British Columbia: Yet another hedge question (privacy, noise)

Discussion in 'Outdoor Gardening in the Pacific Northwest' started by Nate Day, Jun 22, 2019.

  1. Nate Day

    Nate Day Member

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    Hi everyone. Complete beginner here. I own a corner lot in Victoria at a fairly busy 4-way stop intersection. I am looking for a low or no maintenance hedge to be planted on the south and east sides of the lot for privacy and traffic noise. Regarding privacy, I need a solution that doesn't involve huge gaps after planting like in the photo below, and which eventually fills in the gaps completely. The photo at bottom would be a "mission failure" if it looked like that immediately after planting - the gaps are way too big. And the trees look pretty ugly to me.

    Given my priority on low maintenance, I'm focused on hedges that will top out at at a max of 20 feet so I don't need to trim the tops. I've relied on this chart to narrow things down to three choices:

    1. Emerald Cedar (Thuja occidentalis Smaragd) which tops out at 15 feet, is one of the cheapest options, does not require pruning, but is slow growing. Emeralds don't seem too popular on this board. The challenge here is how to achieve privacy quickly given the slow growth. For example, this picture demonstrates what would be for me a "mission failure" in terms of the result immediately after planting, especially considering how long it would take to fill in the gaps.

    2. English Laurel which tops out at 20 feet, grows fast but requires pruning. The big attraction is the fast growth which will fill in the gaps quickly. I can deal with trimming the sides as long as I don't have to trim the top. I don't know about price.

    3. Yew, which seems to be really popular on this board, in part because it's drought resistant. Yews also top out at 20 feet and grow moderately quickly. Again, I don't know about price.

    Am I on the right track? In terms of achieving privacy quickly, how close together can the trees be planted to achieve privacy immediately? What's the effect of planting them together too tightly? Would it be possible to plant the trees in a staggered front-back pattern, so the gaps are filled in immediately? Are there any big differences in price between the three?

    Many thanks in advance for any advice.


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  2. Michael F

    Michael F Paragon of Plants Forums Moderator 10 Years

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    You have the inescapable problem, anything that grows fast, is going to go on growing much taller than you want. There is nothing that grows rapidly and then stops suddenly at a specified height, that's just not how plants work. Either you have to be prepared to clip when it reaches the height, or if you don't want to clip, you have to wait an eternity for it to get to that height.
     
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  3. wcutler

    wcutler Paragon of Plants Forums Moderator VCBF Cherry Scout 10 Years

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    What about something like you show in the photo, with a fence that provides immediate privacy, and shrubs that are planted at a proper distance that will eventually cover it?
     
  4. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    Don't count on 'Smaragd' to remain only 15' tall. George Schenk claimed in his book The Complete Shade Gardener that the size and upkeep of English laurel hedges were a recurring cause of people selling their homes and moving - presumably Leyland cypress has since assumed this crown. Likewise a yew remaining below 20' for an indefinite period would depend on it being a smaller growing kind, of less mature stature than typical height Taxus baccata for instance.

    The bottom line is if you don't want to wait decades for controlled-looking (tidy) screening of much height from a single row of one kind of plant you will have to choose a fast-growing kind and then shear it every year, into a more or less formal hedge. Another option is to erect a fence with an arbor on top and then use climbing plants to fill in the upper part. Of course, these will also have to be pruned (and trained) every year to achieve and maintain a particular effect. Otherwise there will often be bunching up, tangling and wandering.
     
  5. Nate Day

    Nate Day Member

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    Many thanks for the replies. After careful consideration I think I'll proceed with thuja occidentalis smaragd, mostly for cost and practical reasons. One follow up question: any thoughts on whether to plant them in a staggered fashion (would look like a zig zag pattern looking down from above)? If so, what would the spacing be? Less than the standard 2 feet? It would likely be more expensive to stagger but it would provide a lot more privacy immediately. Thanks again.
     
