Elisabeth C. Miller Library

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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Thamnocalamus, Fargesia, Borinda, Screens, Bamboo

I would like to have some bamboo planted in my backyard for privacy. However, I am uncertain as to which species will work the best. The planting area will be about 8 feet by 2 feet near a wooden fence. The area does get some sun but is mostly shady. I am looking for bamboo that is fast growing but not invasive. I want it to grow upwardly fast (no more than 30 feet) but I don't want it to invade my neighbor's property on the other side of the fence. Could you recommend at least three different bamboo species that would work for this area?


In the December 2005 issue of Horticulture magazine, local author Val Easton recommends a number of different clumping bamboos. (You should choose clumping rather than running bamboo for your privacy screen, as they will not be likely to invade your neighbor's property.)

Here are three recommendations from her article:
Borinda macclureana - hardy to USDA Zone 7 part sun, 12 - 20 feet tall
Fargesia robusta - hardy to USDA Zone 6, dense erect to 16 feet
Thamnocalamus tessellatus - hardy to USDA Zone 7 upright to 16 feet

Local gardening expert Ciscoe Morris recommends Chusquea culeou and several species of Fargesia in his book Ask Ciscoe.

This article from Horticulture Magazine (May 2007) also has a good list of clumping bamboo:

  • Chusquea culeou
  • Fargesia robusta 'Wolong'
  • Borinda angustissima
  • Thamnocalamus crassinodus
  • Fargesia murielae
  • Thamnocalamus tessellatus
  • Borinda boliana
  • Chusquea culeo 'Cana Prieta'
  • Fargesia nitida

You might try the following two nurseries for availability: the Bamboo Garden Nursery and Beauty and the Bamboo.

Date 2018-04-21
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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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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Pyracantha, Screens, Thuja, Hedges

What shrubs or trees will grow quickly to provide a privacy screen above the 6 foot fence between me and my neighbor? My back yard is only about 20 feet from house to fence, and the first 10 feet is a concrete patio.


The classic fast-growing evergreens for hedges are Thuja 'Green Giant' or Leyland cypress (x Cupressocyparis leylandii), but they are a bit boring and because they grow so fast (1-3 ft/yr) it can be a big chore to keep them at a reasonable height. These trees do not stop at 8 feet, but could get to 30-50 feet.

Another fast evergreen is Pyracantha (Pyracantha crenatoserrata to ~8 feet). It is a shrub, but is easily trained/pruned to grow flat. In the past Forestfarm nursery in Oregon has sold both of these, as do most large nurseries. Be aware, however, that this shrub has fierce thorns!

Various types of bamboo could be an option for a fast screen, but plants may be expensive and running bamboo species MUST have a root barrier installed.

Date 2017-06-09
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Screens, Cedrus

I need a large tree for privacy and would like it to be fast growing here in Seattle. I would not like it to be much more than 15 feet wide at maturity but the height doesn't matter, also evergreen. Would an Incense cedar grow fast?


In addition to Calocedrus decurrens (Incense Cedar), you might also consider Podocarpus or Cryptomeria.

You may want to consult the locally created web pages of Great Plant Picks, and see which evergreen trees they recommend for our area. This is their list of conifers, and here is the information on Incense Cedar.

Incidentally, Great Plant Picks says that Incense Cedar does make a good screening plant. They claim it will mature at 35-40 feet tall in garden conditions (as opposed to in the wild), and about 10 to 12 feet wide, so your original idea of planting this tree sounds like a good one.

Date 2018-08-16
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Screens, Thuja, Juniperus, Viburnum, Hedges, Ceanothus

I will be having a very overgrown, rarely pruned laurel removed from my back garden. It has been, if a monstrosity, an effective visual screen. The bare area that it leaves is appproximately 40' in length, is atop a rockery, approximately 3' high, and will look up into the neighbor's back hillside, while they peer down at us in dismay. Can you suggest one or several fast growing, shrubby plants or suitable trees that will act as an attractive visual screen? I do not want bamboo.


Here are a few ideas:

Morella californica

Thuja occidentalis 'Smaragd'

Osmanthus delavayi is also a good choice, but it doesn't get quite tall enough--my own hedge, which is pruned at least twice a year, is about 8 feet tall, so if I really let it go, maybe it would be 10-12 feet.

