Narrow Screening Plants For Southern California, Part 2

In the previous post I talked about my travails with privacy screening plants that are Not Ligustrum.   More of that today. 

There are a couple of houses in the area that planted their entire perimeter with Italian Cypress, Cupressus sempervirens. They look like green stockades. Fort Cupressus.  Visually it implies you either loathe your neighbors, or you are a nudist.  Either way, iffy.  Italian Cypress planted in small groups, with space between them, looks so much more elegant. 

I still have hopes for Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Silver Star'.  (Monrovia is selling it as 'Emerald Wave'.)  I planted it in 2008 at 3 feet (1 meter) and wispy.  In 2010 now it's seven feet tall (2.1 meters), three feet wide, and still wispy, but with some indication it will eventually bulk up.   Another 2 feet, some density, and I'd get some screening for my other bathroom window.  Come on, baby, you can do it! 
Pittosproum tenuifulium 'Silver Star'

Update 6/5/2011 (Same plant and location as above)  I'm liking this one more and more: 
Update 12/16/2012  P. 'Silver Star'/'Emerald Wave' continues to please:  
Here it is in January 2013, now providing the privacy screen we needed for that spot:  just big enough to provide window privacy without blocking the view of the hills beyond.
Another Pittosporum tenuifolium,  'Marjorie Channon', which I blogged about a couple of days ago in my New Zealand plants post, has been satisfactory.  I love the white edging of the foliage contrasting with the black stems, and the over all billowy texture.  I could wish it a little taller and narrower, but it's difficult to say anything bad about this beauty.

Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Marjorie Channon'

The narrowest screening option of all is a vigorous vine on wrought iron,  either a wrought iron fence, or a wrought iron fence on top of a block wall for a little extra height. Fast growing, dense, and while the vine part of the equation is cheap, the wrought iron part can get expensive.  Effective, narrow, but not cheap. 
Bignonia vines topping a block wall:
Vine topped wall

Update 5/16/2011:  Thanks to Jenny for pointing out the need for clarification on this vine.  Here's that vine's foliage...likely indeed Bignonia capreolata 'Tangerine Beauty'.  Campsis radicans has a more complex leaf, see here...

Bignonia foliage:

Wrought iron covered with Trachelospermum jasminoides:

Ficus retusa ssp. nitida, commonly sold as Ficus nitida.  It's dense.  It's tough.  It's fast.  Some virtues, one possible drawback. In the right place, it's the right screen plant.  I think some neighbors down the road have found the right spot, on a steep slope, away from all other trees and shrubs. The one serious drawback is the root system, which can be like a typical Ficus: vigorous and dominating.  So the big root systems will hold their slope, and the dense foliage  will give them privacy. Perfect. I look forward to watching it grow. Just not on my property.  I've read some comments to the effect that the roots are not a problem, but I've also seen some buckled asphalt and cracked walls.  The other way down the road, a row of these has reached 30' in 10 years, and shows no signs of slowing down.  I'll leave Ficus retusa to the fearless. 

Ficus retusa ssp. nitida

The same plant down the road, unclipped and untopped (also unwatered, except for winter rain):
Ficus nitida screen

Boxwood 'Green Tower' is supposed to be about 1-2' wide and 9' tall, eventually. A wonderful size, just right when you need a dense, narrow screen but don't need it too tall. Here's mine, the purpose of which is to both hide and shade a pair of electrical inverters:

Buxus 'Green Tower'

Oh, dear. They're flopping all over. Yes, yes, they'll firm themselves up eventually. Yes, they'll be just the right size. Patience, grasshopper!

Update January 22, 2011: they are bulking up, if slowly...
 Wonderfully narrow growth habit of this boxwood:

Of course there's also Nandina domestica, also as common as dirt and no more beloved than Ligustrum japonicum. I wish it was a little taller. Just a little taller, though I've seen a grand old specimen that reached 10 feet.  One problem with Nandina I didn't know is that it leans away from things like houses and fences if you plant it directly next to a house or a fence.  I didn't know this until I planted some adjacent to the house.  It all leaned outward, snagging dogs and visitors.  Most annoying. I cut it back.  It grew back with enthusiasm, leaning outwards all the while.  I moved it all and replaced it with a much smaller Nandina domestica cultivar.  That leans out, too.  Well, it isn't Ligustrum!

Not as narrow, but a tough reliable option is Xylosma congestum.  With its graceful, somewhat weeping habit, shearing is an abomination.  Headed back, it maintains its grace while providing a good screen. This group of Xylosma looks completely natural--you would never know it is regularly headed back.  Sometimes a common plant isn't so bad after all.
Xylosma congestum:
Xylosma screen

I mention Tecomaria capensis, Cape Lilac, as a narrow screen because it's effective, fast, dense, drought tolerant, tough, and has pretty orange flowers that hummingbirds love.  But it's also aggressively invasive, spreading by rhizomes like Bermuda grass.  While this looks like a screen with a ground cover in front of it, that ground cover is also Tecomaria capensis.  Another plant good for the right spot, maybe.  You have been warned.

Tecomaria capensis

So, my quest to avoid Ligustrum japonicum has led me to partial failure, partial success, a lot of shopping and research, and plants that are not altogether satisfactory.  But the journey has been a delight.  My garden remains a Ligustrum-free zone, at least until I smarten up.

Grow baby, grow!
Windows to screen


  1. One note about your identification of "Bigonia vines topping a block wall." I believe you've actually posted a shot of campsis radicans or 'trumpet flower.' Don't mean to be pedantic, just want you to know what you have on your property so you can tend to it properly. Trumpet flower can cause rashes in some when trimmed, so fyi.

  2. Hi Jenny, I did think that was Campsis radicans as well, but the foliage is different! C. radicans has a complex leaf as illustrated here:

    The foliage of the vine on the wall matches the Bignonia capreolata, not the Campsis. The flowers do look quite similar. Thank you for the comment. I always try to get my IDs right, but sometimes I fail and I like to "get it right". I appreciate your taking the time to look at it!

  3. Nice post. Narrow screens are what we need here, but I think most of your suggestions wouldn't survive winter in zone 8. Except for the nandina (yes, ours leans away from the house)and the pittosporum, these are all new to me. I can dream, though.

  4. You are funny! Thanks for the photos and knowledgeable coverage of pitfalls! I'm looking for evergreen privacy in CA Zone 9 and likewise have discovered that nearly all of those nursery shrubs grown as hedge/standards/tree are invasive. We have Xylosma beyond our fence (from the HOA) that is not watered (drought) and have been trianed like trees. Xylosma's invasive roots ARE the WORST. Chokes our entire little backyard. Adventitious roots sprout up as long thorn armored shoots. Invades the seal around our downstairs bathroom toilet. NEVER plant Xylosma. AND, now has a form of powdery mildew / aphid that weeps sticky sap all over our patio (I wonder if that happened because of a conifer that shades some of the Xylosma, also HOA). Periodic drenching of Xylosma leaf undersides keeps the pest at bay but that's expensive, too. As far as I can tell, there is no way to forever get rid of the powdery mildew / aphid, and it gets on the other plants. Best wishes to your corner of heaven!

    1. Wow that root problem of yours sounds bad. I would think a letter to the association about the problem in your downstairs plumbing would be appropriate. That's really not good for the building's foundation, either.

      Best wishes back at you, and good luck with those HOA problem plants.


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