Garden Q&A: Few evergreens make good 'fence'
Question: We are considering planting a privacy row of bushes, but we have a problem with wind. What can we plant that will withstand heavy winter winds?
Answer: Fencing would be my first choice. A fence is a fairly wind-proof, instant screen. You don't have to water it and installing a few panels of privacy fence isn't that expensive.
But I understand that you probably want something green. Perhaps you would consider combining the two? Put up a fence, then locate some plants on your side of it, or cover the fence with some hearty vines.
If a fence is not an option, there are a few plants that would work. If you don't necessarily need something evergreen, consider using taller ornamental grasses like maiden grass or switch grass. They are tough as nails and easy to maintain.
Good evergreen choices for screening in full sun are not as plentiful as many people would hope. That being said, one of my favorite evergreens is perfectly suited to such a situation. The Leyland cypress (X Cupressocyparis leylandii) is a great option, growing a reported 3 to 4 feet per season and retaining a lovely pyramidal shape even with no pruning at all. Leyland cypress has a beautiful form and loose, feathery foliage. Remember, though, that this will grow into a very large tree — up to 70 feet tall and 15 feet wide. Give each specimen plenty of room and don't located it under electrical wires or near foundations.
Probably the toughest evergreen for privacy planting is Thuja “Green Giant.” It is reportedly resistant to bagworms and is very tolerant of lousy soils. It will need to be staked with a heavy metal stake for the first two or three winters until the roots become established and can withstand the high winds. This cultivar grows 3 to 5 feet per year to an eventual unpruned height of 50 feet. “Green Giant's” foliage is a dark, lush green and quite soft to the touch. It has a very nice fragrance when disturbed and is fairly tolerant of heavy snow and ice loads.
A third, shorter, choice is Japanese holly ( Ilex japonica). The dark green, spiny leaves are beautiful, but the plant is not deer-proof. If you want berries, you'll have to plant one male plant for every five to six females. They can be pruned every few years if necessary to keep their growth lush and reasonably compact. Various cultivars grow anywhere from 3 feet to 12 feet in height, so pay attention to mature height when selecting the best variety for your garden.
No matter what plant you choose, be sure to keep them well watered for the first year or two after planting, and allow them plenty of room to grow. These plants are widely available at local garden centers in pot sizes ranging from one to 5 gallons.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Grow Organic” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.
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