Tall, fast-growing evergreen screen?

tulsaweatherSeptember 25, 2012

Layout: North/South 3' wide planting area at the rear of my backyard, at grade with a 6' privacy fence on the east side, 4' drop to backyard level on west side. Nearly full midday/afternoon sun.

soil: clay, w/ a bit of sand.

background: Had three Loblolly pines spread 10' apart. They have died, one by one between the hottest part of summer and now. The needles have turned brown and fallen off.

question: I'd like to replace them with some sort of faster growing evergreen to provide screening from an upstairs window on the house to my east (behind the privacy fence). I need at least 15' of height. I'd like under the foliage to be open, for other mid-height shrubs between the trees (knock-out roses are there now). I'm looking at Spartan Juniper, Yoshino Japanese Cedar (will this grow here?) and Leyland Cypress. Any suggestions?

Many thanks!


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Also, will add Nellie R. Stevens Holly and Foster's Holly to my list of possibles.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2012 at 10:44PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

I haven't said anything yet because I am very far south...almost in Texas....so don't have the same soil, heavier rainfall (most years) or humidity here that y'all tend to have up there. I was hoping someone in the Tulsa area would respond and give you their thoughts. Since they haven't, here's mine:

First of all, I'd look around the area and note which conifers have survived this year's drought and still look good. Then, I'd consider those types if I was determined to plant a conifer. Keep in mind that survival has as much to do with watering techniques as anything else so plan ahead for how you can consistently provide water in future summers, particularly drought summers. A sprinkler system is a huge help, but in the absence of one, you can put down simple drip irrigation lines very easily. I'd buy quality irrigation line, and DripWorks is an online retailer that sells quality products. That where we bought our dripline system.

Secondly, it is very unfortunate that fast-growing plants tend to be weak-wooded which means they often will die faster too. It is better to buy something slightly slower-growing that is a higher-quality plant and that has better longevity.

Third, if the choice is between conifers and broad-leaved evergreens, my personal preference is always going to be for broad-leaved evergreens. In recent years, millions of conifers in the USA, including many in Oklahoma, have fallen prey to bark beetles, which ultimately kill them.

Also, from the point of view of someone who has been to many wildfires since 2004, I'd just like to add that when you have conifers near any structure on your property, if a wildfire approaches, they go up like torches and help spread the fires. Even after going to dozens and dozens of wildfires a year in a bad fire year, it still astonishes me when I watch those cedars going up like torches. It is just mind-blowing to watch the fire hit those conifers. If you are close enough, you hear the "whoosh" type sound they make as they flame up in just an instant.

We live on acreage in a rural area that is heavily infested with eastern red cedar and we have removed dozens and dozens of them that were within 300' of our home. We did this because when they burn, they can explode and send burning sap flying through the air. The further the trees are from your house and any other structures, the better.

Fourth, I just happen to love hollies of all types, and for good reason. They are not as fast-growing as conifers, but they do grow pretty quickly. They are high-quality, look pretty all year long, are fairly drought-tolerant (though they will need irrigation until they are well-established and will need some irrigation in drought periods), do not have a lot of pests and form nice thick screens for privacy hedges.

We have a two-story house and wanted to plant tall shrubs near it that would be in scale with the house, and then put shorter shrubs in front of them. We choose Burford hollies after much research and never have regretted it. We intended to let them reach their full mature size and somewhat pyramidal shape and never intended to prune them into unnatural formal hedges, so we spaced them very carefully so they would not be too close to the house or to one another. How has it worked out? Beautifully. The older ones on the south side of the house are about 8 or 9 years old and are so well-established that they do not have to be watered very much even in periods of severe through exceptional drought.

There are some younger ones on the east side of the house that are only 4 years old, and they need more irrigation since their root systems are not yet as large, but eventually they'll get big enough that I won't have to water them often. This summer I have watered them about once a week, watering for a long period of time at a low rate to that the water could soak deeply into the soil.

