26 September 2016

Ask RiotACT: Tall screening hedge plant

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We are looking to screen our neighbor’s two storey house as they can see into our yard and home. The problem is due to the size and location of our block we would need to plant a hedge behind a retaining wall.

The garden bed behind is about 2 feet deep by 2 feet wide (fence to wall) and several feet long. As it’s along the fence line the back half is mostly shaded. We’ve several different plants growing already but nothing that can shield us from the neighbor to that height.

Was thinking maybe the Italian cypress glauca (pencil pine)?? WDYT? Can anyone suggest another evergreen that can grow tall in our Canberra clay but not have a root system that will be invasive and cause the retaining wall to crumble? Any help would be highly appreciated to us novices!

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Southerly_views9:55 am 01 Oct 16

When we first moved in we planted pencil pines along a fence line to screen the neighbours – bad and expensive mistake! Pines have very high water needs and do not like clay anywhere around them which stunts their growth. As they grow bigger they dry and die off on the side shaded by the next tree. They were planted along the side of the house and once above staking height they grew bent over due to the wind.

Even more important – if you are in a fire zone the high sap content makes them burn like roman candles and the high flames or wind blown embers can easily set fire to the house. Our pines were removed after a few years as were our next-door neighbour’s which grew the same way.

We have subsequently planted Yuccas with rocks as groundcover (no weeds). They are very drought tolerant (no water other than rain needed), grow reasonably quickly and only require the dead leaves to be pulled off every two or three years. Their branching nature means the haphazard heads at different growing heights screen the neighbour’s walls and roof without forming a formal solid wall of vegetation. They do not need to grow much above fence height to achieve a full screening effect. They are quickly and easily trimmed only if they need it every 4-5 years. Some varieties are more frost tolerant than others, but if they are planted against the fence that will give frost protection. When you need more Yuccas simply cut off a one metre long stem and plant it in a hole where it will grow with no further care needed.

I’ve seen so many Pittosporum hedges where one plant has died leaving a gap in the hedge. In an established hedge it seems that it is near impossible to get a new plant to grow or for the plants either side to fill the gap.

My suggestion would be “Viburnum Tinus”. Dense, very hardy, reasonably fast growing, attractive foliage and flowers and very common around Canberra.


I also support Pittosporum Silver Sheen as a great screen plant. I have been progressively hedging the abode with it. I suggest planting in a trench backfilled with Corkhill’s garden mix. Mulch with 40 – 50 mm to keep weeds down and maintain soil moisture. Feed with dynamic lifter and spray with seasol when you remember and watch them leap out of the ground. And go down to the nearest arterial road and get your stakes from the political pollution.

With advise from one of the nursery’s at Pialigo I planted Bamboo. Alfonce Karr, a non evasive clumping variety. Planted 1m apart they form a think screen that is easily managed. They have a unique look and very attractive stems. They are hardy, drought tolerant once established and can tolerate frost and -11c temperatures. Maybe something to consider.

Whatever you plant, please don’t block the sun to your neighbour, especially if they are to your south.
Is it really that bad if the neighbours can see into your yard? My neighbours can not only see into my yard, but into most of my house, but I would never consider blocking their sun access.

I second pittosporum silver sheen – hardy, quick growing, attractive and versatile. Mine seem to cope with full sun and shade, though they are a bit more sparse in the shade. They have light green leaves so if you are growing them near the house, they won’t make the room feel dark the way pine trees do.

In my garden have left some to grow tall for privacy reasons and they are taller than my house, which is perfect for that spot. In other areas I have kept them trimmed.

I can recommend a hedge of pittosporum silver sheen.
They have proven to grow well in the Canberra climate, are fast growing, easy to trim, can grow high or be kept low, seem to grow in any soil, don’t have invasive roots and look good.

Your suggestion of a Pencil Pine (Cupressus sempervirens ‘Glauca’) will not give as much privacy and will be a lot slower growing.

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