Privacy Tree Selection

xillAugust 29, 2012

Hey everybody. I know it's been a while since I've posted. The past year was a busy one with my girlfriend opening her bakery here in town, and now moving on to opening a second location, then summer... sigh. Now it's almost time to start planting here again, and I'm ready for a few privacy trees. But I'd like opinions from the experts here :)

I had a portion of my patio removed for these new plantings, photos below. What I'd like to plant would be a row of trees (maybe 3 or 4?) to seperate my yard from my neighbor's. We're saving up to add a covered balcony to the top of our patio (which would be off the master bedroom) but this will basically overlook my neighbor's small backyard. So we need a barrier that doesn't scream "I don't want to look at the junk in your backyard" lol. Also, it would be to hide his house from view from within our backyard. He doesn't care much about appearances :/ but if he ever moves, then the next owners probably wouldn't want to sit in their backyard with just a view of us on our balcony. so this is a benefit for everyone.

That being said, I need evergreen trees that grow mainly upright, aren't terribly messy, and have a deeper root system so they don't interfere with my patio or my home's foundation. The two that have been suggested to me by local nurseries have been Ficus Benjamina, and the Australian Bottle Tree (Brachychiton Populneus). I've also considered Italian Cypress but I've yet to see one planted around here that doesn't look like it's struggling. Plus I'd really like to keep these trees about the height of the house (25-30ft). Would Black Mission Figs work or would they require too much pruning to keep them on my side of the fence? I'd really like something fairly dense, and fast growing. Maybe Hong Kong Orchids?

here's the place I would plant these trees:

here's a shot from the opposite side showing the narrow area I'm working with:

here's a shot from the yard with the house i'd like to hide from view. you can also see that this location is on the north side of my house. this photo was shot this afternoon at about 6:30. so it should be a good spot for trees that prefer afternoon shade in the summer (they'd get more sun in the winter). The row of trees would extend along the fence from the concrete area I had broken up to the bougainvillea on right of this photo:

the trees don't have to cover everything from the ground to the sky, in fact from the ground and patio i'd prefer to see the trunks of the trees with shrubs and other plantings at the base. any help, opinions, advice, or experience is appreciated :)

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tomatofreak(Z9 Phx USA)

You sure it wouldn't be easier to just move? (Kidding... but not much, lol.) That's a very narrow space for trees that you want to be two stories tall someday. Any tree that large in that space is, by default, going to hang over in the next yard - and be up against your own house. And then there's the whole issue of roots. Do you know where your sewer line runs?

As for your nursery recommendations: I know nothing about the bottle tree, but I think the suggestion of ficus benjamina is nuts. The Italian cypress would fit your space, but - as you suspect - it's not a good choice. Hope someone else is more help. ;-)

    Bookmark   August 29, 2012 at 2:22AM
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no, i have no interest in ever moving unless we build a custom house on some acreage (but that's not anytime soon). i had the utilities marked last spring, but nothing was marked in the back yard. everything marked ran along our driveway. why would you say Ficus Benjamina would be nuts? They're used as foundation plantings against commercial and residential buildings here, new and old, and as privacy hedges along sidewalks. maybe you're thinking of the Ficus Nitida (Indian Laurel)?

    Bookmark   August 29, 2012 at 5:24PM
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tomatofreak(Z9 Phx USA)

Nope, thinking of the right tree. I don't think it's a good recommendation for several reasons: 1) It's frost sensitive and can get killed (just like ficus nitida) in a hard frost (which happens every year or two). 2) It's too big for that spot. Yes, it is planted as a hedge all over, but you want it to be a full-grown tree, not a pruned hedge. Don't get me wrong; I love the ficus, both nitida and benjamina, but after losing every single one - potted and in ground to hard frosts, I'm over 'em. Even my schefflera, best known as a house plant, fared better outside than the ficus.

Here is a link that might be useful: ficus benjamina

    Bookmark   August 29, 2012 at 6:10PM
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tomatofreak(Z9 Phx USA)

You might consider one of these. They're all beautiful, but have very different shapes and growing habits. And frankly, I would not ask for tree advice at a nursery; their agenda is to sell trees, whether or not they're right for you. (I speak from sad experience.) If you have the $$ for a consultation, I'd advise having an arborist visit for an on-site discussion. One good reason to do this is that those folk can get trees from a local wholesaler that you'll never see at a nursery.

