Pacific Wax Myrtle or other hedge to replace Photinia

nate77March 13, 2008

The condo complex where I live is in the process of deciding what to plant to replace dying Photinia along a 90 foot access road. Pacific Wax Myrtle has been suggested. I'm seeking advice to confirm that this is a good choice and or solicit other possible options.

The hedge has a southern exposure with full sun most of the day and aside from watering the plants while they are getting established, the only irrigation will be rain. I'd like the hedge to reach 12-15 ft and it will need to grow within a 4 ft. wide by 90 ft. long bed between a cedar fence and driveway. Cyprus has been mentioned but I think it will require twice the Cyprus, at more than twice the cost, to provide what Myrtle offers.

We live near Tacoma, WA. The soil is rich, drains fairly well but is very rocky. Any Thoughts or suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks.

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Well, my Wax Myrtles need watering in the summertime. They like to be pruned, fertilized and watered. Very nice bushes. The birds like to twitter in them. Their tips die back at about 24 degrees and below in this yard.

I see wax myrtles around town and they all look like they need watering in summer.

There are ceanothus in the road medians that don't get watered and still thrive. I've planted several and the oldest is 2 years 2 months and still likes watering. Each month that goes by and they get more established, they require less watering.

What is making your Photinia die? The climate has changed down here and it's just too hot and dry for too long. We've had below average rainfall for over 2 years now and it stops raining hard early in spring. It used to rain hard all the way through May. This year the drenching rains stopped February 10th.

If I were you I'd look south and see what plant meets your needs and plant that since the dry heat is creeping north.

In any case you might consider planting a variety including drought tolerant conifers, broadleaf evergreens and deciduous trees to give variety and all - season interest.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2008 at 9:59AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Pacific wax myrtle lives in the wild on sandy soils on the outer coast here in WA and OR, with more rainfall than many populated areas further inland but still falling off markedly in summer. Most local sites it should not require water watering, once established. There are plantings of it at some interchanges on I-5 in the Willamette Valley where it is doubtful there is much, if any watering as well as numerous other locations in the region where it is growing under similar circumstances.

The main potential issue I see it growing much wider than 4 feet unless pruned, as would most ceanothus - these are also more likely to freeze back or out during a hard winter and remove your screening after perhaps many years of development.

90' of 15' x 4' points to something like the ubiquitous Thuja occidentalis 'Smaragd', a staple of non-nurseries like big box stores and supermarkets where you can start off with numbers of comparatively inexpensive specimens. Watered for establishment and planted on a not particularly droughty soil, mulched after planting this should grow adequately - it is planted everywhere here.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2008 at 12:25PM
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Thanks for the info. IÂve looked into the Ceanothus. It seems a good choice for yet another upcoming condo garden project.
As to the replacing the Photinia along the roadway, Thuja Occidentalis looks very interesting. How does it compare to Incense Cedar?
IÂve purchased a Sunset Western Garden book (we live in zone 4, bordering on zone 5) it only present more options than clarify anything. There seems to be so many chooses and many plants seem so very much alike (such as the Thuja and Incense Cedar) how do you keep it all straight?

    Bookmark   March 13, 2008 at 4:17PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

The incense cedar smells differently and grows much larger than the 'Smaragd' arborvitae. It is also more drought-resistant, being a western native - driving south on I-5 you start to see wild ones about half way down Oregon or somewhat farther.

Since the 'Smaragd' is planted and lives often here in all manner of situations it should be pretty good for you. Some people do have problems with parts of hedges of these dying out, could be several causes for this and when the rather frequent posts asking about it are made it is usually impossible to determine what the specific problem might be in each instance. Often, dampness or dryness at the root seems likely. I see long rows of these rather often, doubtless costing thousands of dollars that appear to have had no aftercare whatsoever - the trees being drilled like so many fence posts and left to fend for themselves - perhaps with the burlap and twine still on the rootballs.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2008 at 8:31PM
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sea_jen(Zone 8, Seattle)

I have a Pacific Wax Myrtle on a southern retaining wall. It does well with little supplemental water during Seattle summers, although it seems as if you're in a colder zone. I think PWMs are beautiful plants and are underused relative to some non-natives.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2008 at 4:11PM
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reg_pnw7(WA 7, sunset 4)

Pacific wax myrtle is locally native. You should have no problems with either cold or drought. Yes, Tacoma is colder in winter than Seattle, but that's not saying much, is it. Wax myrtle grows wild in the Aberdeen/Hoquiam/Westport/Long Beach areas and they're all colder than Seattle. They get more rain too, but still get none in summer, and it grows in sandy and rocky soils that do not hold water anyway.

Pacific wax myrtle makes a great low maintenance hedge. I am always highly in favor of replacing Photinia because of its disease issues with our wet climate. Won't be a problem with wax myrtle.

Ceanothus are too wide growing for your hedge.

