need suggestions for utility screen

jamiecrouseOctober 12, 2010

Hello, I'm soliciting suggestions for a plant or plants that would work well to hide our group of utility posts. We have four of them together (gas, electric, telephone, and cable) that range in height with the max being about four feet. I've tried various things here and haven't been happy with anything I've done. I first tried esperanza but they die back for too much of the year and leave it bare. So then I had an idea of making it into a rose planting and put in some beautiful double delights but they never really got full enough to cover up the utilities. Lots of people in our neighborhood use various kinds of hedges (yaupon holly, privet, texas sage, etc) which does the trick but I would really like something that flowers and is more eye-catching. Besides I don't prefer the sculptured look; I'm much more of a cottage gardener and I can imagine all kinds of colors and textures growing close together, but I'm coming up short thinking of something that is tall, full, evergreen, and flowers for a long time. That is, except knockout roses and oleander, which I already have. So I'm calling on the wisdom of the group--what suggestions do you have that I'm not thinking about.

ps. I'm just northeast of Austin.

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Maybe not as tall as you're looking for, but Turk's Cap? I really like the variegated variety...

    Bookmark   October 13, 2010 at 6:39PM
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There's a development not far from me where the Powers That Be, for reasons beyond my ken, located the utility boxes in front of the houses. Many of the owners have employed every imaginable stratagem to screen these unsubtle contraptions from public view. I think you've already hit on most of the practical options. Well, there's rosemary and abelia, but upright shrubs are here more effective. The solution that I liked best was where the property owner simply put a heavy lattice enclosure around the boxes. I expect he will eventually get around to putting a few plants around the enclosure.

    Bookmark   October 13, 2010 at 8:27PM
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roselee z8b S.W. Texas

I like the lattice idea. Maybe you could put lattice in back of the Double Knockouts. I don't know about the doubles, but the original Knockouts can easily get five foot tall and be wide and thickly foliaged enough to hide the utilities so maybe they just need more time to grow. Some of the tall grasses like miscanthus look nice between Knockout roses.

    Bookmark   October 13, 2010 at 10:33PM
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Funny you mention the lattice screen because that was my last try. I got a plastic lattice utility screen and it ended up being very cheap and flimsy, promptly falling over and smashing my Double Delights. I guess I could try a good old wooden lattice, but that would require my DH cutting and framing it and he's busy with another project right now. I am thinking about getting the Rainbow Knockouts (the paler pink with the yellow center) since I have the darker pink already in my front beds and wanted somehting different. I was wondering if that variety gets as tall; my regular knockouts are easily four feet and I trim them a few times during the summer, but I haven't seen anyone with the rainbow ones that tall. Anybody know?And perhaps I'm just not being patient enough with the Double Delights, but they seem to be growing much slower than the Knockouts.
I've been thinking about the tall grasses; it would make a nice texture difference, but don't all grasses go dormant in the winter? (please correct me if I'm wrong). That would be the same problem with the Turk's Cap, which I have in the back yard, and its tall enough. I'll have to check out abelia; I don't think I recognize it off hand.

    Bookmark   October 14, 2010 at 9:34PM
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roselee z8b S.W. Texas

Hi Jamie! Speaking of lattice I noticed that Lowe's had two weights in white plastic in the 4 ft x 8 ft size. I didn't notice that in the other colors they had; beige, brown and green. Yes, I think most any lattice would need framing or at least corner posts. There is a trim sold for the edges. I think the white would give a nice 'cottage garden' look with roses.

I have Rainbow Knockout and I just love it, but it is low and spreading so wouldn't be tall enough for what you want there.

By the way, when you wrote "Double Delight" above my brain read "Double Knockout". Sorry.

However, my favorite color of the Knockout line is Blushing Knockout. It's a soft pink with yellow stamens and a touch of yellow at the bottom of the petals. Like all the Knockouts it is completely healthy and trouble free. It's thickly foliaged and like most of my roses keeps it's leaves in the winter. I trim it once or twice a year with hedge shears and it bounces right back and starts blooming again right away.

You're right in that grasses die in the winter, but some of the tall ones like miscanthus keep standing all winter and their seeds heads stay very pretty for a long time. The spiky growth of ornamental grasses look nice with roses. Something low and purple like Angelonia would look nice in front of the roses. Society garlic would look good too.

Here's hoping you find something that will work well and make those boxes a plus for you. They must have a reason for putting them in the front of houses, but I can't think of any better excuse to have a rose garden :-)

    Bookmark   October 14, 2010 at 10:57PM
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Another idea might be Thryallis, if you have plenty of space around the utilities. It's wide, but really beautiful. I don't have any myself, but my understanding is that it's pretty evergreen here in Houston 8b.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2010 at 8:13AM
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roselee z8b S.W. Texas

I agree. Thryallis is a beautiful plant and blooms all summer!!! In full sun it is spectacular. The reddish stems and somewhat yellowish green leaves compliment the bloom color perfectly

In winter the leaves turn a bit darker reddish color and are just a tad more sparse, but thick enough to cover what is behind it.