  6. Joan L NW

    Joan L NW Member

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    Please don't be tempted to plant emerald cedars too close together; come to think of it, even the spacing in the photo is probably closer than ideal. When you are buying trees, look at the mature size which should be printed on the label on the pot and space them accordingly. Consider how they would grow in nature and emulate that as closely as possible if you want healthy trees. If you plant them too closely together, you will have to water and fertilize excessively in order to keep them alive, which is NOT low maintenance. When you inevitably get tired of taking care of them, you're going to end up with a number of dead trees that need to be replaced. Crowded plants of any type invite disease and problems. Sorry, but patience is a virtue.

    One more thing about the Emerald Cedars; the person who stated that you can't rely on them topping out at 15' is absolutely correct! I have 11 of them in a large, irregularly shaped raised bed in my front yard. They are 20 years old and about 4-5 feet in diameter with a few feet between them, though I also have a number of Pieris, Rhodos, Euonymus and one Magnolia in amongst them, with periwinkle on the ground between them. They are already well over 15 feet high and show no sign of stopping, so I'm considering trimming the tops because it's getting tough to put Christmas lights on them using a light pole. I water well about twice per week in the summer if there's been no rain, I spread one large container of Miracle Gro Shake & Feed tree & shrub (black top) between them each spring, and I spread a few bags of mulch between them each year, which breaks down and presumably releases some nitrogen. Everything seems pretty healthy so obviously I'm doing something right.

    The Emerald cedars are likely to be the cheapest alternative; you should be able to get them for between $12 to $20 each, depending on the height and the supplier. The Taxus or Yew cost at least $15 for a tiny tree, maybe 2' high, and twice that for one about 3' high. For anything bigger than that, you'd better have deep pockets, and I wish you luck in finding enough of them to make a hedge. English Laurel is generally sold in really big pots, and I don't recall seeing any for less than about $20. These are usually about 2 or 3' high, and you're right, they do grow quickly.

    Keep in mind that any of the 3 options that you've listed are likely to take a toll on your lawn once they get established. Consider that they have lots of roots and will soak up whatever water they can reach (at the expense of your lawn), and you are going to end up with quite a bit of moss in the areas where they throw shade. Furthermore, the cedars do shed a bit and tend to make the soil nearby too acidic to grow grass easily, so try to leave at least 2 m mulch or gravel or something between the trees and the lawn.

    If you need instant privacy but want something alive, I would suggest that you consider installing a chain link fence with privacy slats, and plant some sort of vines to climb up them. Once the vines fill in, you can remove the privacy slats if you like. There are a few evergreen vines like climbing hydrangea, semi-evergreen honeysuckle and evergreen clematis available at The Home Depot. I would plant them about 1 m apart. Of course, there are literally hundreds of other types of vines that you could use, but almost all of them will drop their leaves in the fall, which would make a mess to clean up and leave your yard fairly exposed over the winter.

    You could consider planting several evergreen Pieris shrubs beside a chain-link fence too. These don't grow super-fast, but they tend to grow quite evenly, they don't require trimming, they are a lovely, easy-care evergreen, and I've never seen any bugs on mine. Best of all, you should be able to find small pots of them for less than $10 each this time of year. Check the labels for the mature height; some varieties can be as short as 90 cm, others up to 4 m, though most varieties top out at around 2 m.

    Good luck!
     
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  7. Margot

    Margot Generous Contributor 10 Years

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    Hello Joan - I see you are a new member of the UBC Forum and I hope you become a regular . . . I am very impressed with the thorough reply you have given to the hedge question and I would like to hear more from you in future about other questions that arise.
     
  8. Joan L NW

    Joan L NW Member

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    why thank you! I hate seeing plants of any sort being planted in such a manner that I'm sure they are doomed to failure. Happy to help.
     
  9. Joan L NW

    Joan L NW Member

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    Nate, Your idea of planting the cedars zig-zag style is interesting, I can't say I've ever seen that done before. I suppose it could work, but I'd be more likely to plant the cedars at least a meter apart, and then make a row of pieris or rhododenderon or Euonymus a meter or so inside and equal distance in-between the cedars. I'll send you a photo of what was done in my yard but I'll have to do that from my phone. It's not going to give you instant infill, but in a few years it would be nice. You could place some cedar lattice or something in between the cedars for the first few years, which would be cheaper than chain-link.
     
