What can I plant to cover this ugly 3 stories condo.

fortunecookiesSeptember 21, 2012

Hi, I live in Palo Alto bay area. This is what I got on my side yard. The fence in the picture is my side fence. Fence from my house is 30 feet. Can I plant a row of Ficus Nitita tree to cover it? what will be the spacing? what will be the best tree to cover this building? Cherry Laura? Something can reach 40 feet. thanks,

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I understand your pain :-). You need something that is evergreen and has a vertical dense habit. I would suggest Bamboo. Be careful about putting in a barrier so it does not take over your yard.

Another option is arborvitae. It's an evergreen tree that is common in colder climates like Pacific Northwest. You may need to special order it since I have not seen any in the nurseries around.

Third, any evergreen tall alpine tree that is fast growing.

Hope this helps, and I'd be curious to hear from others.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2012 at 3:03PM
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wcgypsy(10 / Sunset 23)

Good Grief! Yeah, I'd go with Giant Timber Bamboo and ditto on the barrier.....either that or lath / patio roof the entire yard and ignore that building.....

    Bookmark   September 21, 2012 at 4:56PM
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Hi, It was planted bamboo before. Bamboo was messy, invasive and can only reach 15 feet. It was a pain to take them out. I need something to reach 40 feet ideally. Some people suggest to plant prunus carolina(Carolina cherry laural) or European Fran fontain( european hornbean), Even though Fran's fontain is decidious, since I live in zone 8 and winter is rather short, so it might still a viable option. Any better suggestion?

    Bookmark   September 21, 2012 at 5:07PM
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wcgypsy(10 / Sunset 23)

Not everyone likes bamboo, but timber bamboo can reach upwards of 70'.......

    Bookmark   September 21, 2012 at 7:36PM
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I was warned against ficus nitida because it needs a lot of water and has very invasive roots, will break driveways, patios etc.

So you will want a fairly fast growing large tree that is evergreen to retain privacy in winter.

How about California Sycamore? It grows fast and tall, it requires relatively little water compared to ficus

California Sycamore

California Bay (not the same as bay laurel) is another handsome option - it's more usual size is 30' but could still provide a nice screen.

is beautiful but less dense foliage so may not be an solid a screen, but would allow plants to grow underneath if you want.

If you'd prefer a conifer, the is very fast growing and drought tolerant generally reaches about 30'.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2012 at 8:04PM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)

Egads. Bad zoning! I feel for you.

Carolina Cherry Laurel is very messy. It drops fruits with nuts in them everywhere. It never got taller than 20 feet here- about the same height as my bamboo.

The only thing I can think of is Italian Cypress. Do they grow there? They can look spectacular if you grow Lady Banks roses through them, because the roses will grow as tall as the cypresses and cascade down. It would take a while to get them 40 feet tall, though.

Do eucalyptus grow there? I'd consider them, but you would have to pay someone to prune them every year or two. That would solve your problem within two or three years, but it would be expensive to maintain. They are pretty messy.

Another choice is podocarpus. They grow slowly the first few years but then they take off fast and get up to 60 feet. Three would do it, from what I can see. They cast dense shade, though.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2012 at 10:35PM
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Does thuja green giant really only grows to 30 feet? Somepeople told me that they are 60 to 100 feet. Can I plan a row of thuja green giant here? How tall is a cherry Laura "tree" can grow. Can Laura grow to 40 feet.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2012 at 8:00AM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

As you only have 30 feet to work with, consider that many trees that would grow to 40 feet will also have a diameter of at least 20 feet, pretty much eliminating your own yard. If this fence is to the south you will also live in total shade in the winter, when you could use some sun. Al

    Bookmark   September 22, 2012 at 10:10AM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

Yeah, ficus nitida, but keep it pruned for narrowness (not height) which will also restrain the root system, do 6' spacing.

I don't see many other alternatives except moving. Cherry laurel too slow to 40'. I would say in this situation Ficus nitida is the right choice. As previous poster remarked, think about where the shade of such a screen is going to fall, and if you are completely overwhelmed with shade--is that okay? Considering that view, I'd say "yes", myself.

