarpus-Screening-Hedge
Podocarpus-Screening-Hedge

Scientific Name: Podocarpus sp.
Height: 50 to 100 ft
Sun: Part shade to full sun
Water: Low to moderate
Description: One of the tallest trees on this list, we love podocarpus because it is an extremely resilient, fast-growing tree that is tolerant of full sun and low water. It can also stand part shade and holds up against windy, salty, coastal conditions. In addition, it responds well to pruning and shearing, meaning it can be managed at any height and made into a formal hedge. Of course, you can always choose to leave these trees in their natural form for a more organic appearance. There are a few varieties to choose from, including P. henkelii, which has long, slender and drooping leaves, P. gracilior, with fern-like foliage and P. gracilior, which has pine-like foliage and can be found in a variety called ‘Icee Blue,’ which has fabulous steel blue coloration.

Pittosporum, kohuhu, ‘Silver Sheen’

Pittosporum-Tenuifolium-Screening-Hedge
Pittosporum-Tenuifolium-Screening-Hedge

Scientific Name: Podocarpus tenuifolium
Height: 20 to 30 ft
Sun: Part shade to full sun
Water: Low
Description: Pittosporum tenuifolium is a drought-tolerant New Zealand native that makes an excellent screening shrub here in Southern California. It tolerates full to part sun and can be either sheared into a more dense formal hedge or allowed to assume a natural, upright and wispy form. The most popular cultivar for use in home landscaping is ‘Silver Sheen,’ named for the grey-green tops and white undersides of its small leaves, which appear to flicker when caught in a breeze. The dark stems on this variety make it a striking choice indeed. Other varieties include ‘Gold Star,’ ‘Gold Sheen,’ ‘Marjorie Channon’ and ‘Irene Patterson,’ which come in different shades of green, variegated or otherwise, with bright red to deep black stems.

California Bayberry, California Wax Myrtle, Pacific Wax Myrtle

Pacific-Wax-Myrtle-Screening-Hedge
Pacific-Wax-Myrtle-Screening-Hedge

Scientific Name: Myrica californica
Height: 15 to 30 ft
Sun: Part shade to full sun
Water: Moderate
Description: A shrub native to the West Coast from Washington to Southern California, it has slightly fragrant, evergreen leaves. Best used along the coast, it is tolerant of sandy, loamy and clay soils, high winds and salt spray, making it an excellent windbreak along the coast. Needs some protection from sun and supplemental water when used further inland. Beautiful natural form, does not tolerate shearing.

Privet, wax leaf privet

Ligustrum-Texanum-Screening-Hedge
Ligustrum-Texanum-Screening-Hedge

Scientific Name: Ligustrum japonicum ‘Texanum’
Height: 8 to 10 ft
Sun: Part shade to full sun
Water: Moderate
Description:  Many gardeners are averse to planting privet because it has a reputation as being invasive and aggressive. However, in spite of these characteristics it makes an almost perfect hedge: fast growing, dense, evergreen foliage, tolerant of shearing with profuse white flowers. We recommend choosing the cultivar ‘Texanum,’ which is a less aggressive variety that only grows to half the size of the species. Will .ppreciate supplemental watering during the warmer months.

Spartan juniper

Juniper-Spartan-Screening-Hedge
Juniper-Spartan-Screening-Hedge

Scientific Name: Juniperus chinensis ‘Spartan’
Height: 10 to 15 ft
Sun: Full sun
Water: Low
Description: There are many species of vertical-growing juniper that make excellent wind breaks and privacy screens. ‘Spartan’ is a cultivar we love for its moderate height, vertical form and rich green foliage. It is very responsive to pruning, and tolerant of heat, cold, wind and drought. Requires very little maintenance once established. Other similar choices are Juniper ‘Skyrocket’ and Cupressus sempervirens ‘Tiny Tower.’

Bamboo

Alphonse-Karr-Bamboo-Screening-Hedge
Alphonse-Karr-Bamboo-Screening-Hedge

Scientific Name: Bambusa sp.
Height: 15 to 30 ft
Sun: Part shade to full sun
Water: Moderate
Description: Bamboo is an excellent choice for a fast-growing, tall privacy screen with a tropical look. We recommend choosing clumping varieties that will not invade the rest of your yard – a favorite is the cultivar ‘Alphonse Karr,’ which has beautiful golden yellow stems and can be maintained at whatever height you desire with occasional pruning. Note that bamboo is a messy plant and tends to drop lots of leaves.

Bay laurel, sweet bay

Laurus-Nobilis-Screening-Hedge
Laurus-Nobilis-Screening-Hedge

Scientific Name: Laurus nobilis
Height: 15 to 25 ft
Sun: Part shade to full sun
Water: Low
Description: Similar in appearance to privet but lacking flowers, bay laurel is a slower-growing, less-aggressive shrub that can be sheared into a formal hedge and is tolerant of full sun and low water. Very low maintenance and can be allowed to assume its natural form for an organic look.

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