Spacing podocarpus gracilior as a screen?

artemis78May 19, 2010

We are looking to grow a natural screen to block views of our home from a large building next-door. After a huge amount of research, we settled on podocarpus gracilior as the best solution for us.

The challenge, however: how far apart should we space these trees to create a solid screen? As we shopped local nurseries to decide which to buy from, we got recommendations that ranged from 3 to 12 feet---a HUGE difference!

We're in the San Francisco Bay Area with heavy clay soil, and have been told these trees are likely to reach 20-30 feet tall with a 10-20 foot spread here, based on local nurseries' experiences. We plan to train them as trees versus as shrubs.

So...if we don't want gaps in the canopies (gaps below that are fine as there's a fence), how close should we be planting these guys? Three feet seems way too close for the root systems, since they will be big trees---but this is our first experience with podocarpus, so maybe not? We are fine with the spreads overlapping (in fact that's great) provided it isn't detrimental to the health of the trees. However, we don't want to over-do it (or buy many more trees than we actually need!)

Any ideas? Thanks!

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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

We are fine with the spreads overlapping (in fact that's great) provided it isn't detrimental to the health of the trees. However, we don't want to over-do it


may i rephrase this dichotomy???

first ... they will grow together as they will ... that is irrelevant ... dont think about it ... we are talking canopy.. not planting the roots a foot apart .... a screen whole goal is that they grow together ....

but.. back to the rephrasing ...

its the old cost/benefit ratio ...

if cost is of no import.. plant them as close as possible ... to get your screen ASAP ...

if cost is prime.. as far as possible apart .... so you buy less ... but it might take ten years ...

in the middle .. we want some fast blockage... but we have a budget.. so somewhere in the middle is probably your best bet .... and that is probably why you will never find the answer to your specific question ...

now.. that said.. ever hear of diversity???? ..

if some bizarre podocarpus plague comes along .... it MIGHT wipe out all of them.. hence the suggestions that you put in a bunch of things...

what were choices 2 and 'c'???

perhaps a nice inter-planting of many things might be a better solution

good luck


    Bookmark   May 19, 2010 at 1:37PM
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dan_staley(5b/SS 2b AHS 6-7)

IME with these plants in the Bay Area and Sacto you should expect a 15 ft spread if they're happy and anything wider is a bonus. IME they can also touch a bit without too much trouble, so maybe 12ft spacing if your soil drains, a bit closer if not. Definitely rototill the entire area (use a 12hp, not a 5hp) and maybe an inch of compost on top and deepest setting on rototiller. Not the fastest grower but a nice texture.


    Bookmark   May 19, 2010 at 1:41PM
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Thanks! Yes, we do have lots of other trees (these will be 3-5 trees out of about 25 total in the backyard) so not too worried on that front---but we didn't have many good candidates for screen trees that were evergreen, fast enough growing to mature in ten years' time, and not likely to turn into problem trees (e.g., get far taller than 30', drop excessive litter, etc.) We do also have a Jervis Bay Afterdark peppermint tree (Agonis flexuosa) and a couple of fruit trees along the border where these will be, but the peppermint tree isn't expected to get tall enough to screen too much, and the fruit trees are either deciduous (fig, cherry) or not likely to get tall enough (feijoa).

Would love other suggestions of good candidates to mix it up a bit, though! We need trees that will:
- Reach 25' but not exceed 40' at a max (densely developed urban area, so we want tall enough to screen, but not so tall as to block out all of the light---trees that can be easily pruned down are fine);
- Be evergreen;
- Thrive in the San Francisco Bay Area climate (dry summers/wet winters, moderate temperatures rarely below 40 or above 80);
- Tolerate clay soil with mediocre drainage and be drought-tolerant once established; and
- Grow moderately quickly.

We are also planting near a retaining wall (5' in), so they need to have root systems that won't grow under and destroy this. Our local nurseries came up with podocarpus, pittosporum, bamboo with containment, and acacia. We are wary of bamboo and acacia but potentially willing to give them a try. Can't do eucalyptus in our area for fire reasons. Other thoughts more than welcome---thanks!!

    Bookmark   May 19, 2010 at 2:04PM
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We just purchased five of these same trees for out property in San Mateo and are curious what distance you finally settled on for the space between the trees. Also, we are going to plant next to a five foot high fence between the properties and are wondering how close to that fence should we plant.

Any thoughts?


    Bookmark   April 29, 2011 at 2:31PM
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Hi Peter,

We ended up staggering ours with other trees versus trying to create a podocarpus-only screen---so we have three, and they are each 7-10 feet from the nearest neighboring tree, but more like 20 feet from each other. They are looking pretty good after about a year in the ground (and after looking pretty iffy last summer---the winter rains seemed to get them established), but haven't grown a whole lot, for whatever that's worth. Ours are quite close to our fence---3-5 feet, I think (hoping that when mature, they'll basically touch the fence). I asked the nursery at the time and they weren't too concerned about roots and the fence, so hopefully they're right!

    Bookmark   April 30, 2011 at 7:00PM
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