California Native Hedges

lemonade berry (Rhus integrifolia)

lemonade berry (Rhus integrifolia)

Question: Can you discuss options for hedges on a ranch? I have over a thousand feet of property line and need something that will not use too much water.
Answer: When discussing options for hedges, native plants are typically overlooked.
Yet there are a number of local species that serve admirably as hedges, if only given the opportunity to do so. Once they have been growing for a year or two, they do not require irrigation other than winter rain.
Three members of the sumac family, all of them local, head the last of native plants that may be used as hedges. Laurel sumac (Rhus laurina) is a sprawling shrub growing 15 feet high and wide. Spaced appropriately, a row of laurel sumacs would make a fine natural screen. It is, unfortunately, frost sensitive, although its resilient trunk has been known to sprout fresh growth following a cold winter. The sugar bush (Rhus ovata), on the other hand, is a much hardier sumac with highly attractive, deep green leathery leaves and pink flowers. It can also grow in heavier soil than most California natives. Its close cousin, lemonade berry (Rhus integrifolia) has showier flower clusters but somewhat less lustrous foliage. Both sugar bush and lemonade berry have edible fruit that can be made into drinks. The fruit is also attractive to birds and other wildlife. Both plants reach 8 to 10 feet and require no irrigation once established. All three of these sumacs can be pruned or left alone for a carefree, informal look.
Keep in mind that their sap can be irritating, so put on gloves if you do decide to prune.
Another sprawling plant that may be left to grow into a privacy screen is flannel bush (Fremontodendron californicum). Flannel bush has stunning yellow-orange, cupped flowers in spring and early summer, has a natural V-shaped form and grows to 20 feet or taller. Two varieties, ‘California Glory’ and ‘Pacific Sunset,’ hybridized at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Gardens in Claremont, are recommended.
Pruning established flannel bushes leads to their death, so if you want to shape or train them, do so within their first three years in the ground. Another reason not to prune mature plants is the fuzz that covers their stems and leaves. When you walk among flannel bushes, unless you don a dust mask, fuzz fibers are likely to find their way into your nasal passages.
California bay laurel (Umbellularia californica), requiring partial shade in our area, is the native most amenable to shaping into a formal hedge.
Its foliage has the same camphor fragrance associated with its more common bay leaf cousin (Laurus nobilis) which, incidentally, may also be grown into a hedge when it is protected from afternoon sun.
My personal choice for a tall hedge would be glossy privet (Ligustrum lucidum). This is a workhorse of a plant. It is an unglamorous yet rapid grower that is eminently suitable for hedges, be they 3 or 33 feet tall. Its lone drawback is that it eventually produces a heavy litter of purple, pulpy fruit that will stain concrete surfaces, so you may not want to plant it near pool decks or sidewalks. If you have planter beds nearby, be prepared to dig up volunteer seedlings since glossy privet does a wonderful job of self-sowing, better than that of any other woody perennial grown in the Valley.
Another choice for a tall hedge would be giant timber bamboo (Bambusa oldhamii), which grows up to 50 feet tall. It is a clumping bamboo species so you do not have to worry, as in the case of running bamboo, that its shoots will sprout up all over your yard or through the cracks of adjacent paved surfaces.
The yew pine (Podocarpus gracilior), with graceful, feathery foliage, is another excellent hedge choice, growing to 30 feet if you let it, but with hedge shears may be kept at the height of your choice. You might only want to acidify the soil with peat moss prior to planting since yew pine will occasionally show chlorosis (yellow foliage) where the soil is too alkaline.
Several plants that show off berries this time of year are also excellent hedge selections. The most visible berries are seen on firethorn (Pyracantha).
They are red or orange and borne densely on the plant, which is often trained as an espalier but also makes an excellent hedge. All along its stems, firethorn has wicked thorns and, on account of this attribute, is also used as a living security fence.
Two related species are also flush with berries this time of year.
One is red clusterberry (Cotoneaster lacteus) and the other is the native toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia). Another name for toyon is hollywood and, yes, Tinseltown was named for this plant, which is indigenous to the Hollywood Hills. The first moviemakers thought it resembled true holly and decided to name their new home after it.
Some true holly plants also make excellent Valley hedges. Foremost among them are Chinese holly (Ilex cornuta) and Wilson holly (Ilex wilsonii). Both of these hollies grow up to 20 feet tall but unlike the edible berries of firethorn, clusterberry and toyon, holly berries are toxic.
– Deborah Evans, Chatsworth
Tip of the week
If you want a truly dazzling effect, plant climbing roses close together and train them into a hedge. The long-blooming ‘Climbing Iceberg’ serves well as a tall hedge plant, growing up to 20 feet in height.
‘Climbing Iceberg’ is a mutation of the familiar floribunda ‘Iceberg’ rose.
All-white Icebergs produce clusters of up to 15 honey-scented, semi-double white roses per spray from spring through fall.

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