Podocarpus (fern pine): a monster?

ruby138(9/10)August 21, 2005

My neighbor told me that my new collection of five podocarpus (the one commonly called fern pine) will grow into five huge trees; not five nice shrubs.

Anybody out there growing podocarpus?

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Definitely trees, however they are quite controllable. My mom has had one in a pot indoors for years and years. She prunes it hard once a year. On the other hand, I'm more a fan of letting plants be shaped the way they do it themselves.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2005 at 2:08AM
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teedup1(21-23 So.CA)

Have no fear Ruby138, a podocarpus is wonderful and clean. You can do anything to them (prune, shear, topiary, espalier, keep small, or let grow to a big tree). Bonus: they hardly need any water, always green and not messy. Only occasionally (once every couple of years) there's an attack by aphids or meally bugs...easily cured by a spraying of Malation or Diazinon. I have three. After 30 years, the one by the front door (in the ground) is 4.5 foot tall and topiaried into two "balls" the size of large beach balls; the one by the garage door (in the ground) is 7 foot tall and topiaried into 4 rectangle-shaped levels; the third is in a whiskey barrel (sitting on concrete pavers) grown as a little a tree--I keep it pruned to just under the one story eaves.

Like I said you can do anything to them...eight years ago my neighbor planted 15 five-gallon ones 3 feet apart in a long row at our property line as a privacy screen. These are now 25 feet tall! They provide wonderful shade for our yard in the afternoon. I keep my side trimmed so they just stick out beyond the block wall fence.

I think you can't go wrong with the ones you bought.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2005 at 2:34AM
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I have a similiar question to Ruby138--I have a backyard consisting of a pool and cement with 1 planter on each side and one in the back left that measure 6 ft. wide by 17". I am surrounded by 2 story houses, and planted 1 fern pine in each planter for screening. The planters are only a few feet away from the pool, so I'd like to grow the trees tall but keep them flat. I've read very conflicting info about whether this is advisable, or practical. I've thought about putting up trellises and growing vines which could work on the sides, but the house in the back looks right down into our yard from the second story. Thanks for any help!

    Bookmark   January 17, 2006 at 12:46PM
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euphorbphreak(z10 SF)

There was a detailed article on this tree in this month's issue of Pacific Horticulture. They said that only seed-grown plants will become the huge tree, and that plants grown from cuttings--typically the lateral shoots--will only grow shrubby.


    Bookmark   January 17, 2006 at 3:40PM
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wanda(Z9 CA)

Hmmmmm.....interesting, David. I got my PH yesterday, but I haven't looked at it yet.

There's also 4 commonly found types of Podocarpus on the market too.
P. gracilior is the one that is commonly grown as a tree, but may be espaliered or made into topiary form
P. macrophylla has shorter, stubbier leaves
P. m. 'Maki' only grows to around 8' or so and is good for small places.
P. henkelii which has lusher leaves and rarely grows over 30'.
All of them are fairly slow growing.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2006 at 10:57PM
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iris_gal(z9 CA)

It would be worthwhile to read the information on Podocarpus in Sunset's Western Garden Book. Particularly the mature height.
The 40+ year old P. macrophylla planted next to my mom's house during the late 50s-early 60s craze is a typical example of short-sighted landscaping.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2006 at 2:19AM
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patrick_in_fb(Zone 9 So. Calif.)

Ruby, you didn't say where you planted your five, or how close together they are. So much depends on how you plan to use them. I'll share my own experience: I planted eight p. macrophyllas as a privacy hedge around a patio, on 3-foot centers. They looked great for a number of years, but now I have eight huge trunks, 8 feet tall and 8 inches thick, with huge crowns of sheared branch stubs from being topped so often. Mine REALLY wanted to be trees! Oh, and they're cracking the masonry wall that I planted them close to; so lora714, I would think twice about planting them in such a narrow area and close to a pool.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2006 at 2:51AM
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We bought a house that had been landscaped with the standard shortsighted 2 foot wide borders around the perimeter of the backyard, they planted a podocarpus.It is next to a pool and does drop some litter, but it is manageable. It is easily 14'h x 10'w and 4-5 ft deep, encroaching on the pool deck. The thing is a monster. A big green beautiful monster.We have topped it 2x in the past 24 months.We have shaped it 3x.It functions as a privacy hedge. I am considering calling in an arborist to see if we can give it a more organic shape. It grows like mad and the best I can do is stay out of its way. A smaller form of the same plant would be a great choice for an evergreen, pool friendly, privacy border planting.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2006 at 12:41PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

There are several different kinds of Podocarpus commonly available. I think P. gracilior is the "monster" variety.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2006 at 1:21AM
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OK, I think I'm reluctantly convinced that I should remove the Podocarpus gracilior, since the spaces are probably too narrow (they look so beautiful right now in their 7 ft. forms). Any ideas on what to plant to screen out my neighbor's 2nd story? The planter is 6ft wide (but the plant could extend beyond that width by about 2 ft. each side) and only 17 inches deep--I'd like something that would stay as flat as possible against the wall. Need something tall (12-15 ft.), flat, evergreen, non-invasive roots, not messy, disease resistant--does such a plant exist?

