HELP! Scrawny Podocarpus (pics)

tinahollywoodJuly 18, 2009

Dear Garden Forum,

We planted a row of Podocarpus Gracilior about 2 1/2 years ago hoping to create a privacy fence. As you can see from the pictures, they have never really filled out, particularly close to the ground where you can really see the trunks of the trees. I have seen beautiful hedges of this particular type of Podocarpus -- in other people's yards! Any idea what we're doing wrong? The trees are planted about 1 foot apart and are watered 3-4 times a week (drip and sprayers)for about 7 minutes. The hillside run-off here is significant. Our gardener has suggested that some the trees were not planted deeply enough and that the rootball at ground level or above, which doesn't help the run off. It appears that the trees that get more water are doing better. Could this be a water issues? Will trimming make them more 'lush?'

Thank you for any advice you can give.


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Had some trouble learning to share! Here's another shot (I hope).

Here is a link that might be useful: Podocarpus

    Bookmark   July 18, 2009 at 2:33PM
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surfcityhb(10, Sunset 24)

Run, run, run from Hedgezilla! Now, before it's too late! Rip them out now while they're still scrawny and you still have a chance! Before they choke out all life in your yard as you know it! Before you waste any more water on them which they don't need if they've been in the ground for 2-1/2 years! Trust me, they will eat you alive even if they do provide privacy! Plant something else that doesn't become a maintenance headache!

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   July 18, 2009 at 3:22PM
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Whoa! That's hysterical. That hedge is -- well -- positively hegemonious! And yet...I'm strangely drawn to it. Do you really think mine could get that big!?!!? Honestly, I don't want runaway hedges, but I do want privacy (and after 2 1/2 years, I want it NOW!). But there seems to be bad news about so many of my options. (I just read a "plant at your peril" article about Ficus, which I was thinking would be a good alternative.) What to do?


    Bookmark   July 18, 2009 at 7:49PM
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debbysunshine(san diego)

I love this hedge especially when it blooms. BUT ! Hubby and I just spent days diging out three huge shrubs because they were taking all the sun from the rest of my garden. We have thousands of suckers everywhere not harmful but grow so quickly and take over no matter how much you cut them back. We have a bi colored tree which is huge but I shape it as a tree with its huge trunk. They have huge roots that travel everywhere which might be why yours looks scrawny becaus atleast to me it looks to be in the shade of other plants and is probably sending out suckers to get more sun.
What's great now is that somebody has produced short growing hedges from the large varieties. We have gorgeous Plumbago's with their blue flowers but they grow huge also and the more you trim the faster they grow.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2009 at 8:33PM
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surfcityhb(10, Sunset 24)

Sorry, tinahollywood, I got a little carried away. Yes, it will get that big, if you let it. It IS a tree.

The plus is, yes, we have lots of privacy from the 2-story neighbors around us. Podocarpus gracilior roots are well-behaved around a pool as you can see from the photo. There's virtually no litter (except for what you trim away), and it can provide cover for birds--but with a caution--it can also provide cover for neighborhood cats who lay in wait to pounce on the birds (I've planted thorny things where I can to try and slow them down). Once established, it needs NO water. It has pretty lime green new growth. (Mine has never bloomed and it doesn't sucker, so I'm not sure what debbysunshine is saying...)

When it was about 6-7 feet tall, we trimmed it 3 or 4 times, or more, during the growing season to keep it neat. We let it grow taller to what it is now, to about 12 or so feet, and let it be a little more casual and we trim it now a couple of times here and there where it needs it during the growing season. I pay the tree trimmers who come in the fall to trim the top because it's so big and I don't have the equipment to keep it in check--which translates into $$$.

I have a love/hate--but mostly hate--relationship with Hedgezilla. Partially, because since we planted it about 15 years ago, our tastes have changed. It just seems like it's a big, exotic monoculture monster in the yard now. In the past 15 years I've come to appreciate diversity and more natualistic settings in landscaping--I know, I know, the pool isn't natural, but it came with the house. (We plan to rehab the pool so it looks more pond-like, the next time we have $100k sitting around and after we put our daughter through college.) What the photo didn't show is that where I was standing to take the picture, a big melaleuca used to be which we had to have removed because it was about to bust through the pool. For some strange reason we didn't continue the hedge along the fence where the tree used to be. When we were left with this big hole, rather than plant more podocarpus gracilior, we instead planted a mix of (evergreen) trees of varying habits (weeping and upright) to imitate a California-ish natural setting--things that were fairly narrow in habit, but would not require trimming. These plants are fairly small still, but it's my favorite part of the yard now.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2009 at 4:06AM
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surfcityhb(10, Sunset 24)

Sorry, just a couple more thoughts.

Not a big ficus fan (unless you're thinking about creeping fig vine--that could work). If podocarpus gracilior is Hedgezilla, then ficus is King Kong. Everyone I know who's had them is always surprised at how big they get.

If you're on a slope, try creating a moat around each plant (build up the lower side) to prevent run-off. Then SLOWLY soak (preferably with hose), and I mean SOAK, each plant until you think you may have drowned them. (If all the water is running off, that may be why they're struggling.) Don't water them again for at least week and then give them another deep watering--although not to the extent of the first time. Give them deep waterings once a week for a few weeks and then try and stretch it out to every two weeks over time, until it starts to cool off and then let nature take its course. If they don't survive by that time, they're not going to. All trees, in general, like to be watered more deeply less often.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2009 at 4:47AM
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surfcityhb(10, Sunset 24)

One foot apart? Really?

