Lifestyle Fashion

Hopseed Bush, Brush Cherry and Italian Cypress – Reliable and Drought Tolerant Privacy Screen Plants

Many people are rediscovering the pleasure of staying at home. Gardens are perfect places to unwind from the day. Screen plants can provide privacy in your garden, hide an unsightly area, and provide shade. Hopseed Bush, Brush Cherry, and Italian Cypress are three small shrubs or trees that are useful for displays, grow fast, or are drought tolerant. Some plants have all three qualities!

When creating your backyard paradise, these screening bushes can also help create ‘walls’ to establish separate sections in a garden, so that you can create different ‘garden rooms’ in your garden. Two of these are also good for planting in tight spaces between houses to help block out the world. Try these versatile plants in your Patch of Heaven:

Hopseed Shrub (Dodonaea viscosa)

USDA Zone: 9-11

Sunset zone: 7-24

Sun: full sun to partial shade

Water: moderate to low, drought tolerant

Hop seed bushes come with bright lime green or dark purple leaves. Both versions have leaves about 4 inches long and 1/2 inch wide and are very glossy on multiple shrubby branches. These drought tolerant shrubs quickly grow to about 10 feet tall and about as wide. They carry full sun to partial shade. Once established in the garden (1-2 years), they can survive only with rain.

Hopseed shrubs have a growth habit that is a bit airy, with many small branches and the long leaves add to the lacy feel. They can be trimmed as hedges or trellises for a slightly denser effect. These are good for layering to create a full, lush edge feel. They are perfect for the back of the bed (where the sprinkler won’t reach), along fences, or as edge screens. In late spring, they develop large, papery seed pods, usually light brown in color, that linger for weeks and provide a dramatic effect. Although the seed pods decompose quickly in the ground, I do not recommend planting these shrubs near pools.

Brush Cherry, Carolina Laurel Cherry (Prunus caroliniana)

USDA Zone: 7 – 9

Sunset zone: 5-24

Sun: full sun to partial shade

Water: moderate to low

Brush Cherry is another reliable and versatile garden shrub for screens and quick hedges. These shrubs can grow up to 30 feet tall and 10 to 12 feet wide. Although I have seen mature Carolina Laurel stands grow even larger. They can grow in full sun to partial shade. Once established, they can survive drought conditions. However, in desert areas they prefer less sun and will appreciate more water during hotter summer weather.

Scrub cherries have a dense growth habit with many branches, so they are well suited to shearing as a hedge and can even be used for topiaries. If they are not trimmed, they will still maintain their neat, bushy shape, but the indoor growth will have no leaves. They can also be trained as small multi-trunk trees. The new growth is a fairly reddish rusty color in the spring. They produce bouquets of white flowers followed by clusters of small, bright red cherries. Cherries can stain concrete and make a mess. If you don’t have enough birds in your area to care for the cherries for you, simply trim the flowers before they set. This will also relieve the plant of the stress of producing seeds.

Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens)

USDA Zone: 7 – 9

Sunset zone: 4-24

Sun: full sun to partial shade

Water: moderate to low, drought tolerant

Italian cypress trees are a familiar staple in the city, growing along borders like tall screens. They grow up to 60 feet tall on individual trunks and are generally 1 to 2 feet wide, but mature plants can be much wider. All cypress trees prefer full sun, but tolerate partial shade and can survive in little water once established in a year or two.

Italian cypress trees are perfect shrubs for problem areas. They grow tall but are thin so you can place them in tight spaces. Your logs will eventually reach about 12 inches in diameter, so your narrow bed should be at least this wide. Its growth habit is smooth and cylindrical, with most of its leaves pointing upwards. They lose a small amount of needles during the year, but litter is not a big problem with these trees. They don’t grow very fast the first year, but they will make up for their lack of growth in the second year. Continuously trimming the crowns will result in a slightly thicker bush, but they are fairly carefree and do not need trimming.

When you’re planning your shrubs to survive the rain, it’s best to encourage deep root development early on by soaking your plants every few days rather than spraying the top layer of soil every night. Even established plants appreciate a deep bath during a heat wave, when the weather has exceeded 100 degrees or when it has been especially dry and windy.

All three plants grow happily in my heavy, alkaline clay soil in hot, sunny Southern California. Good luck and happy gardening!

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