Ficus Nitida (Retusa) Hedge spacing advice please.

aptruncata(10A)April 12, 2012


Planning on making a 15 ft + wall with Ficus Nitida to block out neighors view of our yard. They have recently extended their kitchen that literally looks over our whole yard as if it their own. Already have a 6ft fence which is just for formality and need atleast 12+ ft to block them out completely. Decided to go with Ficus Nitida to cover a 120 ft stretch.

The size i'm purchasing is a 15 gallon size which are about 7ft tall with 2" tree diameters approximately 20 of them.

Can someone who has experience with hedge spacing give me advice with these particular species?

The stretch is on a slope so each plant will be planted with a deep water tube.

Thanks in advance.

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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

Welcome to the GardenWeb, I note you joined yesterday. Now is a good time to edit your name from "none" to your gardening zone so anyone wishing to offer a suggestion will have a better idea of the problem. Al

    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 8:39AM
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The tree can be very invasive, and its roots grow close to the surface, damaging sidewalks. It grows fast and will need frequent trimming, which may be difficult to do on a slope. Are you sure you want this tree? They used to be grown more commonly in southern Ca., but many are being removed because of the damage they can do. How about a nice podocarpus or kohuhu?

    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 11:04AM
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The stretch of the property line borders a 25ft wide city alley and i plan on watering deeply to encourage deep setting of the roots. I don't mind trimming them frequently and can manage the 2% grade slope. Considered the podocarpus but will not grow as fast, dense and as neatly "hedge-able". =D

Thanks for your concern.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 12:12PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

It makes a good FAST hedge, and it's good on a slope because once those roots spread, that slope ain't going nowhere.

The only caveat is KEEP IT TRIMMED because they can get huge fast and get away from you. I would do 6' or 8' centers. The neighbor down the road put one in summer 2010 on 6' centers, and he now has a solid screen and excellent privacy. Another neighbor planted his about 10 years ago, 3' centers, neglected to trim, and now he's got a 40' tall problem, the growth close to the ground all died. They are also bending outwards into the road, and the roots are starting to push up the road. A mess.

Here's the trimming neighbor's screen, a few weeks after planting in 2010. It's now a solid, dense screen. The neighbor is keeping it at 12', otherwise it would be higher. In the right place, properly maintained and watered, this is a good solution. Not trimmed and shallow watering, it's a problem.

Here's the messy monster one:

    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 6:33PM
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thank you for your advice and the pics. The first pic if i understood you correctly are the ones with 6' centers and from the pics they appear a bit far apart. I intended on 4' spacing but if they do fill in dense and as fast as you say they do, i would definately choose 6' over 4'. Just to let you know, i'm looking for a 15+ feet wall with complete dense coverage.

Please let me know what you think.

Thanks again.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 8:33PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

I'll go take a photo of the "good" hedge as it is now and post it. A dense 15' wall sounds easily doable, but I cannot overestimate the importance of keeping them trimmed.

Give me a few hours for the photo. Have to take the dog to the vet right now.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 12:24PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

okay, neighbor was actually walking by the house, walked back with her and took a couple shots. They are on 4' centers.

from one side:

and the other side:

nice dense green wall.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 12:58PM
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Awesome, just returned from the nursery with 10, 8ft monsters....going to have to go get some more.
Thanks again.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 3:28PM
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I am being told by my tree supplier that the Ficus Nitida is just fine in a tight 9'8" area so long as I water it correctly, to encourage deep root growth. Over watering encourages surface lateral root growth he said, Any thoughts?

This post was edited by Hopworks on Mon, Mar 25, 13 at 18:00

    Bookmark   March 25, 2013 at 5:47PM
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I've went with hoovb's advice and did 4' centers.
it's been exactly 11 months since i put them in. they have doubled in size and given the rate of growth and the size i want them, i'm glad i went with 4' centers. I've been diligent with the trimmings so it doesn't get out of my reach and i'm really happy with my decision. i'm on a 2 % grade so i set up a drip irrigation with pressure compensating emitters along with water tube per/tree so they can be watered deep during the summer without any runoff. It's working out very nicely. by next year this time, bye bye neighbors!

