The Q&A Archives: Privacy Hedge

Questioner's Location: Summerland, CA
Date: March 17, 2003

Question: I live in a fairly new planned development. The County required black chain link fences to be covered with hedges or vines and the front gardens and common area are landscaped with California natives and draught tolerant plantings. The homes are in the Craftsman style and "clustered" around a 4 acre bunch grass preserve. The current hedge material on both sides of my rear fence is Japanese Privet. It has been there for 3.5 years and is unsatisfactory because it is very sparse at the bottom. According to the gardeners I've talked with, this was an unsuitable plant for the purpose (dense screening). The soil is heavy clay and the County required 95% compaction. So, we have poor drainage and we are on a hillside .25 miles from the ocean. I would like to have an informal hedge and I have room for perhaps two "layers" of plants in my tiny back garden. I like Silver Berry and have seen your California Laurel in a nursery here. I do not want Ficus (which my neighbor is suggesting) and would prefer not to have privet. What do you suggest?

Answer: If the Japanese privet has become sparse at the bottom, it may just need to be pruned a little differently. If the tops of hedges are allowed to become wider than the bottoms, they effectively shade out sunlight and cause the lower parts of the plant to become bare. If you prune your privet narrower on top and gradually widening to the bottom, the entire shrub will remain green. Other options for a dense screening hedge include Thuja (American arborvitae), Viburnum, Escallonia (a vigorous grower with late-summer bloom), California laurel, Nandina (heavenly bamboo) and Elaeagnus (silverberry). Good luck with your landscape!

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