Homegrown: Privacy fence, cedar mulch

I want to create a living privacy screen. Our house sits high, so we can look over a 6-foot fence.

What I need is something that would work on the east side that gets full sun most of the day. I would prefer an evergreen with a mature height of 8–10 feet.

My dilemma is that it can only be about 2-feet wide since we don’t have much of a backyard.

— Sandy

The common plant we recommend for situations like yours are upright junipers.

They’re moderately fast growing, very dense and thick, tough, hardy, drought tolerant and pretty easy to grow.

The drawback to them is that they’ll want to grow wider than you would like. In time and depending on the variety, they’ll reach 4–8-feet (or even 12 feet) wide.

What most people do in situations like yours is to shear the plant one to three times a year to keep it within bounds.

Juniper shears very readily. The thing you have to be a bit careful about is to not cut it too far back at one time.

What I mean by that is that if you look deep inside an older plant, the branches are bare with no live foliage. This is normal.

However, if you cut back into this bare growth, it will rarely resprout and you’ll end up with a bare side.

It’s for this reason that you want to prune the plant regularly, not letting it grow out of control for several years and then trying to whip it back into shape.

There are different varieties of upright juniper, and some are narrower than others.

The varieties that stay the narrowest are Blue Arrow, Taylor and Skyrocket.

Blue Arrow and Taylor are the narrowest, the first having blue-gray foliage and the latter having dark olive green foliage. Skyrocket has grayish foliage.

Some people like arborvitae in situations such as yours.

Like the junipers, arborvitae have dense, evergreen foliage. Their foliage is also softer, not causing you to break out into an itchy rash when you get a bit too “up close and personal” with them.

Emerald Cedar has become the most popular variety around the Grand Valley and makes an excellent screen.

They’re fairly narrow and upright growing, reaching 15-feet tall by 4–6-feet wide. They tend to grow a bit more narrowly than junipers, especially when young, though they tend to develop a bit of “middle age spread” by widening out at the base into a narrow upright pyramid shape.

The problems I’ve encountered with these is that they’re much less forgiving of drought than a juniper.

You’ll need to be pretty consistent with the watering the first year or two until they’re well established. Don’t keep them soggy but just make sure that the soil and the rootball of the plant doesn’t dry out.

Also, I don’t think that they take to shearing as well as the junipers. You can practically keep a juniper to a particular size and shape indefinitely, but an arborvitae sometimes begins to develop a thin or bare side where you’re pruning.

That doesn’t always happen, but it occurs frequently enough to mention.

The cedar mulch in my yard, which is over weed barrier fabric, has been “fluffed” and added to over the past 15 years. I would like to replace it with rock or rubber mulch.

Must I remove all of the mulch and residue before installing the rock or rubber mulch over the weed barrier?

— Nancy

I’m afraid you’re going to have to remove it.

As time goes by, the cedar mulch under the gravel will decompose, forming a nice organic “soil” in which weeds will grow.

Those weeds will grow right through the gravel or rubber. Wish I had better news.

If you have the room, an alternative would be to lay new weed fabric on top of the cedar, then cover it with the gravel or rubber.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, http://www.bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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