    Bookmark   March 25, 2013 at 6:17PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

Keep up with the trimming and all will be well. :)

Hopworks, is there concrete or block walls or the foundation of your home close to that area? Keep in mind the guy telling you that is the guy who wants to sell you those.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2013 at 2:59PM
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I've been working on a project to create a privacy hedge and have gone from choosing Ficus Nitida, Eugenia and Bamboo. Eugenia has a Psyllid problem and Bamboo sheds leaves too much. Personally, I think Ficus looks the best and most elegant. It also grows quickly and is robust. However, everyone warned me about Ficus and its invasive roots.

Luckily, I don't scare easy and kept digging for more info.

I came across a home in SoCal with a full Ficus privacy hedge. The gardener happened to be there and he quickly dismissed any concerns stating simply that if you are diligent about trimming and capping growth "up top" you will control the roots below. Just the words I was looking for. Now, he planted 15 gallons of Ficus Nitida every 18 inches. Seems a lot more dense than Aptruncata 4' centers.

I am also in need of information for watering. I was deliberating over a drip irrigation system but does that qualify as "watering deep" - I doubt it? I was thinking of placing 1,2 or 3 inch PVC pipe next to each plant buried vertically about 3 feet deep. This will allow me to funnel water directly down below the root ball encouraging deep growth. I've seen this method used to start newly-planted plants and it seems to work well.

I'd be most grateful to hear your comments.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2013 at 1:22PM
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I’m in zone 10a with at about 2500 ft foothills with rocky soil.
-Eugenia was the first set of I purchased, they’re still in the front yard but they are not as drought tolerant as I researched them to be. Psyllid is a major problem. I dislike them so much, I’m considering pulling them and replacing them with the standard ligustrums which have fared far better.
-I have the bamboos on the other side of the yard and they’ve done really well. I don’t mind the sheding at all.
-Nitida Ficus have done very well and I enjoy them very much.
I’ve planted them 4’ centers because I want them relatively tall yet didn’t want them to be too cramped. If you’re considering 18” centers for a 15 gallon size, you’re practically planting them root-ball to root-ball. The decision for me was in consideration of the cost, how fast I want the coverage and etc. I paid $40/ 15 gallon size with 2- 2 1/2” thick and 7-9 ft tall (not planted) I checked around town and that was the best price I got.

The question about water will ultimately depend on the type of soil you have. I have rock and sand on a sloped property. I’ve used the 3” water pipes (1foot long) and drilled extra holes on the length of it and placed it next to the rootball. I also have a dripper tapped into the water tub and a secondary surface drip.

Originally, I wanted to use 2-3 feet long water tubes but I figured, that depth is far and well below the root ball and considering my rocky and sandy soil, all I’ll be really doing was wasting water. I’ve looked into the soak patterns of different soil types and found that it would be most ideal to have the tube length set at 12”.

I water them once a week for 30 mins for both surface and deep drip and they’re flourishing. It’s been a year and 4 months and I’m very happy with the choice.
Hope this helps.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2013 at 2:29PM
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Wouldn't Ficus benjamina have made good screen? Not as fast as nitida,but seems happy as a tall hedge.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2013 at 4:16PM
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Hi aptruncata and thanks for your most helpful post.

Do you water manually only? You mentioned drip? I am happy to learn that you only water once a week and that the plants are flourishing. Can you tell me more about how you planted the 15 gallons FNs? Did you dig a trench or just a hole every 4 feet? How deep?

    Bookmark   August 27, 2013 at 12:20PM
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Do you water manually only?
Yes, my old cabin is built in 1929 and does not have a sprinkler system. I run a drip irrigation tube along the entire property hidden under the mulch.

