Contemporary residences built on ever shrinking lots present their owners with visual challenges. Ideally most homeowners would like their home to appear as if it were built in a clearing in a forest. To accomplish this you must be able to screen the roofs and chimneys of the surrounding homes, or at least block your neighbors view into your garden from their 2nd story windows and balconies. We would also like to hide or at least soften the perimeter and house walls. All of the above without consuming too much valuable garden space.
First we need to determine the heights of objects we are trying to hide. Assume a contemporary 2-story home. The rooftop and chimney are a bit less than 30’ tall. The upper story eaves are less than 20’. The eye-level of a neighbor looking out their upstairs window is less than 16’. Perimeter walls are 6’ or less.
Consider that from ground level a 10’ tall screen may be adequate to hide a 25’ tall building from your own viewpoint.
Generally the final result is better if the plants are set close together rather than too far apart. If working with a set budget it is better to purchase a greater number of smaller plants than a smaller number of more mature plants.
On the following lists note that some plants appear more than once and many can be trained for several different uses.
Borders (below the knee)
Ablia grandiflora ‘Kaleidoscope’ The small variegated leaves show rose, pink, yellow and green. Average water.
Berberis thunbergii Japanese Barberry Beautiful, but deciduous. Nearly invisible spines make a great barrier. Average water.
Buxus japonica ‘Green Beauty’ Japanese Boxwood This classic can be difficult in heavy soils. Average water.
Carissa grandiflora ‘Boxwood Beauty’ Dwarf Natal Plum Thrives with heat and tolerates drought.
Euonymus japonica ‘Microphylla’, E. j. ‘Microphylla Variegata’ and E.j. ‘Butterscotch’ Boxleaf Euonymus Highly recommended and easy-to-grow. The green version is the lowest maintenance. Average water.
Ligustrum ‘Texanum’ Wax-leaf Privet Very common generic bush that is bullet-proof. Average water.
Myrtus communis ‘Compacta’ Dwarf Myrtle Classic Mediterranean hedge with fine textured foliage grows best in well-drained soils. Tolerates some drought.
Nandina domestica ‘Nana Purpurea’ Dwarf Heavenly Bamboo Best in part shade to nearly full shade. Beautiful range of foliage colors. Average water.
Pittosporum tobira ‘Wheeler’s Dwarf’ & P. t. ‘Crème de Menthe’ Very tight foliage looks good in full sun, but fabulous in light shade. Average water.
Punica granatum ‘Nana’ Dwarf Pomegranate Unlike the species this dwarf variety is often evergreen and makes plenty of beautiful orange flowers followed by small fruit. Average water.
Raphiolepis indica ‘Ballerina’ India Hawthorn Common greenbelt bush blooms pink in spring. Average water.
Cupressocyparis leylandii Cypress This conifer grows quickly but often suffers from Cypress Canker Disease that is often fatal. This Cypress is more successful when planted on the coast or in a well irrigated lawn.
Nerium Oleander This beautiful, tropical blooming bush has been succumbing to Oleander Scorch an incurable disease.
Compared to screens, the plants in a hedge should be close together, closer for short hedges. Recommended spacing is roughly as follows:
1-foot high hedge place plants 6” on center (O.C.)
First Year Keep plants well irrigated and fertilized. (Irrigation can be restricted after plants reach desired size and form.) Make certain that the foliage is wider toward the bottom of the plant so that all parts receive good light. If bottom branches are shaded they may become bare.
Second Year Trim plants severely in late winter, cutting off about half of last year’s growth, before spring growth begins. This will encourage more side branches. Shear sides and top monthly or when required to maintain form. Screens typically require trimming only once or twice per year.
Third Year Continue shearing at regular intervals to maintain form.
Later Years Eventually shearing to the same size will create knots of small branches. Every so many years the hedge will require a slightly more severe pruning to eliminate the knots.
Renovation If the hedge is damaged or large gaps become a problem the plants often respond well to renovation. This involves cutting the plants to within a few inches of the ground either in late winter or early summer and retraining the vigorous new growth.