One of the best ways to get privacy from your neighbors, or to screen unwanted views is to plant a hedge. But which shrubs make the best screens? If you have a small garden, I’d like to steer you in a direction that cuts down your overwhelm:
Oh no, hundreds of plant to choose from!
No, not really. Especially when you’re looking for the best choice for a small space.
First, take a look at the most important factors that will immediately reject most plant choices. Or, factors that will matter to you most.
What Matters Most
- Being Evergreen
- Plant’s Mature Height and Width
- Speed of Growth
- Roots and Invasiveness
- Small Leaves versus Big Leaves
First of all, for privacy/screening purposes you want to select an evergreen shrub – one that’s going to remain in leaf all year long. Secondly, knowing the speed of growth, and a plant’s size at maturity (height and spread) gives a clue as to how much pruning and clipping you might need to be doing (especially if a formal clipped topiary is desired). The following 11 selections include these details so that you can make a more informed decision.
Shrub Choices: Small Leaves
About Pittosporum tenuifolium varieties: Below are three varieties of P. tenuifolium that work well as hedges for small spaces. These varieties have been around for a while and are some of the most popular to find and buy, at least out west. All have spring blooming small, fragrant flowers followed by tiny orange fruits, which are insignificant, especially if you’re clipping a lot. All are good for both formal and informal gardens. And finally, All are long lived and fast growers. To keep them dense and well structured regular pruning is important.
1. Pittosporum tenuifolium (Kokuhu) Zones: 8 – 11. Besides the varieties to follow, the species, Pittosporum tenuifolium, is a good hedge plant, so I’ve included to the list. *That said, the size can be overpowering for a small garden so consider this choice only if you want a taller hedge, say 10 – 11 feet, or, higher, and don’t mind maintaining it. Mature size: 15 – 25 feet high x 10 – 15 feet wide. Medium green leaves are small, glossy, oval and pointed. Exposure: full sun to part shade. Plant spacing: 3 – 4 feet. Growth rate: fast. From a 5 gallon container this plant can reach 6 to 7 feet in a year.
2. Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Silver Sheen’ (Silver Sheen Kohuhu) Zones: 8 – 11. Small gray-green leaves contrast against blackish stems to give a shimmering effect. Though ‘airy’ and not for everybody, this plant is great for formal hedging or screening along paths and driveways. Mature size:12 – 16 feet tall x 6 -8 feet wide. Exposure: full sun to part shade. Water: Moderate initially, little water once established. Can be kept as low as 5 feet. Plant spacing: 2 – 4 feet. Growth rate: fast.
7 foot hedge: Pittosporum t. ‘Silver Sheen.’ Mill Valley, CA.
3. Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Silver Magic’ (Silver Magic Kohuhu) Zones: 8 – 11. A variegated shrub very similar to the above variety, ‘Silver Sheen.’ It’s also known as: Pittosporum tenuifolium vareigatum. An upright, airy evergreen shrub. Leaves are small, glossy, oval, and gray with creamy pink edges. Stems are a wispy dark brownish black. Small, fragrant, deep purple flower clusters bloom in spring. Mature size: 8 – 12 feet high x 8 – 12 wide. Exposure: full sun to part shade. Heavier sun denser foliage. Water: moderate. Plant spacing: 2 – 4 feet. Growth rate: fast.
4. Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Marjorie Channon’ (Marjorie Channon Kohuhu) Zones: 8 – 11. A dense, fast-growing evergreen shrub. Variegated, light green with creamy white margin leaves are small, glossy, and oval. Stems are a dark brownish black. Small, fragrant, deep purple flower clusters bloom in spring. Mature size: 8 – 10 feet high x 8 – 12 feet wide. Exposure: full sun to part shade. Water: moderate. Plant spacing: 2 – 3 feet. Growth rate: fast.
5. Boxwood ‘Green Tower’ (Green Tower Common Boxwood) Zones: 5 – 9. Evergreen leaves are small and glossy. This plant makes an excellent choice for a lovely tight hedge or a clipped formal hedge. Densely arranged leaves are small, glossy, elliptic to oval, and dark green with yellow-green undersides. Growth habit is upright and columnar. Mature size: 7-9 feet high x 1 -2 feet wide. Good choice for a narrow hedge. Exposure: full sun to part shade. Water: moderate. Note: This shrub can easily cost more than twice as much as other plant choices listed in this post. Plant spacing: 1 – 2 feet. Growth rate: slow to moderate.
