Question of the Week – Number 2: November 25, 2021

“Neil, I need a tall screen along the edge of my property. What would you suggest? Are bamboo and redtips options?”

This question actually came up three times on my radio programs in recent weeks. (I added the bamboo and redtip portions in case anyone might wonder.)

One caller needed a tall, dense evergreen to filter out the noise of a busy highway (Interstate) next to his property. It seemed the state had put a major water line through and had taken out a lot of his trees in the process. Another caller had neighbors uphill from his house and just didn’t want them peering down into his yard. The third man had heard the other answers, but he is planning on developing an RV park on property he owns. He asked about pines I might recommend for the North Texas area. (Where pines don’t exactly thrive.)

For larger rural areas, especially where eastern redcedars (Juniperus virginiana and other junipers) are native, they would be my suggestion. They grow to 35 feet tall and 30 feet wide. They look natural, and they’ve already proven their adaptability to those locales.

Eastern redcedar has become a “go-to” screening plant in the past 20 years.

If you’re trying to keep things looking unplanned and natural I always suggest planting in irregular spacings 18 to 22 feet apart instead of straight rows. By zig-zagging the plantings you can actually break the lines of sight and sound more quickly than if you plant in one unnaturally straight line.

Live oak provides a nice variation if you want a spreading, dense evergreen tree for sound deadening along a major highway. As you can see, it requires substantial ground space, however.

For anyone who wants a second tree species mixed in with the redcedars I would suggest live oaks. They commonly grow in the same settings as junipers and they’re also evergreen. Again, give them ample room (50 to 60 feet of ground space). They are the widest-spreading trees we have here in Texas.

It should be noted that some live oaks were damaged by the extreme cold of February, 2021. They are still outstanding landscaping choices, however.

Continued Below

For a smaller space…
If you have an urban lot but you still need privacy and a plant that will grow to be 15 to 20 feet tall, my first choice would be Nellie R. Stevens hollies. Space them 12 feet apart. They’re good in sun or shade, and they bear large red fruit all winter each year.

Nellie R. Stevens holly in the Sperry backyard provides accent and screening. This plant is 16 feet tall and will ultimately grow to be taller.

If you need something just a little bit shorter I’d go with Willowleaf holly (a.k.a. ‘Needlepoint’ holly) or waxleaf ligustrum. Each of those will grow to 8 to 10 feet tall. Space them 7 or 8 feet apart. Waxleaf ligustrums, unlike their cousins Japanese and Amur River privets, are not invasive. They grow best in full or partial sun. Waxleaf ligustrums were hurt by last February’s cold, but could still be considered. Willowleaf hollies are probably a better choice, and they will do well in sun or shade.

Willowleaf holly has topped out at 9 or 10 feet tall and wide. It’s equal to Nellie R. Stevens in dependability, just on a somewhat more compact frame.
Waxleaf ligustrum has seen a resurgence in its popularity in recent years. This use as a landscape screen is an outstanding example. However, it needs to be noted again that waxleaf ligustrums were damaged by the cold of February, 2021. Hollies are more dependable in northern parts of the state.

Two plants to avoid…

Golden bamboo was planted behind eastern redcedar junipers, and it has now almost completely crowded and killed it out. It’s in the power lines, and it’s starting to spread into the landscapes behind it.

X Golden bamboo is perhaps the most invasive plant that people grow here in Texas. Once established it is extremely difficult to keep in bounds. It’s capable of covering large spaces over time, destroying landscapes and gardens in the process. If ever there were a list of plants that should be forbidden, I’d vote this one up near the top.

Redtip photinia has almost been consumed by Entomosporium fungal leaf spot. Maroon “freckles” are the first visible symptoms, followed by yellowed foliage, then maroon and browned leaves, then dead stems. Sadly there is no control.

X Redtip photinia used to be used for precisely the type of screen we’re discussing, but Entomosporium fungal leaf spot has reduced it to a very poor landscaping choice. It’s almost a matter of not “if” but “when” the plants will die from the disease. Sadly, there is no fungicide that will prevent or stop its invasion. Now the disease has spread to closely related Indian hawthorns as well.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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