(News article for January 9, 2021)
People have various reasons for wanting an evergreen screen on their property. Whether it’s a busy street, an unsightly neighboring property, or just a desire for privacy, a visual barrier is sometimes desired.
There are a number of evergreen plants that provide options for screening, depending on the desired height and width, how sunny or shady the site is, and how wet the area is.
Japanese or wax-leaf privet (Ligustrum japonicum) may be the most common evergreen screening plant in southern Louisiana. It grows quickly when young and reaches approximately 10 to 15 feet tall.
While it isn’t as invasive as its Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense) cousin, it can spread to areas where it isn’t wanted. If plants are close to an unmowed area, monitor for undesired spread.
A native alternative to Japanese privet is Carolina cherrylaurel (Prunus caroliniana). This shrub can grow as tall as 40 feet, but cultivars like Bright ‘N Tight and ‘Compacta’ remain smaller.
Carolina cherrylaurel plant should only be used in well-drained areas with good soil. It sometimes suffers insect or disease issues when grown under stressful conditions.
Like Japanese privet, Carolina cherrylaurel is fast-growing and spreads readily by seed. Like some other plants in the Prunus genus, the leaves of Carolina cherrylaurel contain compounds that release hydrogen cyanide when crushed. I don’t think most people munch on the leaves of their hedges, but this is something to consider if you have horses, cattle, or other livestock.
Another fast-growing evergreen is sweet viburnum (Viburnum odoratissimum). These grow quickly and can reach approximately 15 to 20 feet tall.
Non-dwarf Chinese holly varieties such as ‘Burfordii’ and ‘Needlepoint’ and the hybrid ‘Nellie R. Stevens’ provide additional options. These are tolerant of a wide range of growing conditions. The mentioned varieties have red berries in the winter.
Many plants used for hedges have inconspicuous flowers. Sasanqua camellias, on the other hand, produce attractive flowers in the fall and/or winter. Sasanquas are more resistant Phytophthora root rot the standard Japanese camellias. They’re available in a range of heights, so choose one that will reach the height that you desire.
Like azaleas, sasanquas perform well in partial shade. They do not grow as quickly as some of the previously mentioned shrubs, so this is not the best option if you need a screen to form quickly from small plants.
Sasanquas sometimes suffer from tea scale insects, and treatment may be necessary for optimal appearance.
While they’re often pruned to remain shorter, Southern Indica azaleas like ‘Formosa’ and ‘George L. Tabor’ are capable of growing to heights suitable for hedge that’s 6 to 10 feet tall. Like sasanquas, these won’t grow as quickly as some screening plants.
A discussion of screening plants doesn’t seem complete without mentioning lorepetalum, or Chinese fringe-flower (Loropetalum chinense). The purplish-leaved, pink-flowered cultivars are most popular, though there are also green-leaved, white-flowered cultivars. While there are dwarf varieties that get just a few feet tall, ‘Burgundy’, for example, can reach 10 feet or taller.
We often think of a hedge as consisting of one type of plant. However, if you have enough space, you can form a visual barrier using a variety of plants, staggered.
The website OnlinePlantGuide.com is a good resource for more information about these and other landscape plants. While the name sounds generic, this site was put together by Drs. Neil Odenwald and Thomas Pope, both retired from LSU. Besides just being a place to look for information about specific plants, this site allows you to search for plants with specific characteristics. For example, you can choose “Evergreen,” the height range you want, and “Plants for Hedges, Screening and Privacy.”
Let me know if you have questions.
Contact Mary Helen Ferguson.
Japanese privet, a common screening plant in Louisiana. (Photo by M.H. Ferguson)