Choosing Trees behind rhodies

daysquid(7a Annapolis, MD)June 30, 2012

I'm new to this site so foregive me in an advance if I should blunder on my post. I live in a 1920s cottage on a wooded slope in Zone 7. I need to install a 6 to 8 ft. fence for privacy from one neighbor. I have a 30'x 30'x 30' triangular peice of land that will be framed by this fence and the steps leading down to our house. I just purchased 3 Verigated Ponticum Rhododendrons for the center of the bed but would like to put trees or large shrubs against the fence as a backdrop. The area gets about 3 hours of sun in the early morning and then some dappled shade but a lot of full shade. The shade is caused by very, very high trees in this wooded enclave of homes. Any ideas for what to put up against the fence as the background for the Rhodies? I would like something 8-12', somewhat narrow. Thanks for your help.

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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

You don't say where you are from so I can only deal in generalities. I assume you want something that will block the view of the fence rather than provide shade over the top of it. You have several options. Columnar conifer shrubs would be ideal to block the fence all year long. I would use a variety of different shrubs that each has its own personality.


Skyrocket juniper grows to 15 feet tall with a narrow 3-foot spread and has silver-blue foliage.


A sculptural conifer is Hinoki cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Gracilis).' It will reach 15 feet tall and up to 4 feet wide.

Gray Gleam Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum 'Gray Gleam') grows to 15 feet tall and 5 feet wide.

The other option is a deciduous planting that would not only block it in the summer.


'Meadowlark' forsythia grows 8-10 feet tall and 8 feet wide and has a profusion of yellow blooms in the spring.


Winter berry holly (Ilex serrata x Ilex verticillata) 'Sparkleberry' has bright red fruits that are borne in profusion and are very Winter persistent and grow to 12' tall . You need a male to pollinate the female holies which produce the berries.


Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana )is good because it blooms in the winter and grows 10 to 15 feet tall.

Remember no plant grows to it mature height quickly nor stops when it get there. That is why I picked plants on the taller side. They will take a while to get there.


A kousa dogwood would look good at the end. It is a disease resistant dogwood that blooms after the rhododendrons.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 10:06AM
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daysquid(7a Annapolis, MD)

You are so incredibly helpful. I am liking the idea of a dogwood and then came across an evergreen clematis. I am leaning toward this approach so it is varied and doesn't look like I am trying too hard to hide the fence. Many thanks. We have run into a bit of a snag on the project as we have to wait for several weeks before planting as a major tree has to be removed. It is unsafe and leaning over our house. I am trying to baby my questionable verigated Rhodes. I purchased them from a nursery who said they came in really leggy so they cut them way back. They currently look like wood with new growth clumps. New and weak limbs are now growing off the main stem and I am thinking this needs to be cut off. Some of those new limbs are not verigated. I am such a novice, I am praying that I can keep these guys alive for several weeks in their pots. Ugh.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2012 at 8:18PM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

Am I missing something, dogwood is a small tree and clematis is a climbing vine.

Let's see, you could plant a dead dogwood tree and have a clematis climb it so it would look like a clematis tree.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2012 at 11:28AM
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daysquid(7a Annapolis, MD)

Oh, my. I'm sorry for the confusion. I was thinking of planting the dogwood. And then separately planting clematis on the fence to climb along the top.

Any thoughts on my rhododendrons health? And how best to nurse them along?

    Bookmark   July 22, 2012 at 5:52PM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

Sounds like a good plan. Both the dogwood and the clematis are deciduous so you would see the fence in the winter months.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 10:58AM
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daysquid(7a Annapolis, MD)

What about that evergreen clematis -- armandii? That might help. And thanks for bringing up the winter view. Much appreciated.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 10:41PM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

Clematis armandii is tender:

Hardiness Zone: 7b-9

This vine is best for zones 8 & 9, though with protection it might be fudged up or down into other zones. In hot climates or in climates with frequent freezes it is not apt to do well. It is popular in mild climates like the Northern California coast or the Pacific Northwest, where broad leaf plants are not often seen during the winter months. It is also popular in warmer climates, especially in the southeastern United States. Evergreen clematis, as this vine is also commonly called, climbs by using its leafstems like tendrils twisting and wrapping around twigs of adjacent vegetation. Clematis armandii is a fairly hardy plant, one that grows rapidly, and unless periodically pruned back, a plant that will reach heights of 20 feet & won't stop there. It easily gets out of hand unless pruned every year after flowering. The vines will otherwise get thicker & woodier & build up layer upon layer, the underlayers looking like dead wood & rather unlovely.

If you are in a tender microclimate, you may get away with it.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 8:56AM
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daysquid(7a Annapolis, MD)

You are just a wealth of information. I can only hope to accumulate the depth of your knowledge. I wish you were my next door neighbor so I could regular lessons. I'm really just feeling my way through the design phase -- and God knows when it comes to the real expertise of caring for all these babies, I'm going to be truly challenged. Perhaps you might indulge me with another question -- I'm debating between Camellias, Rhodos, or Mt. Laurels for the top of a sloped garden. I want flowering evergreens and might do a mix of these. Any specific considerations that I should keep in mind other than design preference? The site gets about 2-3 hours of late afternoon sun. And mature trees are what create the shade as we are on a wooded hillside. The sun is from a break in the trees. Thanks again for any suggestions.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 3:12PM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

You are in good area to raise Camellias. I don't raise Camellias in Pennsylvania, but did in Oregon. There are spring blooming and fall blooming Camellias as well as some that bloom in both spring and fall. There are also hardy Camellias.

The website below will help you make sense of the plethora of Camellias. It refers to Dr. Ackerman who has done a great deal of work developing garden varieties of hardy Camellias for the Potomac Valley area.

Here is a link that might be useful: A good source of Camellia information.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2012 at 3:28PM
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daysquid(7a Annapolis, MD)

Great. Thanks for the link. I'll definitely check these folks out. You've been such a help. Again, many thanks.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2012 at 4:13PM
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