Magnolias for the Seattle area

laurell(8 - Washington)March 2, 2009

We have a neighbor with a hideous mint green house and bedroom window that looks into all of our windows (which is totally creepy, sometimes I see them peeking out at night) and I'd like to put in a number of evergreen tall shrubs/smallish trees to block their view. I'm aware that it will take several years for anything to grow taller than even the fence, but I'd like to get started in my planting.

Will a magnolia be an option? I have a weakness for flowering evergreens. :)

The most likely location would be just to the left of the big pile of dug-up vinca.

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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

I'd plant a mixed border of broad-leaved evergreen shrubs all the fence, starting next to the shrub that is already there and building out from it. What I chose to go right next to it would depend on what it was.

Outer coastal native Pacific wax myrtle shoots up pretty fast where successful but because it is so perky looking, with pointy sparkling leaves and vertical shoots it doesn't blend well with everything. Local native tall Oregon grape often grows quite tall in time and blends well with most other shrubs. It also looks good against wood. But unless conditions are on the dry side it may develop a rust problem that kills the leaves prematurely and makes plants gaunt. Density and glossiness, size of leaves also varies quite a bit from one seedling to another. Named forms with consistent known characteristics are sometimes available at local outlets.

The Asian evergreen magnolia species that were being sent down from the now-closed Piroche Plants in Pitt Meadows tended to be somewhat gaunt in habit. Availability at garden centers will not be what it was when they were in operation but there may be some stock from other sources around. Otherwise the dominant one is of course the southern magnola (Magnolia grandiflora), said to be one of the world's most popular garden trees. The over-planted and rather expensive 'Little Gem' cultivar would have suitable leaf size and growth habit for this location but be advised that many local specimens mildew and become transparent. There is also sometimes a problem with severe breakage of this one under the weight of wet snow. Some local neighborhoods also saw severe burning of this cultivar after this past winter's cold weather. Most other kinds likely to be encountered at local outlets will probably be too coarse and large for this use. If you would like to plant a heavy blob of a tree at the key location anyway try 'St. Mary' or 'Victoria' as these are comparatively compact, snow-resistant and hardy. Expect dense shade and months of dead leaves dropping here and there.

Another very common one I would steer clear of is Fraser photinia as the leaf spot problems seen for some time in other parts of the country appear to have arrived here. And its flower stink, as do those of privets.

Highclere holly cultivars are often handsome. 'Camelliifolia', 'Golden King' and 'Wilsonii' may sometimes be found at local garden centers. Otherwise, a number of kinds has often been available in the past from Colvos Creek nursery on Maury Island (see their web site).

The Sunset WESTERN GARDEN BOOK has a table of trees and shrubs for hedges and screening near the front.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2009 at 2:18AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

(Michelia wilsonii) has quickly made a handsome dense conical specimen on the south side of a house in Bellevue. It's leaves are grayish and it's flowers greenish yellow, making a harmonious combination. Of course, since it is evergreen these do not show up like those of related deciduous species.

Like many magnolias this specimen rocks around a bit in the wind and looks like it might suffer an accident some time in the future. But I have seen no damage so far, and it is now about 15' or more tall.

Except for the smaller and more bushy kinds like star magnolia these are basically woodland trees doing best out of the wind. And even star magnolia will be apt to have its early flowers torn by winds in exposed positions.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2009 at 2:26AM
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laurell(8 - Washington)

Thanks for the information bboy. I was originally going to use photinia as a main plant, but after finding out about the Pacific Wax Myrtle several weeks ago, I'll likely use that as my main evergreen as it isn't plagued by the moisture problems that I've read about with photinia.

I guess I'll avoid the magnolias, I don't want a plant that I'm always concerned about having problems, especially if it's expensive.

The shrub to the left is a rhododendron of some sort. It's currently battling a black spot disease, I've sprayed it a couple times with an antifungal and it seems to be improving a little. The bark on it is magnificent, the woody parts look like madrona.

My initial plan is to grow some evergreens that will get tallish (15-20 feet tall) to block off their views, then intersperse lilacs, mock orange, california lilac , and in the shadier spots, camellia. If you have any other suggestions, I'd be open to them, but I'm not interested in holly. Plants with poky leaves are very low on my list as I don't like getting near them.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2009 at 12:21PM
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Plant a Eucalyptus perriniana and Quercus chrysolepis right next to it. When the Quercus gets big enough cut the eucalyptus down.