Here is a link that might be useful: Trees for small spaces

    Bookmark   August 29, 2012 at 6:26PM
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Pagancat(Phoenix, AZ)

Fig trees (as in fruit bearing, not the nitida or benjamina) are a good choice if you don't mind giving it a fair amount of water. Pruning is something you'll have to do, but it is very tolerant of it and fairly easy to keep in shape.

Of the list that Tomatofreak gave you, I like the Lysiloma the best - I grew it in Tucson between my home and a fence and never had any problems other than self seeding, and that was easy to control. They're very feathery, too. In fact, I don't know why I don't have one now...

The Brachychitons do have the dropping seed pods with a fuzz on them that can be irritating to some people's skin.

The Ficus (the two mentioned) are also high water users, at least to get started - ones that I see mainly on irrigated lots, or not doing so well.

I just planted a Chitalpa - blooms, leafy, drought tol AFTER it is established. Quite a pretty tree. Not so sure about it being evergreen, however.

I saw info on an Arizona Walnut yesterday - never knew there were some. Be aware that it is *very* difficult to underplant Walnuts before you go looking, however, because of a substance they excrete called jugolone.

I believe the Southern Live Oak is evergreen, you'd have to check it out.

More later!

    Bookmark   August 29, 2012 at 7:07PM
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grant_in_arizona(USDA Z9 Scottsdale AZ)

You've gotten some great suggestions! If it was me, I'd think about shoestring acacia (Acacia stenophylla) or Texas ebony (Ebenopsis ebano (formerly Pithecellobium flexicaule)), and maybe, just maybe, Acacia salicina, although they can get big. Lysiloma would be a great choice too, although I'm not quite sure it would get tall enough for your needs? They are super pretty trees though. Keep in mind edible figs will be deciduous and drop their foliage in winter, so they won't provide much cover then.

You've gotten several good recommendations. Keep us posted on what you select and how it works out! Happy gardening!

    Bookmark   August 29, 2012 at 7:39PM
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How about a Pomegranate..?

    Bookmark   August 29, 2012 at 8:53PM
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Pagancat(Phoenix, AZ)

Aren't they more like bushes?

I haven't ever planted an A. salicina, but I have heard some comments from people who say they're messy and sucker like crazy - but all third or fourth hand info.

Of course, you're right about the deciduous nature of the figs, duh. Okay, what about Citrus? Or maybe one of the Swan Hill Olives? Neither grow very fast....

    Bookmark   August 29, 2012 at 9:51PM
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Yes, they are a bush, but you can trim it up like a tree. Maybe a Mimosa (Chocolate's are cool) would work.
The Pom would be better for privacy & you get fruit too.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2012 at 10:10PM
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tomatofreak(Z9 Phx USA)

"Plus I'd really like to keep these trees about the height of the house (25-30ft)." ~~ xill

Citrus and olives are likely to top out well under 30'. Poms might not reach one-story height. Plus, they have no form at all and just sprawl in all directions. (It's a lovely feature, but not so good for privacy.) I think the suggestions of shoestring acacia and lysiloma would be very pretty and probably fit your space.

Have you considered bamboo? I know the very word strikes fear in many hearts, but this might be the answer to your prayers. It grows up, not out; grows incredibly fast and gets higher than your house. This is by no means the only selection that could work for you.

Here is a link that might be useful: giant timber bamboo

    Bookmark   August 30, 2012 at 1:26AM
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Pagancat(Phoenix, AZ)

And it is completely fine as long as you make a cast iron tank for it - okay, I'm joking, but only partially. I would highly recommend putting it in a VERY sturdy container and partially submerging it.... which is also nice because what water you give it won't run off as quickly.

Bonus, to my experience, you'll have a lot of birds hanging out in it. Nice for when you're on the patio...

    Bookmark   August 30, 2012 at 11:38AM
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Pagancat(Phoenix, AZ)

By the way, there are some really interesting Bamboo out there - not only the black, black and green striped, gold and green striped ... they may be costly at first, but they're really fast growing.

Ever consider a Japanese garden?

