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When You Plant a Live Screen,
Choose This Fine Evergreen

Foster #2 holly is the Bay Gardener’s choice for privacy

What do I recommend to plant for a living privacy screen? That’s a question I hear a lot. This homeowner wanted an evergreen that would not grow too wide, would be free from insect pests and diseases and would require minimum care. Leyland cypress had been suggested by others, because it grows fast and is an evergreen. I warned him against this.

Leyland cypress is an over-used plant that may look nice for the first 10 years, but problems increase from that point on. Bagworms are partial to Leyland cypress, which means you’d need a commercial pesticide applicator to spray yearly when the plants become infested. Once the plant becomes well established, it can grow five feet or more per year. If you do plant a row of Leylands, plant them at least 10 feet apart or they’ll grow crowded, causing the bottom branches to die and leaving open spaces between plants.

Instead of Leyland cypress, I recommend Foster #2 holly bushes planted eight feet apart. Foster #2 holly produces dark-green, shiny leaves and, in early winter, an abundance of bright-red berries that last well into spring. It has a strong upright habit of growth and a relatively narrow base. Its foliage is not attacked by insects or diseases and only requires a single shearing each year, although more frequent shearing results in denser plants. It is also tolerant of shade, and thus holds its foliage well on branches close to the ground.

If you want to attract birds, in March you will welcome flocks of cedar waxwing, which love the berries of Foster #2. Depending on the size of the flock, they can eat all of the berries on a single hedge in a few hours.

Unlike the American holly, Foster #2 does not drop its old leaves until after the new leaves are well developed. Thus, the transition from old foliage to new is hardly noticeable.

Most garden centers carry Foster #2 holly. When planting a container-grown Foster #2, loosen the roots after removing the root ball from the pot. This is a fast-growing holly, so its roots will often circle within the container, in which case either cut or pull the circling roots out of the root ball and spread horizontally as you plant them in the ground.

At 10am March 25, the Bay Gardener cuts through pruning myths at Historic London Town and Gardens.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

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