You mentioned drip?
Yes, the drippers connect to the irrigation tubes. One length of the line is for surface drippers where, I’ve attached adjustable emitters (1-10gallons/hour). The reason I used adjustable emitters was because I have a slope and I wanted each tree to get equal amount of water. I’m sure you’re aware but if you use the regular pre-set emitters, the trees near the bottom of the slope will receive a lot more water than the trees near the top of the slope. So after setting the emitters, I test the emitters by turning the water on and adjust them one by one until each of them emit the equal amount of water. (btw, the adjustable emitters clog less because you can always unscrew the adjuster top and clear the clog)
The other length of the line is for deep watering tubes. This line is tapped into the top of the watering tube cap and the adjustable emitters are plugged in on the inside of the cap. I used the same method to adjust each of them and once done, I screw the caps on the tube.
I wanted an option deep watering for scorching summer heat and dry spells up to 113F and light surface soaking for other times.

I am happy to learn that you only water once a week and that the plants are flourishing.
These trees are pretty tough, as mentioned earlier, I’ve tried the trio and still have them and would still recommend the nitida over the rest.

Can you tell me more about how you planted the 15 gallons FNs? Did you dig a trench or just a hole every 4 feet? How deep?
I’ve dug holes 1 to ½ times the size of the root ball. I’ve considered a trench but for 4’ centers, I didn’t have the energy or the need. Dug one every 4 feet with the root ball sitting 1-2 inches below the surface.

**one thing to note: the watering tube creates a vacuum near the tube and under the root ball. This + heavy winds or over time will tilt the tree’s upright center line. I’ve had 2-3 of them shift and contemplated whether to dig them out and reposition them but didn’t want to damage the already settled roots. I had to provide supports and tie them back to the position I wanted them to grow…which was straight up. Tamp the soil around the root firmly and wiggle to check if it might have any slack of possible movement anytime soon**

    Bookmark   August 27, 2013 at 1:56PM
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Thanks Aptruncata for your detailed answer. I have many options to go with now. My home has hose bibs near where I want to plant and since they need to only be watered weekly I think I can save some money and use a system similar to yours.

I am going to start planting a few at a time. I need about 40 plants to cover my run and that is going to get costly. I figure if I plant a few every 2 weeks I can complete the who project more easily.

However, since you planted at 4' centers I wonder if I can do something similar. I want to thick privacy hedge which I why I was leaning more toward 2' or even 18" centers.

Btw, take a look at this interesting article in the LA Times about privacy hedges -

    Bookmark   August 28, 2013 at 2:59PM
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I have tough soil (rocks and sand), pretty hot summers, and a need for a robust privacy hedge.
I dug and planted all (20) of them in 2 days. I was in a rush because it was april and i wanted to get them in the ground before the weather started heating up. With your planned schedule, i'd start in december or january which should give you plenty of time and the trees to get adjusted, maybe even some rain. If you want them really thick really fast, i can almost guarantee you 100% visibile privacy in one year if you decide to go with spacing less than 4' centers.
As for the article, i've read it last year when i was researching as yourself. All things considered, i need my private space away from people and really do prefer to stare at a tree than my neighbors. I love my yard more than any other place on the property, it's a refuge for me....a place for R&R.

i'll try to get some pictures for you.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2013 at 6:55PM
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I have never met a group of people with such strong opinions! Every time I mention a given plant which I am considering for a privacy it Ficus or Eugenia or whatever...I am greeted with reactions ranging from horror to glee.

After chatting with Aptruncata about Ficus I was all set to go. However, my application has me planting a row of Ficus Nitida along a 60 foot length with city sidewalk on one side and my house on the other. I want privacy but folks are telling me the Ficus will destroy my sidewalk, underground pipes, etc. I was under the impression that if I kept the tops trimmed and neatly manicured to about 6 feet I'd be ok regarding roots.

Now I am questioning the use of Ficus altogether.