    Bookmark   August 30, 2012 at 11:39AM
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Thanks to everyone for so many great options to choose from! I've looked at everything everyone has suggested and i've narrowed it down to either the australian bottle tree or the shoestring acacia. my wife doesn't like the looks of the acacia, but it may be the best option. my only concenr would be the invasiveness of the roots (i can't find any info about this) and the lack of full sun. it would be planted on the north/northeast corner of my two story house. it would pretty much only receive late morning and midday sun in the summer months. either tree would require pruning to keep from rubbing the house or hanging into the neighboring yards too much, but i'm fine with the pruning. gives me something to do while i'm watching the kids in the backyard. the fruit trees were a nice idea, but i need something evergreen. and i LOVE bamboo and I think this would be the perfect spot for it, but frankly it scares the hell out of me lol. i wasn't familiar with the Lysiloma until now, and even though i don't think it'll get tall enough for my needs, i do have another spot in my front yard where i'll probably plant one. they're beautiful trees from the photos i've seen.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2012 at 1:01PM
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i am however still open to suggestions if anyone has a better idea. more than likely i'll mix it up a bit and plant a larger tree at the end of the patio where there's more room for a fuller crown and keep something thinner between the patio and the fence where i can block the view from my 2nd floor...

    Bookmark   August 30, 2012 at 1:09PM
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MaryMcP Zone 8b - Phx AZ

Why not a thick, dense hedge? Like hopbush or Arizona rosewood? I've also seen honeysuckle pruned hedge-like. Tecoma stans (yellow bells). I have a huge hedge of thevetia. This one could be pruned to a hedge or shaped into a tree or two in that spot. Evergreen with pretty flowers, either yellow or peach. I really like this little tree and plan on a cluster of them to shade the veggie garden.

xill, the bamboo that is scary is running bamboo. There are some nice clumping bamboo that is not invasive.

Good luck, let us know what you decide.

Here is a link that might be useful: Thevetia Peruviana

    Bookmark   August 30, 2012 at 3:43PM
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thanks mary, i'm not opposed to tall shrubs trained as trees either, as long as they can grow to at least 15', but 20' would be better. so far i haven't found anything that gets that tall in less than 10 years other than oleander. but this is in my backyard where my 3 small boys and the dog play every day and i'd rather not risk it with the toxicity of these plants. i am still looking into clumping bamboos, but it's all new to me...

    Bookmark   August 30, 2012 at 4:40PM
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tomatofreak(Z9 Phx USA)

There are lots of clumping bamboos to choose from; no need to worry about getting swallowed up by the running types! One of these days, I'm going to make a trip to Tucson to see some of these gorgeous plants myself. I'd kinda like to have a privacy screen along the west end of my yard, but there's no room for any trees there.

Here is a link that might be useful: clumping bamboos

    Bookmark   August 30, 2012 at 5:36PM
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Pagancat(Phoenix, AZ)

LOL - I think clumping bamboos are much more *slowly* aggressive, that's all.

I lived on an irrigated lot with Oleanders that were at least 15' if not 20'. Please believe I'm not recommending that, they have a lot of issues, and especially with the scorch that has arrived in Phx, I sure wouldn't plant one. My only point is that given enough water, lots of things will get bigger than you think.

Does anyone remember how to tell a good Carob tree from a bad one - aren't there male and female trees? I always liked the rounded leaves, and I think they're evergreen, too.

How about a Bottle Brush tree - Calistemon viminalis? I had one that I loved, and it was in between our house and those bloody oleanders...

Don't settle for something your GF doesn't like - we've barely scratched the surface of what's available, really.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2012 at 7:45PM
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bottle brush tree might be a good one. any idea on the growth rate? everything i've ever seen in the stores and nurseries are the little johns that wont grow above 3 ft. i've seen 20ft trees, but they are in the 1950s neighborhoods around here. i've spent most of the afternoon researching but haven't gotten very far. i'm looking at maybe a few chitalpas that i'll just have to keep trimmed on the sides. but i'd rather trim the sides than have to have the tree topped to keep it short. i have a chitalpa already and it's a great tree, but i'd have to deal with it not being evergreen where i want privacy :( sounds like the shoestring acacia is more mess and more invasive than i want to deal with. i don't need a perfect tree, just a good one (or two.. or three)

    Bookmark   August 30, 2012 at 8:30PM
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Pagancat(Phoenix, AZ)

Ooo - good call on no topping.. It causes hollow and therefore weak trees, never mind deformed trees.

