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Gardening Answers Knowledgebase

Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Myrtus, Rhus, Osmanthus, Screens, Arbutus, Ceanothus

We are looking for a good screening tree/shrub that is evergreen and interesting. The plant cannot grow over 6 feet high. We have very sandy soil, western exposure, and live in the Magnolia neighborhood. We would like it to be drought tolerant as well. I found Myrtus communis (Myrtle) and Rhus (Sumac)--I am not sure which variety of sumac would be best. I found the information on these plants in the Sunset Pacific Northwest Garden Book. I would love to get your advice on these, and if you have any other ideas as well.


Because of the height limitation of your site, I suggest primarily shrubs (rather than trees) that are evergreen and drought-tolerant.

Most of the Rhus I have seen growing in Seattle is of the deciduous type, but there are several evergreen varieties, such as Rhus virens and Rhus lancea. They are natives of Texas and Baja California. They will not be as hardy as the deciduous varieties.

Myrtus communis does well in seaside gardens although it can exceed your 6 foot height limit, reaching 10 feet or more (according to W. J. Bean, Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles, 8th ed., John Murray, 1973 and Top-Rated Evergreen Shrubs, Golden Press, 1983). The dwarf variety Myrtus communis 'Compacta,' would be too low-growing to act as a screen.

I would suggest Osmanthus delavayi, which has small, glossy dark green leaves, and very fragrant white flowers in March. It can eventually grow to 8 feet, but is easily maintained as a hedge or screen (see the website Great Plant Picks for pictures and information).
Other ideas would be Arbutus unedo 'Compacta' (Strawberry Tree). Or you could try Ceanothus concha, which has small dark green leaves and blue flowers. The California nursery Las Pilitas has information about this and other varieties of Ceanothus.

You may also wish to come to the Miller Library and browse the many illustrated books on shrubs and trees.

Date 2017-09-27
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May 31 2018 13:14:08