  10. wcutler

    wcutler Paragon of Plants Forums Moderator VCBF Cherry Scout 10 Years

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    I have removed three postings from this thread, the ones on how to do the transplanting, as I agreed with @Margot who suggested to me that they would be of wider interest and would be more easily found with a subject line that related to the topic. The thread on transplanting, with those postings, is at How to transplant from pot to in-ground. Please post further discussion on that topic in that thread.
     
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  11. Georgia Strait

    Georgia Strait Generous Contributor

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    I would NOT zig zag plant because isn’t your goal a solid wall of cédâr hedge ... so how on earth would you or the garden service shear the mature hedge

    I like Ron B idea .... fence w arbor

    Yes cost now but long term far more attractive and saleable property value

    If one can dig a hole and prepare the soil AND maintain these young cedars ... then dig fence post holes instead ?

    Also - urban deer are very good pruners of cédâr hedges ... as far up off the ground as their long necks will reach .... next time you’re in a town w subdivision — just look at the new hedges
     
  12. Joan L NW

    Joan L NW Member

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    Interesting, I didn't know that deer ate cedar!
     
  13. Margot

    Margot Generous Contributor 10 Years

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    Keep in mind that there's cedar and then there's cedar. What we often call Pyramidal Cedar for example is actually Thuja occidentalis. Our western red cedars are Thuja plicata. True cedars grow to be very large trees such as Cedrus atlantica (Atlas cedar) or Cedrus deodara (Deodar cedar). Having said that, deer do not normally eat Thujia plicata (Western Red Cedar) but they do love Thuja occidentalis cultivars. Go figure.
     
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  14. vitog

    vitog Rising Contributor 10 Years

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    Actually, I think that deer also like to eat young T. plicata, at least on the BC mainland. I've seen many replanted clearcuts where T. plicata seedlings are protected by plastic mesh cages open at the top. I assume that the cages are protection against deer; I can't imagine any other use for them.
     
  15. Margot

    Margot Generous Contributor 10 Years

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    I would not be at all surprised that deer eat young Thuja plicata. Even if they have not commonly eaten them in the past, it seems their tastes adapt over time. Where I live, deer have acquired an appetite for rhubarb and sword fern - even daffodils - that they previously would have ignored.

    Just this afternoon, I found a dead spotted baby deer in my garden. He'd been coming in frequently over the past 2 weeks despite my efforts to beef up the fence. I had sprayed all of my favourite plants with Bobbex, just in case, but I guess he still found it worth coming in. I don't know what killed him but I think he may have been spooked when I drove down the driveway and perhaps he broke his neck running away and going over a precipice. Hopefully, I'll not do the same some day.
     
  16. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    Pyramidal ('Pyramidalis') arborvitae is Thuja occidentalis 'Fastigiata'. It has been replaced by T. occidentalis 'Smaragd' in general commerce. Regular annual browsing of T. occidentalis plantings is consistent in our area, whereas damage to T. plicata is not. For instance on a friend's 30 acre Island County, WA property I know of one spot where there is browsing of T. plicata, where one overhangs a grass area. On a site that has dozens of others scattered about.
     
  17. Georgia Strait

    Georgia Strait Generous Contributor

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    RE deer damage cedar hedges

    Observed this morning in suburban Vancouver BC - the deer have been working on this cedar hedge for a few yrs now (I know age of subdivision where this is planted)

    I could have taken more pix of similar deer munching damage at other houses

    ÉDIT - to add - i meant to include approx height of plant ... the tallest is approx 10 or 12 feet at top tip ... the deer pruning is as far as they can reach which I guess for suburban deer is approx 4.5 feet off ground

    See photos attached x 2
     

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    Last edited: Jul 2, 2019
  18. Margot

    Margot Generous Contributor 10 Years

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    That's interesting . . . I wondered why I haven't heard the term 'pyramidalis cedar' the past quite a few years.

    PS I've seen deer standing on their hind legs to reach tree leaves about 7 feet overhead. Thank goodness they can't climb.
     