Here's a picture of one growing in my yard under a cedar elm tree. It is leaning out trying to reach more sun. It's about five ft. tall, but could be pruned to keep shorter.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2010 at 9:25AM
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Thanks Roselee! I'm sorry the Rainbow Knockout doesn't get as tall as the other varieties, but better to know now than after I tried it there. And I love the Thryallis suggestions; I need to look that one up. It looks like a great compromise with the esperanza that I wanted to use there but will be full all winter. I think a pink/yellow color combination would be great. BTW, is that plumbago growing underneath the Thyrallis? And I'll check out the grass that you mentioned. I might be able to make this work after all.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2010 at 10:14AM
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Ooh, any idea where to get Thryallis in Austin?

    Bookmark   October 15, 2010 at 10:58AM
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roselee z8b S.W. Texas

Yes, that's a seedling of plumbago doing it's best to survive under the low branches of thryallis ... LOL.

Incidentally, I think the yellow and blue combo is good and I've just recently planted a row of thryallis behind a row of blue plumbago that's growing along the edge of the drive way. A row of plumbago would look nice planted in front of pink roses also.

Amy, as to where to find it in Austin if someone doesn't chime in to say where they've seen it for sale just call around and you'll probably find it. It's too far for you, but I saw some nice plants in gallon pots at Antique Rose Emporium recently for about $7.00.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2010 at 11:38AM
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The enclosure that impressed me was made of heavy duty wood lattice, the sort that goes for about $50 a section at HD. It was firmly anchored by treated 2x4's, and must have had a rear gate, to allow access.

Your roses would show up nicely against a screen of nandina. With a river rock edging, you'd be up for "yard of the month" honors.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2010 at 11:55AM
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I just looked up some info on Thryallis and discovered its only hardy to 25 degrees (zone 9-11), which here in Austin its kind of a toss up whether we'll get anything that cold. I did read that it would come back in the spring through. Roselee, do yours die back in the winter? If they do, how fast do they regrow? I'm wondering if they are hardier than Esperanza or if its regrows faster than Esperanza. If I plant them behind the utility boxes, I guess I wouldn't mind too much if they die back as long as it regrows fast.
And Amy, if you find out where in Austin to get them, let me know. I'm going to start calling around soon.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2010 at 2:28PM
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Lynn Marie

Pampas grass won't die in the winter, but that might be overkill. Plus the utility workers would really hate you if they had to get all cut up when they needed to work.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2010 at 3:59PM
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Will do, Jamie. Though I might just take this excuse to go to the Antique Rose Emporium. ;-)

    Bookmark   October 15, 2010 at 4:14PM
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Amy, I found out they have it at Green N' Growing in Pflugerville, which is the nearest nursery to me. But, a trip to the Antique Rose Emporium sounds good too.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2010 at 7:21PM
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roselee z8b S.W. Texas

Thryallis is hardy in San Antonio. It doesn't freeze back.

Here's a picture of one taken in a friend's San Marcos garden. The photo doesn't do it justice. It's hard to get a good photo in mid-day bright sunlight. It was really a spectacular specimen ...

    Bookmark   October 15, 2010 at 9:02PM
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Found the Thryallis at Plant Escapes Nursery on South 1st! They have 6 or 7 really nice plants for $7.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2010 at 12:31AM
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Re: Thryallis...

I planted one about maybe Sept last up here in the Dallas area. We has wet/cold spell a few weeks back and most plants were covered in ice for about a day. The Thryallis came out of it fine. Still has a few leaves and will probably come back fine in the month. Its an Aggie suggested plant for Texas too. Think they are a bit hardier than some websites make them out to be.

I had a couple of suggestions. For a bushier look try Mexican sunflower. You can get seeds form many in state sources or general seed sites.

For the Trellis, a native cross vine would be great but they can sometimes take years to bloom. The flowers are yellow/orange/pinky and IMO a bit nicer looking than normal trumpet vines.

Something else you might try is Purple hyacinth bean. Last summer when it was 107 I saw these thriving and still flowering until the first cold snap. I collected some pods and hoping those sprout.

Cant say enough good things about Plumabago. Bought a few that were on discount and destined for the dumpster if they were sold that week end. This was maybe Oct. Thought I would just get them in for next year but the started blooming again and we had blooms until around christmas

    Bookmark   February 11, 2013 at 10:10PM
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Lynn Marie

Here's my $0.02: Get those fake rock covers for them, add some real rocks so the fake rocks don't look so fake, then add ornamental grasses and make a bed out of it.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 9:29AM
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Something else that might work is elaeagnus. Lol, my boss said her mother always called it "ugly agnes". It has silvery leaves, almost like it has a fungus. It is evergreen and grows up to 4 ft. tall. It bushes out about 3 ft in width.

Here in East Texas, it is indestructible. I needed a privacy screen and my local nursery suggested elaeagnus. It made it through our hot, dry summer. It is still beautiful and hardy now in February. I only watered it at the very first. Since then, I've ignored it. Tough plant!!

    Bookmark   February 27, 2013 at 6:36PM
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carrie751(z7/8 TX)

I like elaeagnus as well, but they get much larger than that. I bought mine with the intention of keeping them pruned to shrub size, but the cardinals built nests in them the very first year, and I felt I could not take away their faviorite nesting spot. So..............mine are now at least fifteen feet tall, and I prune only the canes I can reach. I love the fragrance of their tiny really permeates the air when they are in bloom.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2013 at 10:37AM
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