Juniperus scopulorum 'Wichita Blue'

Juniperus virginiana 'Manhattan Blue'

Viburnum tinus

Ceanothus would also be striking, with blue flowers, but you'd need to find the tallest possible species, and they tend to be short lived.

You could plant a mixed hedgerow, which would allow you to include some of the flowering plants you prefer. King Conservation District has more information on hedgerows.

Date 2018-06-22
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Berberis, Trachelospermum, Euonymus, Taxus baccata, Screens, Thuja, Nandina domestica, Hydrangea, Ilex, Hedges, Clematis, Buxus, Bamboo

Could you recommend some plants for a privacy screen that are also narrow? These would be planted in front of a fence in our backyard.


Here is some general information on plants for creating a screen.

Trees for Problem Landscape Sites -- Screening from Virginia Cooperative Extension

Good Hedges Make Good Neighbors from the Humane Society

Bet on Hedges by local garden writer Valerie Easton.

Here is a list of narrow plants for a screen from local garden designer Chris Pfeiffer:

Fastigiate shrubs for naturally narrow hedges. Compiled by Chris Pfeiffer. 2005.

Zones 5-6:

American arborvitae 'Rheingold' (Thuja occidentalis 'Rheingold') 5'h x 3'w

Barberry 'Helmond Pillar' (Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea 'Helmond Pillar') 6'h x 2'w

Boxwood 'Graham Blandy' (Buxus sempervirens 'Graham Blandy') 8'h x 1-1/2' w

English yew 'Standishii' (Taxus baccata 'Standishii') 4'h x 1-1/2' w

Irish yew (Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata') 20' h x 4' w

Japanese holly Jersey pinnacle (Ilex crenata 'Jersey Pinnacle') 6' h x 4' w

Japanese holly Mariesii (Ilex crenata 'Mariesii') 3' h x 1-1/2' w

Zones 7-9, in addition to the above:

Dwarf yeddo rhaphiolepis (Rhaphiolepis umbellata Gulf GreenTM) 3-4' h x 2' w

Heavenly bamboo 'Gulf Stream' (Nandina domestica 'Gulf Stream') 4' h x 2' w

Japanese euonymus 'Green Spire' (Euonymus japonicus 'Green Spire') 15' h x 6' w

You might also consider installing a trellis to increase the height of the fence, and then growing an evergreen vine such as Clematis armandii, evergreen hydrangea (Hydrangea seemanii), or star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides).

This link is also helpful (scroll down to "Evergreen Vines" and look for appropriate height and light requirements).

You could grow bamboo, but I would recommend growing it in a container, or a series of containers, as you do not want the roots to spread. I have seen an effective bamboo screen between two houses growing in a long rectangular lined wooden trough (lined with bamboo barrier). Some species of bamboo are more tolerant of partial shade than others. Look for a clumping, rather than a running, bamboo (like Fargesia) to be on the safe side.

Growing Bamboo in Georgia

Running and Clumping Bamboos

Bamboos for hedges or tall privacy screens

Date 2018-04-11
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Morella californica, Arbutus unedo, Trachelospermum, Osmanthus, Native plants--Washington, Screens, Wisteria, Viburnum

A friend asked me about screening two large propane tanks that, unfortunately, have had to be placed in front of their home on Camano Island. She mentioned wisteria to me and I shuddered. I've seen this plant do a lot of damage to trellis and home alike. Can you recommend, instead, an evergreen solution to this problem?


I am not familiar with the size and shape of propane tanks, but perhaps evergreen shrubs might work to screen them. A concern would be the proximity to the house, and any needed clearance for paths, doorways, and windows. I think you are right to avoid Wisteria. Does your friend prefer the idea of planting vines, or would shrubs be acceptable?

Here are a few suggestions for evergreen shrubs, with links from the local web site, Great Plant Picks:

Some good information is also available about plants for screening (from Virginia Cooperative Extension) and vines, especially evergreen vines such as Trachelospermum jasminoides, which might be a good solution. Local garden writer Valerie Easton on has written helpfully about hedges, as well.

Date 2018-09-29
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