Oregon grape, Mahonia aquifolium, is another native evergreen shrub to consider, but it doesn't normally grow in quite so much sun, and only about 4-6ft tall. I do see it planted in full sun but it's not its preference. Plus, it's very expensive and slow growing, but it does bloom in March, and people won't push through it because it's so prickly.

Incense cedar is a tree. You don't want a tree. You could not keep it trimmed to a hedge.

There are also hollies and yews that might do what you want. I see Yew HM Eddie planted as a hedge, but I think it's slow growing and I don't know how tall it's supposed to get, probably not 12ft. I've seen hedges of small-leafed hollies but I don't know what species or cultivars they are - I. meservae maybe, or Blue Boy and Blue Girl.

Then there's Portuguese laurel, one of my favorites. Evergreen, wants to be a tree but lots of people keep it trimmed as a hedge. Smaller leaved and less of a monster than its cousin the English laurel, which you do NOT want. I like the purple-red stems of the Port. laurel, contrasting with the very dark green leaves. Full sun, no irrigation.

And strawberry bush, Arbutus unedo and Arbutus 'Marina'. Very pretty, cousins of the native madrone, but more hedge like. A. unedo has white flowers in fall and red fruits in spring if winter was kind to the flowers. Red bark, small dark evergreen leaves. A. 'Marina' is more tree like, I don't know about keeping it as a hedge, but it's very pretty and does not get any of the leaf spots that plague both A. unedo and the madrone, although you should have no disease problems with the A. unedo in full sun with no overhead watering. I see hedges of A. unedo all over the place. I had an A. unedo 'Compacta' that got to be easily 6ft tall and wide. I pruned it once a year to keep it in its place. Full sun, no irrigation.

Oh, it takes years and years to keep all the plants straight! and there's new ones every year, too. No one ever knows them all, that's why there's so many reference books. People will specialize in one group or another, like Conifers or Natives or Australian plants or Perennials.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2008 at 11:50AM
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Lots of good choices suggested and most any would work. Since the Photinia certainly will not restrain itself to a 4' width, I'd assume routine maintenance in the form of pruning or shearing is provided to the complex? If so, you really are not very limited in selection other than sun/water requirements. Ceanothus is used as a hedge in a nearby commercial installation (parking islands, no less) and looks great and still blooms well despite heavy annual pruning. Full sun, rather poor soils and no additional irrigation.

I also highly support the suggestion of Pacific wax myrtle. Again, an extremely durable and tolerant native but with the need for pruning at least to control width. Other possibilites are Osmanthus burkwoodii or delavayi, and various selections of Euonymus. A good many broadleaved evergreen shrubs will make a suitable hedge and most respond well to periodic pruning or shearing. And the arbs are always a standby narrow hedging/screening choice and offer the benefit of no pruning requirements. But they are somewhat boring :-))

    Bookmark   March 15, 2008 at 12:15PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Remember everyone, the desired dimensions are (12') 15' x 4' x 90'. Tall, narrow, and long. Annual pruning of a 90' hedge could be quite a chore.

Why would Tacoma be colder than Seattle? You'd expect the valley areas to be frost pockets, but not the hills and beaches. Salmon Bay is a collection site for giant chain fern, found only here and there very far north of the redwood belt. Seattle has cold and mild neighborhoods too, in a hard winter like 1990 it can be 2F or 12F depending on where you are.

The coast is cold until you get close to the water, then it is milder than farther inland. That's probably why the wax myrtle is native only out there, right behind the beach.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2008 at 2:31PM
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still_kris(z17 NoCA)

In my experience, Wax Myrtle doesn't only like pruning it REQUIRES a great deal of pruning to keep it within the size limits one might desire. I would not call it low maintenance except that here in NoCal it doesn't require any watering besides rainfall.

I have a 100' hedge of Douglas Fir. It is beautiful, smells great, and its only requirement is pruning/shearing once or twice a year. Yes, it requires a bit of work, but it is so much nicer than a fence and the wildlife (and my pets) love the habitat it provides for them. I would never have thought to plant that kind of tree for a shaped hedge, but it works very well and is quite appropriate to this area.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2008 at 11:01AM
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My ceanothuses and wax myrtles have all reached the point of needing lots of pruning, 2 years 6 months after planting. The wax myrtles are now about 3' higher than the roof and were only 1' at planting. I will have to prune the wax myrtles by standing on the roof.

The ceanothus Victoria impressivas were very small at planting and were pruned back heavily last summer and are now going completely nuts with growth. I love these plants but once a year they need pruning -- not high maintenance imho. Easy to prune.

2 pictures of one ceanothus victoria impressive, 1st about 4 months after planting (little plant at Lynn's feet);
2nd picture 2 years 5 months after planting and heavy pruning 1X. Planted several and they are all doing very well and growing to beat the band. They are watered frequently still (not yet past 3-year establishment period).

    Bookmark   July 6, 2008 at 11:16AM
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    Bookmark   September 17, 2010 at 4:06PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Maybe you need to water them.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2010 at 7:45PM
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