  19. Georgia Strait

    Georgia Strait Generous Contributor

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    going back to original post by Nate Day - above - one important detail to double-check at your city hall is the bylaws for fence and / or hedge height and width maximums.

    there may be two diff rules - so one for your side fence / hedge --- and another rule for your front hedge / fence.

    in some situations tho maybe not yours - there might be a building standard regarding materials and colours (a strata or a planned subdivision, for example)

    I would think that the "front" is where your civic address is located (I think you said you are a corner lot) --- the city hall can help you

    often it takes a few days for your email enquiry (complete with your civic address and possibly other detail from your property tax notice) --- then a person at the city hall will reply in a few business days

    so don't hire someone to build or dig next week - get your facts in order and any permits required etc before starting

    signed, learned from experience (aka mistakes)
     
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  20. Georgia Strait

    Georgia Strait Generous Contributor

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    another idea for the noise concern in the title of this thread -
    I'd say you won't cancel out 100% of noise from a corner intersection

    however - you can cancel some annoying noise with a small water feature in the area of your porch or garden that you want to enjoy (a small seating area for example) - by installing a very simple recirculating water fountain

    you can buy them already made - or your garden center (a good one that operates year round) likely has some DIY so you make your own fountain arrangement with a submersible recirculating pump and a solid plastic bucket (I have used a low square plastic planter that had not yet had drain holes made in it that was at recycle) and some rocks and driftwood)

    you need electrical power outlet nearby (a safe one with proper GFI) --- and some fresh water

    it makes a nice sound that you can adjust by rearranging the rocks / wood etc - and the birds splash around in it too

    a small subtle wind chime would be pleasing too (well, for some people --- others find chimes annoying) .. there are metal and bamboo and other styles
     
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  21. Georgia Strait

    Georgia Strait Generous Contributor

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    And one further thought about the hedge vs fence debate

    If it was me ... and I had the budget and right contractor (assuming we’ve already checked city bylaws and got our permit)

    I’d look at my yard (lot) and figure out where I must have security and safety for family including pets - and privacy (and in some cases, security required by law ... around a pool for example )

    So I’d have the scary looking chain link for safety (Pinterest etc offer up some interesting chain link artistic treatments)

    And then plant against it w a layered soft look (ie not a solid wedge of laurel )

    For example - I had a place that shared property line w family who had dogs ... chain link - then I planted on my side non-toxic no-thorns no-fruit no sap pitch native trees that I could manage myself (my fave vine maples that establish well and need little summer water and dont ruin sewer water pipes

    On another property line we had a wooden fence for privacy and it was enhanced by some clematis Montana etc

    My point based on experience is - make sure what you do now will serve the purposes you envision in your yard for many years ... it’s really hard to put up a secure pet / child fence after the laurel has become a thick mass of stems

    Look around when you’re out and about and inspiration will be waving at you so to speak

    Either approach requires budget and ongoing maintenance - diff expenditures at diff times

    Look fwd to update how you resolve your project
     
  22. Nate Day

    Nate Day Member

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    Hi all. Thanks so much for all the suggestions, it's been very helpful. I won't proceed with planting anything until the summer heat has passed, to ensure lots of moisture for the young roots. I have decided against Emerald Green as the more I look around town, the less I like the look and they seem particularly susceptible to deer (there's lots of deer in the neighbourhood but interestingly no obvious signs of deer damage like the pictures above). Based on the advice of a local nursery, I'm leaning toward Western Red Cedar which I'm told are fast-growing, resistant to deer and less expensive than Laurel varieties. Having learned much since I first posted, I've abandoned the "low maintenance" requirement as simply not feasible given all the drawbacks. Some have mentioned a fence as an alternative. The city prohibit fences above 4 feet high for the front facing side of the property where all the traffic is. That's prohibitively low, and besides there is no height limit on hedges per se (must trim to ensure road visibility and avoid power lines, etc).

    The one question I still have is the proper spacing between trees. I have read many times that the typical distance is every two feet. However, the nursery that recommended the Western Reds advised that two feet is too close and people recommend such spacing only to have you buy more trees. They recommend four feet spacing as a much better interval to ensure the long-term viability of the Western Reds. I haven't come across any other source that recommends such wide spacing.

