Options for a Tall Hedge

Q: I have about 45 feet of east-west fencing that is next to an alley, full sun for the most part, and a two-story apartment building on the other side of the alley that looks into my backyard. Our existing bushes are very tired, and it is time to replace them. Four out of six landscapers suggested Ficus (nitida), even though a lot of Ficus was lost this past freeze. I’m pretty sure I don’t want Ficus; I don’t care to spend thousands of dollars and have to take a chance, even if it is only “once in 15 years.” Another guy suggested podacarpus, and I was also wondering about oleander. I will water as needed to establish, but I would hope that whatever goes in there will be water thrifty in the long run. I am hoping for a hedge that is at least 10 feet at maturity, full size within a couple of years, something I might only have to shape or trim twice a year.
— Linda Worland
A: You are correct about Ficus being cold sensitive and thus not a good choice if you are concerned about future damage in a freeze. The yew pine (Podocarpus gracilior) is a better choice. According to literature on the subject, yew pine is only slightly more cold tolerant than Ficus, yet yew pine did come through last January’s freeze with nothing more than superficial burning of its foliage. Yew pine has feathery leaves and serves admirably as a plant for tall hedges or living screens. 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. Do not plant oleanders since they are susceptible to the deadly oleander leaf scorch bacterial disease.
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 three or thirty-three 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.
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.
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 10 feet in height. `Climbing Iceberg’ is a mutation of the familiar floribunda `Iceberg’ rose. Both plants produce clusters of up to 15 honey-scented, semi-double white roses per spray from spring through fall.
Q: Little bugs develop in the potting soil I have been using for my indoor plants. I have tried several different brands of potting soil and always have the same problem. What can I do to get rid of the bugs?
— G. Bayes
Simi Valley
A: The bugs you have are fungus gnats, tiny flylike creatures that can become a terrible nuisance around indoor plants. The reason that you cannot get rid of this insect is because its larval (maggot) stage feeds on and clings to plant roots. Thus, your indoor plant roots could continue to be inhabited by fungus gnat larvae even as the potting soil around them is changed.
The best way to keep fungus gnats away is to use potting soil with aged compost. Potting soil with fresh compost, less than six months old, frequently contains the eggs of fungus gnats.

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