I found this on Monrovia's site (despite the fact that I hate them, lol) that says they're fast growing, but that could be just *their* cultivar, I don't know. There is a lot of conflicting information about them out there, I'm afraid.

I don't know where you thought about purchasing whatever tree you decide to get, but I wanted to point out that the Desert Botanical Gardens has their biannual sale in mid Oct. They will have a good selection of plants there and plenty of knowledgeable folks who aren't just trying to make a buck like some of the nurseries. And they used to have a booth from a vendor (very few of those there) that deals specifically in Australian plants, of which a lot of the Eucalyptus and some of the Acacias are from. There's a whole bunch of neat plants just in those two genus', as well as the Callistemons. And all sales support the garden, a worthy cause.

Hey, have you been to the DBG?

Here is a link that might be useful: Monrovia

    Bookmark   August 31, 2012 at 5:52PM
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grant_in_arizona(USDA Z9 Scottsdale AZ)

This is a fun discussion--definitely let us know what you select. You've got a challenging situation in that you want a lot of height but you don't have a ton of root room/head room. I love the idea of the taller bottlebrush trees, I've seen several of those SE of Shea in Scottsdale that are certainly as tall as you'd need, and the shoestring acacia is definitely a good candidate as well. When I was running after work in my neighborhood the other day (I know, it's hot and I'm a nut, but I like it) I did see several bottle trees Brachychiton in fairly narrow spaces but nice and tall, with very good screening provided from the foliage.

Have fun in the selection process and do let us know who the Lucky Winner is!

Take care,

    Bookmark   September 2, 2012 at 1:49PM
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DWA in AZ Sunset zone 12(9a Tucson AZ)

What about planning to trellis and vine that end of your patio? Then you could plant a tree for screening the yard near the corner of the downstairs concrete slab and have a little more space for it?

Also, I thought of your question today when I looked up hackberry. It seems to have some of the qualities you're looking for--not sure about shade though.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2012 at 5:10PM
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after alot of research i think i've settled on the shoestring acacia. the bottle brush tree is beautiful but i'm not sure if it would do ok on the north side of the house since most everything i read says full sun. plus i'm reading alot of conflicting info on it's growth rate and water needs. i've tried growing little johns before, but with no luck. either they don't like my soil or i didn't water them enough. the australian bottle tree might be a good one, but i think it's eventual height of 40' might be a bit much. and all of the older specimens i see and have found online are much wider, leading me to believe that it spreads as it ages and might not look great with that much pruning later in life. so for the shoestring acacia, it seems to do well in either full sun or partial sun, needs very little watering, has little litter, it's airy enough to allow plantings beneath it, grows very fast, only reaches 20-30' in partial sun, and has virtually no pests or diseases here. they're also recommended for poolsides and often planted right up against large buildings to break up the wall, which tells me i shouldn't have a problem with the roots along my patio or foundation. i also think the shadow that these trees would cast on the garden below would be very pretty and only get better with a little breeze. and since the trees don't seem that heavy and rigid, if for some weird reason one did happen to fall over into a neighboring yard, i don't believe they would cause as much damage as a heavier bottle tree, pine, or palm. the only drawback is that it does not have very dense foliage, so the privacy it provides is limited. however, because of it's flexible and weeping branches it doesn't have a problem getting entangled with other trees which should allow me to plant several shoestring acacias together like a "mini grove" at the end of the patio. this should increase the overall density from the 2nd floor, and make the view from the bottom patio more interesting with more pretty trunks. i'll just have to plant them at odd intervals so they look more natural and less like a man-made row of trees. does anyone have any suggestions on the spacing of these trees?

pagancat, i've never been to the DBG before. i live in Imperial Valley, CA (roughly the same climate as phx but slightly milder). i use the tucson and phx sections of gardenweb because there's more info and activity and i know if it will grow there then it will grow here. we just dont get winters as cold as yours because we live below sea level and we generally have more humidity due to all of the agriculture around us. DBG sounds liek a super fun place though, i might have to check it out as a mini-vacation :)

grant, running? really? have you lost your mind?? lol

    Bookmark   September 3, 2012 at 5:45PM
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tomatofreak(Z9 Phx USA)

Hooray!! I love decisions! And it sounds like a good one; I love the weepiness of the shoestring acacia. Can't help you on spacing, but I think if you do a bit more research on planting, you'll come up with some good advice.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2012 at 5:55PM
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