Both Nellie R. Stevens Holly and Foster's Holly are fine hollies and I would not hesitate to plant either one.

One consideration that might be more important for you since you are further north than I am would be the effect of ice storms on them. However, that's going to be true with any evergreen when there is an ice storm, whether it is a conifer or a broadleaf plant. We haven't had much ice here since moving here in 1999, but y'all have ice storms a lot more frequently up there.

I hate that you lost your Ponderosa pines, but am not surprised. Many people in your area also lost their Thuja plants in last year's drought, and for much of your area, I think this year's drought was even more severe than last year's. Often, shrubs that can withstand an occasional bad drought year cannot withstand repeated ones.

Our neighbor catty-corner across the road from us lost a long row of Ponderosa pines planted as a screen along a fenceline back in either June or July of this year, but he lost them to wildfire. They were about 20-25 years old and were very tall and beautiful. Our VFD got there pretty quickly and stopped the fire pretty fast, all things considered, but it started right beside that row of pines and a substantial portion of them were fully engulfed when we arrived on the scene. He also had dead cedar trees lying on the ground that he was in the middle of cutting and removing, so those poor pines didn't stand a chance with those cedars to fuel the fire.

With wildfires becoming more common here since 2005, every decision we make about our landscape nowadays takes into consideration the principles of firewise landscaping too. Had we know when we moved here in the late 1990s that the 2000s would bring repeated years of drought and wildfire, there are some landscaping decisions we would have made differently than we did then. That doesn't mean we are tearing out the landscaping we have, but it does mean that when an area is redone, we'll be careful to incorporate the principles of firewise landscaping to the extent that we can.

Good luck making your selection and replacing your trees. I hope you'll let us know which ones you selected and how it works out for you over the next few years.


    Bookmark   September 28, 2012 at 10:36AM
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So, this location receives full sun throughout most of the day? If so I would suggest to stay clear of the Yoshino and the Cypress unless you are committed to watering very often during establishment. Many junipers will fair decent there if allowed time to root before intense summer Oklahoma sun. Fall or early spring planting would be best to avoid that possibility. If you have a good watering schedule/machines that will do it for you a Leyland Cypress would be a good addition to that space and a fast grower as well. The problem with Leyland Cypress is their height. Unless you anticipate the 30-50 ft. they may grow in 15-20 yrs you may be unhappy. However, there are smaller dwarf species of Leyland that reach a maximum height around 20 ft.

Like Okiedawn I like the idea of large Hollies if you have a irrigation system to keep them through the tough summer months. Usually large hollies like Nellie Stevens only reach maximum heights around 20 ft. and many have pretty red berries in fall and winter. If you look at the Burford Hollies make sure you are not viewing the dwarf variety or you will be surely disappointed with their ultimate height.

Overall, you have many possibilities and I would suggest visiting a local nursery and or speaking with them over the phone about their availability and what could be planted this time of year. One such nursery which I especially like is Marcum's located in Goldsby, Ok and OKC 405-288-2368. Not very close to you but they provide great advice.

Best of luck,

    Bookmark   September 29, 2012 at 2:58AM
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I don't have a suggestion for you, but I think I recognize your user name from an old sports board I once frequented. Is that you James, you old goat?!


    Bookmark   September 30, 2012 at 12:52AM
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Thank you very much for the detailed responses!! I appreciate your time, wisdom and kindness.

Looks like Nellie R. Stevens hollies will be going in in the next couple of weeks. The area is on an irrigation system, so I should be able to control the water there pretty easily.

Scott? 'fraid that's me. What are you up to?

    Bookmark   October 5, 2012 at 1:39PM
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I decided to plant Nellies Stevens hollies a few years ago but couldn't find any at that time. I didn't look past the big box stores though.

Good luck with them. Nice to see you post here. There are some very knowledgeable people on the board that have helped me quite a few times.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2012 at 9:37AM
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