There are some nice, larger hollies that aren't poky such as Ilex purpurea which doesn't really look like most people's idea of a holly.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2009 at 12:25PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Highclere holly is not especially like English holly either. Canyon live oak, on the other hand does produce toothed leaves. Not as fierce as English holly, but with numerous small teeth. As with English holly the level of armature often varies between different parts of the tree as well as between different trees.

There are also English holly clones that aren't especially prickly. The main drawbacks to English holly are that it sometimes has problems with spotting and premature dropping of leaves on lowest branches (not seen on any Highclere holly growing on the same site in a collection in Vancouver BC) and that it is a weed species in this region.

You should plant small groupings (drifts) of several plants of each kind to get the most attractive effect. If you only want height primarily in the one spot then plant one or a few of a taller, bolder kind there and then step down to smaller-leaved, shorter kinds for most of the rest of it.

Planting all photinia would have been a mistake because in addition to the leaf spot problem you would have had an overpowering wall of a fairly large leaf size all the way along. Boring, static and quite good for making adjacent spaces look smaller. Fraser photinia also grows rather tall.

A good, usually hardy one with a comparatively small leaf is Burkwood osmanthus. Holly-leaf osmanthus I have never seen any cold damage to at all to in this climate.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2009 at 1:57PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

For more ideas...

Here is a link that might be useful: Timber Press: Trees for All Seasons

    Bookmark   March 3, 2009 at 5:44PM
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laurell(8 - Washington)

I appreciate all the input but I'm not really all that interested in hollies.

I'll look into the Burkwood osmanthus, the flowers look nice and I like that it's evergreen. Maybe I can draw up a plan for my yard in the next few weeks and you could help to critique it, I have no experience with landscape design.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2009 at 2:35PM
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We have three magnolia growing very well in our yard to help screen out the neighbors in back. One of the magnolias is Sweet Bay, I believe. It likes lots of moisture. The other two are limbed up magnolias we found at Home Depot. They were labeled as Magnolia Grandiflora, but without the name of the cultivar. They have performed well for three years, but we don't have as much history with them. There were other tall plants already there. These are fill-ins. I am from Louisiana, and used to having lots of Magnolias. On the adjacent side, where we really needed a fast screen, we planted 6 Leyland Cypress to shear as a hedge. I know they will eventually have to be pruned aggressively each year, but our privacy is worth it.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2010 at 3:07PM
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homernoy(z8b Bemerton)

My parents live near Inglemoor High School in Bothell/Kenmore and all of the Myrica I planted at their house died in the 1990 freeze. Quercus chrysolepis is a great choice, if you can live without flowers. They are nothing close to Ilex when it comes to leaf spines, and I think less than half of specimens I have seen in California and here have any at all.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2010 at 7:27PM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

I have a problem or two with Magnolias in the Seattle area.
The evergreens are nice, but you can't do much under an established one. The leaves take a long time to disappear into the landscape, or to compost. By a pool, a nightmare. They never seem to 'fit in'. Mostly, they look out of place.
The deciduous ones give nice blossom color in the Spring, but have no Fall color. Drab all summer long. Without good pruning, they don't have good branching pattern in the winter, tending toward twigginess and congestion.
I have a big garden, but can't seem to fit them in.
I sure enjoy them as I drive down the road though.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2010 at 12:27AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Density varies with species.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2010 at 12:47AM
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reg_pnw7(WA 7, sunset 4)

If you need a very tall screen in a smallish yard (which is what you've got in that photo; anything less than half an acre is small) then the best tall fast evergreen screen is Italian cypress. Plant from 5 gallon cans and they will be reaching that second story window in a few years. They are very narrow so they have to be planted close together, but they don't spread out to cover the whole yard when what you really want is a living fence. There is a golden cultivar as well as the usual bluish-green one and you can very nicely intermix your lilacs etc in front of the cypress.

Leyland cypress get tall fast too but spread quite a bit as well. Arborvitae make a beautiful hedge but are very slow growing.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2010 at 11:23AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

'Green Giant' arborvitae promoted as similar large, fast substitute for Leyland back East, but here where western redcedar native might as well plant that instead.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2010 at 4:05PM
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What?! Privets are stinky?!? The house I grew up in had a variegated privet growing under my second story window which I always thought smelled heavenly... wafting up on a sunny summer day... ahhh!

    Bookmark   July 22, 2010 at 12:50AM
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