Ours are planted 4 feet apart. That could be your problem right there. They're in serious competition with each other.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2009 at 4:57AM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)

My Hedgezilla is eight feet tall, four to five feet wide, and starts on the side of the house and goes all the way across the front to the other side of the property. Without it, we would have a lovely view of cars and blacktop from all of our front windows.

Ours are planted four to six feet apart. We have just planted two more to block the view into our neighbor's living room (the 50+ year- old oleander finally succumbed to the blight). I water the young ones twice a week, but the fully-grown Hedgezilla needs no water.

Buy a good gas-powered hedge trimmer and a very tall, stable ladder. You will be spending four weekends a year shearing it to keep it from taking over the world. It will never look entirely neat, since it sends up new growth immediately and looks like a kid with a mohawk. Frost will kill the fresh growth, leaving brown curly stuff all over your hedge. Spiders will set up shop in the summer and festoon your hedge so that it looks like Halloween. You should also trim any long side branches so that it starts to get bushy.

I love mine. It needs a trim.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2009 at 6:09PM
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Wow! Thank you all so much for your advide. I don't know where to begin. First, let me say to surfcityhb -- as a bird lover, I tip my hat to you for protecting the winged ones (I like cats, too -- but don't appreciate the unfair advantage). With regard to the spacing between plants -- I have to take credit for that. I added more Podocarpus to the fill in the gaps because the growth was so anemic. (I had a landscape designer but so many of his choices turned out to be bad that I've been patching it up myself.) So...I took your advice and watered/soaked (!) the trees today and I don't know if it did them any good, but it sure made me feel better. One of the mis-steps the landscaper made was to plant the Podocarpus too shallowly, if that's a word. The result is that the rootball bumps up out of the ground making it impossible to build a moat around them which is what my gardner suggested. I'm hopeful that the soak plan will work. I have to admit, I enjoy the hose -- a remark I hope doesn't come back to haunt me later...

Hosenemisis, your hedge is glorious, too. My yard is tiny (1930's spanish style courtyard, actually -- not really a yard at all) so god help me, my hedge may rule me one day).

Again, thank you all for your advice. I can't tell you how much I appreciate it. I have posted to the Garden Web once or twice in the past and didn't get the kind of love I'm feeling here! Maybe I wasn't in the California forum... Anyway, thank you so much for your help.


    Bookmark   July 19, 2009 at 7:54PM
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surfcityhb(10, Sunset 24)

Good luck, Tina. If you can't build up the lower side, even a temporary mulch moat--but away from the crown--might help prevent runoff, maybe with a little bit of help from some rocks or concrete blocks. You also might want to consider thinning them out a bit, especially if they start to show improvement. The crowded conditions might cause their own problem.

Renee, what's that pretty lawn replacement you've got there?


    Bookmark   July 19, 2009 at 10:24PM
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purpleclover(CA Sunset 18)


I saw wire fencing in the photo you posted. For fast privacy, try vines. You can make it something simple like morning glory. There is a perennial version. Much easier to rip out than trees. When the trees fill in, bye-bye vines.

Read more about ficus before you plant it. The roots are horrible! And they get out of control size-wise. They will also be damaged by a freeze. We had a good one in LA a couple of years ago and you could drive around and see privacy hedges that were just dead. Or in some cases, very damaged.

My neighbor has a ficus next to the fence and it drops so much leaf litter that it is the mulch in that part of my flower bed.

Good luck

    Bookmark   July 20, 2009 at 1:26PM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)

Tina, I think podocarpus are a good choice for a small courtyard style yard if you have the time or money to keep them within bounds. My front yard is small too: the yard ends at the right side of the photo.

Teri, the grass is Zoysia. It is similar to Bermuda, but it grows very slowly, making it expensive (about $5.00 a square foot). We plugged it to save money, and it took three years to fill in. This is the lumpy variety that you never have to mow. You can see that it has swallowed the river rocks on the right hand side of the photo and is headed toward Hedgezilla. Wanna take bets on who wins this epic confrontation: the tortoise or the hare?


    Bookmark   July 20, 2009 at 2:40PM
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nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

I can only view the first of the anemic pics and so it is hard to tell what is going on. What size containers were planted? What is your soil texture and fertility? How tall were the plants that went in? How tall are the plants now? Are there any major shade providers? What sort of pruning have you been performing?

    Bookmark   July 21, 2009 at 1:10AM
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Okay, thanks you guys. First, I'm going with surfcityhb's suggestion and will try to build a dam to catch the run off (I have a lot of terracotta tile lying around which should work really well for this -- this actually occurred to me when I was "soaking").

Purpleclover -- how right you are about the fence. Opportunity! We have a vine growing over part of it (I think it's Mexican Flame Vine, but I'm not sure. What I do know is that it tends to whither-away in the summer and flourish in the "winter" which is a drag because I'd like year-round coverage). Will look at Morning Glory (there's a childhood memory there). I'm going to steer clear of Ficus!

Nil3 - sorry about the pictures. I had the darndest time posting. But truth be told, my second and third shot didn't reveal much more than the one I managed to post.

Again, thanks to everyone for their feedback. I'm going forth with your suggestions!


    Bookmark   July 22, 2009 at 11:44PM
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