6. Euonymus japonicus ‘Green Spire’ (Green Spire Euonymus) Zones: 6 – 9. An evergreen shrub with a narrow, upright growth habit. Tightly stacked leaves are small to midsize, oval, and have scalloped edges. Coloration is glossy dark green on top with light green undersides. Mature size: 6 – 8 feet high x 1 – 2 feet wide. Exposure: full sun. Water: moderate. Plant spacing: 1 – 2 feet. Growth rate: moderate.
7. Ilex crenata’Sky Pencil’ (Sky Pencil Japanese Holly) Zones: 5 – 9. Thin hedge with deep dark green foliage. Excellent for a very tight space where you don’t have much width. Mature size: 7-8 feet high x 18″ wide. This columnar evergreen shrub looks more like a boxwood than a holly with small, leathery, finely toothed foliage. Exposure: full sun to part shade. Water: moderate. This plant comes in handy in narrow spaces when you don’t have room for the width of bushier plants. It also looks neat without much pruning. Plant spacing: 1 – 2 feet. Growth rate: moderate.
8. Myrsine africana (African Boxwood) Zones: 9 – 11. Small glossy foliage looks similar to boxwood with a clear difference being bronze colored new growth which matures to a dark green. Dense foliage is dark green and this upright shrub tolerates clipping. This plant is a good choice for coastal conditions, and once established it is pretty drought tolerant. Water: high to low. Drought tolerant once established. Exposure: full sun to part shade. Water: moderate. Mature size: 3 – 8 feet high x 3 – 6 feet wide. Plant spacing: 2 – 3 feet. Growth rate: slow to moderate.
Shrub Choices: Needled Evergreen
9. Thuja Occidentalis ‘Emerald Green’ (Emerald Green American Arborvitae) Zones: 3 – 8. An evergreen tree with a narrow, pyramidal growth habit. Bright green scale-like foliage is arranged in flattened sprays and holds color throughout the winter. Mature size: 10 – 15 feet high x 3 – 4 feet wide. Exposure: full sun to part shade in hotter summer climates. Water: moderate. Plant spacing: 3 – 4 feet. For quicker privacy space 2 feet apart. Growth rate: moderate to fast.
Shrub Choices: Large Leaves 1″ to 3″
10. Ligustrum japonicum ‘Texanum’ (Waxleaf Privet) Zones: 7 – 11. This dense evergreen shrub is slower-growing and shorter than the classic species, Ligustrum japonicum. Glossy, dark green leaves are thick, pointed and oval. Showy clusters of frothy, fragrant, white flowers are followed by black berries. Useful as a hedge, screen, windbreak, or trained into various topiary forms. Mature size: 6 – 9 feet high x 4 – 6 feet wide. Exposure: full sun to part shade. Water: moderate, but drought tolerant once established. Plant spacing: 2 – 4 feet. Plant 3 feet on center for quick screening. Growth rate: fast.
11. Ficus retusa nitida (Indian Laurel Fig) Zones: 10 – 11. Though often grown as a tropical evergreen tree, its dense foliage and upright branches make it an excellent candidate for a tightly clipped hedge. This makes the list, but only in carefully chosen locations, or with appropriate preparation due to its invasive and aggressively spreading root system. Leathery leaves are dark green, large and glossy. Mature size: 20 – 60 feet high x 20 – 60 feet wide. Exposure: full sun to part shade. Water: moderate. Plant spacing: 2 -3 feet. Growth rate: fast.
Ligustrum vs. Ficus Hedge. Can you Tell the Difference?
Let’s face it, you don’t want to choose a screening hedge plant willy nilly for a small space. Start by planning ahead. First decide how tall you want or need the hedge to be, and it’s a good idea to think in terms of feet. If you’re maintaining the hedge yourself, keeping it lower, say…6 to 8 feet tall, will make it much quicker and easier to maintain. If you need a taller screen, not a problem, there are no rules. Take a look at the 11 choices here and I hope you find one that you like. 🙂
ps: When it comes to maintaining the shape of a hedge, we love our Japanese hedge shears. After using several other brands over the years, and then getting introduced to a pair of high quality Japanese hedge clippers, there was no turning back, (nor was there any comparison.) Though the exact brand and model of our clippers is not available, the Okatsune Precision Hedge Shears are very similar and similar in cost. Truth be told, we’re very hard on our tools, so they need to be tough. The blades are made of forged steel (the kind they use for Samurai swords, if that gives you an idea of how sharp these are) with Japanese white oak handles. And sharp they do stay, for months. That sharpness and their precision really help speed up any pruning job. If you read through the reviews on Amazon you’ll see that everyone gave these shears 5 stars. They all say things like ‘best shears ever’ or ‘wish I bought a pair of these years ago’ or ‘It’s like using a lightsaber to trim your hedge’ – our thoughts exactly!! 🙂