Oy vey!

I just spoke with someone here in San Diego who recommended Ligustrum x vicaryi aka Golden Privet. He said it was better for my southern-facing application, not invasive, attractive as a hedge, grows quickly and is perfect for a ~6 foot hedge.

I think I am in love...unless someone here tells me otherwise and rains on my parade. What do you think Aptruncata?

By the way - take a look at this root system barrier I cam across -

    Bookmark   September 6, 2013 at 1:09PM
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My stretch also borders the alley which is maintained by the city but i do not have any utility pipes in the immediate area. I needed a 15ft hedge. if you only need a 6 footer, you can always just use standard ligustrum privets that will reach that height in about 3-4 years from a 5 gallon another bullet proof hedge that seems to fit well in my application and need.
regarding the root barriers....i bet those things cost a pretty penny! if you ever tried placing anything so straight into the ground in the angle that is necessary, you will soon discover that you'll need a backhoe on the first dig.
At the end of the day, it's what you want; i'm very satisfied and happy with my choice.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2013 at 12:31PM
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Hi All,

After much deliberation, I decided to build a large planter with an open-earth bottom for my 17 Ficus Nitida Greem Gems. I chose the Green Gem variety as they are less susceptible to thrips. The planter consumed 7 yds of soil\compost which I still cannot believe.

I listened to many folks tell me that FN is invasive and I don't doubt that at all. As a matter of fact I've seen it with my own eyes in Los Angeles where some sections of sidewalk have been lifted up at such an angle you'd think you're mountain climbing. The trees which cause this damage are maybe 100 feet tall and simply massive - and gorgeous.

I still couldn't find anything else I liked better so I decided to build the planter to reduce the chances of run away roots damaging nearby structures, pipes, but also to provide instant height to the 5 gallon Nitida.

I am confident that if I keep the plants at about 4 ft tall I will be able to maintain or control their root growth. This is a theory I've seen in practice where several gardeners showed me examples of FN privacy hedges planted directly in the ground and kept short with active pruning. and resulting in no damage caused by roots.

I am sure many of you might be thinking that I will learn my lesson...perhaps I will. As they say...there is only one way to find out.

This post was edited by UncleGarage on Tue, Feb 11, 14 at 16:59

    Bookmark   February 11, 2014 at 1:45PM
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does anyone here think mulch around ficus hedges is necessary?, I too have noticed the same problems listed above when it comes to wind shifting the hedges, I also learned that I am watering too much as some of my hedges have been lifting and I did not know why until reading info in this forum. Thank you all so much, but I was wondering is mulch a good idea as I have a lot of weeds growing all around my hedges, if so will bark mulch work?, should I lay down weed barrier too?, I have about 50 hedges all along the side their growing ok aside from the lifting and slanting. Thank you any help will be greatly appreciated

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 1:39AM
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If you top off the ficus Nitida at about 7-8 feet tall, and you plant it within a foot of a sidewalk , will the roots still push up the sidewalk, or would capping it at 8 feet restrict the roots lateral growth?

    Bookmark   October 31, 2014 at 11:03PM
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Any thoughts on creating a privacy wall for my back yard with mixing Ficus Nitida with Honeysuckle or bougainvillea to create some color and attract hummingbirds?
Thinking of a mix with Ficus (15 gallon) every 3-4 feet with 3 Ficus in a row and then a Honeysuckle or bougainvillea to pop some color in the "wall".

    Bookmark   December 9, 2014 at 12:08AM
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honeysuckle and bougainvillea both run without any supports. honeysuckle sheds a bit and bougainvillea barely any. I would think it would be quite difficult to trim a hedge with 1/2-3/4" shoots of either plants mixed into the ficus.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2014 at 7:59PM
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Hey UncleGarage -- was curious how your planter and FN are doing. Can you please post a new pic? I like what you've done and thinking about doing the same thing!


    Bookmark   February 3, 2015 at 5:09PM
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