    Bookmark   January 19, 2006 at 12:42PM
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jenn(SoCal 9/19)

We grow one (I call it "toadacarcas" LOL) that Hubby trims regularly. It must not be the monster kind because I've never heard him complain about it getting too big. I'd take a picture or two to the nursery to see if they can identify which ones you have.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2006 at 12:24AM
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wanda(Z9 CA)

Pittosporum tenufolium, Podocarpus 'Maki'

    Bookmark   January 21, 2006 at 11:25AM
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Ruby & Lora
Hi, what did you end up doing? I have kind of the same situation right now. During our storm, I lost all 5 of my Leyland Cypress and now have to replant. We have a two story house next door and it's literally in my backyard. I'm thinking of doing the Podocarpus and can't seem to find them in a larger size. Do you mind telling me where you got yours, or if you came up with a better solution for screening?

    Bookmark   January 28, 2006 at 3:32PM
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Hi Debbie13, I have kept my five podocarpus gracilior in place. They are close together, only about 4 feet apart. They are still growing modestly, very beautiful green. They are flanked along the backyard fence, a 6-foot wooden, older fence. I have only trimmed them a bit in the six months.

I bought them at the Laguna Hills Nursery (Orange County). They were available in gallon and I think 10 gallon size, too. I believe the nursery takes orders. They are very nice and professional.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2006 at 10:15PM
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Debbie, I'm removing the ones I planted against our back wall, and returning them to Home Depot. I had also planted one on each side about 10 months ago. They were a little over 5 feet tall then, and now they're about 7 feet. One I bought at Home Depot ($17.00), the other at Armstrong ($29.00), and there seems to be no difference in quality. I hate to remove them but with the planter only 17" deep, I'm afraid the trunks will eventually outgrow the space.

If you were happy with the Cypress, then Podocarpus gracilior should be a great substitute. Home Depot sometimes carries them in a larger size, or you could order them from a nursery depending on how much you want to pay. My backyard neighbor told me she paid $400.00 for one about 10' tall she planted a couple of years ago, and now it's 14 or 15'--unfortunately for me, it's on the low side of her split level house and doesn't screen out her 2nd story--

    Bookmark   February 3, 2006 at 1:40PM
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Thanks Lora & Ruby~

I finally found some at Central Wholesale Nursery. They are ordering them for me in the 24 gallon and they will plant out at about 7-10 ft. I'm just praying for fast growth!

    Bookmark   February 13, 2006 at 11:43AM
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I too am looking to sheid my pool area from the next door 2 story house that towers over my yard.
I have a planter that is 2 feet wide by 7 feet long.........is this plant/tree adviseable with ut breaking the concrete over the next years.

Thank for any thoughts, Rod

    Bookmark   February 2, 2007 at 12:10PM
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Rod, I'd advise against these for such a small planter. When we moved in 11 years ago there were three podocarpus alongside the concrete pool deck planted about 6 feet apart. At that time they were about 10 feet tall and about 4" in diameter. About 5 years ago we had to remove the middle one because they were too crowded. Now the other two are 25-30 feet tall, about 12" in diameter and have raised the pool deck in two places. They DO provide great shielding from the neighbors, though. The foliage is very dense and clumps of dead leaves accumulate and fall to the ground (and in the pool) when the trees are jostled or the wind blows.
Good luck, Kirby

    Bookmark   February 27, 2007 at 8:30PM
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retnavythom(z10 CA)

I vote for the MONSTER... The tree in front of my house is very large and VERY messy. How do you get it to stop setting fruit and raining a ton of cherry sized fruit all over the place.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2007 at 4:24AM
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I'm interested in info on Podocarpus gracilior, to be installed around a pool. They would be about 8' from the pool deck. My concerns are: root invation and droppings.
Also are there other privacy plants that can be used AROUND THE POOL FOR PRIVACY?

    Bookmark   February 23, 2009 at 6:38PM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)


    Bookmark   February 23, 2009 at 10:30PM
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I have a podocarpus hedge panted at two ft ht 1.5 ft apart.

They seem to either burn or slow SUPER DUPER slowly.

Any suggestions on how to make them grow healthy and more quickly???


    Bookmark   July 10, 2009 at 8:31PM
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If you look at the California gardens post you can see my 30 year old Platycerium growing on my 30 year old Podocarpus trees almost- 30 feet tall. My weepy trees may never get to be 75' or more like seedling trees,but 30' is big enough.
Im not sure,but Miami might be too hot for them? as I think they are African plants of some elevation...more of the cool subtropics than steamy hot nights climate. They also appreciate acid fertilizer.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2009 at 9:06PM
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trpool(10, Sunset 24)

We have a very large podocarpus gracillior hedge on 3 sides in the backyard around our pool. The good news is that it's evergreen, will provide coverage (for birds) and privacy (for humans), roots won't be a problem around a pool, and it doesn't require any watering once established. The bad news is, depending on how tight you like things, it can be maintenance headache and in my opinion, it can be boring. When it was smaller, we used to trim it at least 2 or 3 times during the growing season. Now that it's about 12 feet tall and a little looser, it's trimmed once a year.