    Any thoughts on spacing? Does it depend on species?
     
  23. Margot

    Margot Generous Contributor 10 Years

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    I can tell you a few things about using Western Red Cedar as a hedge. There is only one species of WRC - Thuja plicata. If there are cultivars, I've not heard of them.

    So, you're contemplating planting a forest giant as a hedge and planning to keep it pruned to a very low height and narrow width. Surprisingly, this can be successful for many years. I remember one such hedge planted in front of a very old house near where I grew up in Burnaby - I walked by it every day going to school. I don't know how old that hedge was when I first noticed it but it was still the same size and healthy-looking 50 years later. I was amazed! Such hedges tend to be wider than the hedging material available today but perhaps that's not an issue with you.

    My husband and I planted a Thuja plicata hedge along our 200 foot property line in a low-lying, moist area of Burnaby it the 1970s. The trees were readily available as seedlings so it was an inexpensive way to get a tall hedge fast. We planted the trees every 3 feet on centre but I'm sure placing them 4-feet apart would have worked too - perhaps taken a year or two longer to fill in. Ours were about 3 feet tall when we planted them and quickly grew to the 8 feet we wanted. I think it is important NOT to top these trees before they reach the desired height even though that causes them to fill in more quickly.

    I'm glad you're not considering Leylandi cypress as a hedging tree. They sell like hotcakes around here but are a short-term solution as far as I'm concerned. To keep a tidy appearance, they need to be pruned at least twice a year. Thuja plicata hedges should need to be pruned only once.
     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2019
  24. Georgia Strait

    Georgia Strait Generous Contributor

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    Question Margot .... won’t the native red cedar have a gap at the bottom where the tree’s normal single trunk is?

    We had a place w cheap cedar probably taken fr the forest next door (wasn’t me!) and yes it was a nice height (ok huge, these are meant to be trees not shrubs) and WIDE ... and the row definitely had a 2 to 3 foot gap at the bottom

    How do you avoid this bottom trunk gap in your hedge in Burnaby?
     
  25. Margot

    Margot Generous Contributor 10 Years

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    Native red cedars (Thuja plicata) grow branches close to the ground from the time they germinate. I am puzzled why yours would have had a 2 to 3 foot gap at the base unless branches were deliberately removed. Even if the first branch were a foot above ground, I think the space would fill in over the years.

    Here's a list of cultivars I'd not known about until stumbling upon this list from Thuja plicata | Landscape Plants | Oregon State University

    Some of the available cultivars of Thuja plicata include:
    • ‘Atrovirens’ - typical habit, foliage green throughout the year; originated in Worcester, England about 1874
    • 'Can Can' - semi-dwarf tree, dense, upright habit, dark green foliage with golden-white tips
    • ‘Excelsa’ - narrow habit, branches strongly ascending, dense, foliage dark green even in winter; found in a Berlin cemetery in 1904.
    • ‘Fastigiata’ - narrow columnar habit, originated in France 1867, apparently rare in North America but the name is sometimes misapplied to ‘Hogan’ (Jacobson, 1996).
    • 'Grune Kugel' - shurb, dense, very dwarf form, 1 ft (30 cm) tall and 2 ft (60 cm) wide in 10 years
    • ‘Hogan’ - compact, dense narrow habit, common in Washington and Oregon; sometimes, incorrectly, called ‘Fastigiata’. Named after Hogan Road of Gresham, Oregon.
    • 'Stoneham Gold' - dwarf form, to 7 ft (2.1 m) tall, compact, upright, bushy, branch tips are golden-yellow
    • ‘Sunshine’ - foliage bright gold on the side facing the sun, may have an unattractive bronze color in winter. Apparently similar or the same as ‘Canadian Gold’.
    • ‘Virescens’ - slightly narrower habit than species, foliage bright green all year. Introduced by Mitch nursery of Aurora, Oregon in about 1990; the cultivar name is Latinized, although this once common procedure has been invalid since 1959 (Jacobson, 1996).
    • ‘Zabrina’ - foliage has bands of green and golden-yellow, broadly pyramidal habit.
     

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