This one is kept to 15 or 20' high so it doesn't block the uphill neighbor's view, but carefully pruned it is getting the job done of screening magnificently:

This one is not as well cared for, so lacks some of the beauty, but it is also getting the job done. I think it is close to 40' tall now, in less than 10 years. Shows you that regular maintenance can make a much more attractive result. This one they just planted it and left it, and some of the trees are crooked, the bases have gone bare, it's unevenly spaced.

You are going to have to think very carefully about how you are going to keep it trimmed. It's going to cost money to maintain it, but at the same time will probably help your property value considerably. I also hope your sewer line is nowhere near that area. Check.

Think very carefully about your choice. It's going to be a large, large screen, and large large objects come with drawbacks as well as advantages. Good luck!

    Bookmark   September 22, 2012 at 11:53AM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

Thinking further, also look at Italian Cypress, but see if you can plant them such that you are not creating a "Fort Cupressus" type of look. It's going to eliminate most trimming, but the thing about an Italian Cypress screen is that it screams "I'm hiding something ugly!". Perhaps planting them on short diagonals rather than in a row would help...and remember what ever you plant, not too close to the fence.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2012 at 12:48PM
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I have seen some of the ficus nitida roots in southern California. They are horrendous. How can we keep it's root small? Does anyone has the experience? How about European hornbean Frans Fontain? FF is a deciduous tree. In my zone 8, winter is quite short, even though it's leaves fall in winter, but the dense twigs and strong branches can still obscure the view. Also FF has a compact and upright form, it will take up less space in the yard. I can plant them very close, or against the fence. Does anyone has the experience?

    Bookmark   September 22, 2012 at 3:31PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

The ficus that is bad is benjamina. Nitida is not too bad. If it is trimmed regularly the roots are less of a problem. Palo Alto, CA is listed as USDA zone 9, not 8. Sunset zone is 16.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2012 at 9:08PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

Cal Poly lists Carpinus betula as okay for Sunset 16.

Here is a link that might be useful: Cal Poly selectree

    Bookmark   September 22, 2012 at 9:15PM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)

Perhaps you should consider planting a spreading tree with a wide canopy nearer the center of your yard, so that you cannot see up and your neighbors cannot see down into your yard. It would make your yard shady, but it would solve the problem of having to pay people to prune a 40 foot tall hedge. If you had my California Pepper in your yard you would not be able to see that building at all, because the branches weep down.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2012 at 12:48PM
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I would like to create a formal garden. I think I still have a lot of options, Little Gem Magnolia, steeplechase arborvitae, Frans Fontain, or even Italian cypress with fastiigata cherry in front.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2012 at 10:38PM
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Do you really need to screen the entire building? If your screen went up 15-20 feet, I bet you wouldn't see the ugly building. The height you need depends on how close the building is. You don't walk around your yard looking up all that much either. I bought a house once which was next to a two story apartment building. It wasn't really visible due to an ugly shed in the middle of the yard. Until, that is, I removed the shed....

Another vote against bamboo and a vote against pepper trees from me. Those are two plants that at various times have made my life miserable.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2012 at 3:46AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Bamboos are somewhat messy with constant leaf drop year round, but clumping bamboos, and I've used Himalayacalamus hookerianus, Bluestem bamboo as a 30 foot tall narrow vertical hedge that needs little pruning. Another great narrow evergreen vertical flowering tree is Hymenosporum flavum, which quickly reaches 40 feet tall and stays narrow. I'd also suggest Tristania conferta as a good fast narrow screen, much easier to deal with as a garden tree than Ficus nitida or retusa.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2012 at 1:04AM
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I love my Italian cypress. They do not scream I'm hiding an ugly thing. They say I'm a beautiful windbreak. This is not a fast growing solution. My neighbor has them all around the yard and then, yes, it looks like a fort. I would go with the covered structure idea. A beautiful vine going up the side or perhaps a grape on top. It would keep the condo residents from looking down on you as well. Maybe there could be a break in the top to let light in your windows but still manage to block the condo view.

Any big tree screen is going to take time to grow and possible cause damage in the future. It will also eat up your yard space. This is why I vote for the covered structure. Privacy for you without sacrificing space.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2012 at 8:17PM
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