I frankly would like to tear it out...because it's an uninteresting monoculture, except I would feel naked to the 2-story neighbors that surround us until something else grew in. While we have things growing in front of it, it still dominates the landscape. A portion of the hedge recently had to be removed, and rather than replace it with more of the same, we instead planted an irregular, layered, informal mix of upright and weeping plants (evergreen, or at least, not deciduous) that that won't require trimming and offers a more interesting naturalistic look than a hedge. I wish we could do this with the rest of the hedge.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2009 at 3:31AM
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My podocarpus were planted last May. There are approx ten in a row to form a screen around a/c and pool equipment on the side of our house. They're not growing. They're still the same height as when planted last May, which is still 2' to 3'. Is there a fertilizer or plant food I can use to quicken growth?
Thanks, Yvonne

    Bookmark   April 30, 2011 at 1:19PM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)

Yvonne, they will start growing this year and next year they will shoot up like crazy. There is a saying: first year sleep, second year creep, third year LEAP.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2011 at 11:41PM
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Hi all, my neighbor planted a podocarpus hedge about 15 years ago. Instead of topping them and having them fill in and become a good privacy screen, he thinned them out. Now they are growing in excess of 20 feet high and have very few branches on the lower parts of the trunks and hence provide no privacy. I believe that trimming my trees and allowing more light in as well as trimming back the bigger podocarpus branches on my side of the fence will stimulate more lower growth. Can you offer any other suggestions? Thank you.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2011 at 4:42PM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)

Hi Andrew,
You may want to post this question, in a new thread, over on the trees forum too.

If you can trim the top branches so that the trunks are not shaded, and get some sunlight to the bottom, you may be able to get some growth down there. I would not trim the bottom branches back farther toward the trunk than the top branches.

Good luck. They make a pretty sheared hedge.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2011 at 1:32AM
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Which hedge is a faster growing The pittosporum or podocarpus? I need to block a 30ft side wall. It will be planted next to stonewall on the flat part of a hill,The location is in Agoura Hills ca.
Thanks so Much,

    Bookmark   September 14, 2012 at 12:26PM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)

Depends on the pittosporum.
Podocarpus take two or three years to get going, then watch out!

    Bookmark   September 15, 2012 at 1:03AM
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Ours grew so fast that I was cutting it heavily twice a year. A few years ago, I tied some tall bamboo poles together at the top and went round and round with garden twine. I put all the trimmed branches on this teepee and topped it off with christmas lights. It stayed green for about 3 weeks. The trimmings are feathery and nice and the cut branch ends hide well. Start at the bottom and work to the top of the teepee. One of the prettiest christmas trees we ever had and cost us nothing. Everybody drove by to see it.

It finally got into the sewer line and had to be removed but how that tree could grow!

    Bookmark   September 19, 2012 at 9:28PM
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I recently took all the pruners-including chainsaw to my pair of trees. And it looks the better for it..the more you prune for lightness,the more Asian garden plants they seem to be. The trunks and largest branches on old trees get nice curves..you might get a jump on that (for those thinking of planting) by planting with a lean..it wouldn't be a bad idea to even try putting bends in the trunk.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2012 at 8:01PM
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To anyone considering planting Podocarpus near a pool.

I would advise against it. In our experience, they are very messy with just about any hint of wind they drop lots of their almost needle like leaves. I've been cleaning those things out of our pool, weekly, for nearly 8 years now. They loose an especially large amount of leaves in a brisk wind. I'm cutting ours down and replacing them with something far less messy (I hope). I hate to see them go, as they've been a great screen between us and our close by 2 story neighbors house...but I'm simply tired of cleaning their leaves out of our pool/filter.

Far enough away from a pool, they make a great screen. The species we have (dont recall name) is pretty fast growing. Went from about 6ft to around 30 feet in 8 years with little to no fertilizing.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2012 at 6:24PM
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I call our very tall podocarpus gracilior hedge on three sides of our backyard Hedgezilla. Yes, it will eat us alive if we turn our backs on it.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2014 at 3:39AM
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The leafs problem gets worse when the tree's mature..THEN they add thousands of seed husks..about the size of marbles to the litter they make. They can take years to break down, Leaving them never looks good.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2014 at 5:56PM
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Joshua Browning

These plants make a great privacy fence if trimmed correctly. If you don't want to take time to grow from seed there are several online nurseries that you can purchase, these plants, from. A simple google searched returned http://www.budgetplants.com/trees/screening/fern-pine-podocarpus-gracilior 

    Bookmark   March 1, 2015 at 10:25AM
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