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Trees for screening in an Irish garden.

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James Kilkelly
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PostPosted: Wed May 14, 2008 11:33 pm    Post subject: Trees for screening in an Irish garden. Reply with quote

Trees for screening in an Irish garden.
by GPI

With the upsurge in building over the past few years, many of us now have new neighbours where there once was a green field site. Where we could once sit out the back of an evening or sunbathe from mid-day onwards should we be so inclined, we now have to deal with the fact that we may be overlooked.

If being overlooked is not a problem, then for some the perceived unsightly vision of a neighbouring garage may be the annoyance. It's enough to drive some house owners demented, rushing headlong towards the garden centre to collect a batch of the dreaded Leylandii trees.

Although the Leylandiis solve the problem in the short term, they will force regular maintenance tasks upon you and scowls from your neighbours if this maintenance is not kept up. There are more options when creating a screen today then there ever was, so before you run out and plant the first fast growing conifer you can find, here are a few issues you should ponder.

Privacy or soften.

Is the purpose of your plant screen to hide a view or to create privacy? You see, unsightly views can be concealed by planting or else softened, for example where a few nicely spaced deciduous trees are employed to break up the full view of a harsh building. Think of it like a blank bedroom wall that you liven up with a few posters of your favourite bands.

If your purpose is to create total privacy from prying eyes then evergreen plants or trees may be more suited to your needs especially if you require year-round closure. Rather than seasonal cover provided by deciduous trees, evergreens or conifers offer a living screen throughout the year.

. Silver birch, as seen in the bog, make a light screen, photo / picture / image.

Be aware though that evergreen screens cast shade, not just in the summer but also during the long dark winter when we need every lumen of light we can get to stave off shortened day depressions. So you should really consider how dark an area is during the winter months even before you plant a dense evergreen screen, perhaps a leafless winter screen such as birch or alder would be better in your situation. After all, you won't be out sunning yourself on Christmas day.

Eventual size.
If screening is needed quickly, plant fast growing trees by all means, but be prepared to live with their speed of growth should they continue to grow past your ideal height. When seeking out screening plants/trees, find out their mature tree sizes and how quickly they reach them, then decide whether these ultimate heights and spread will be suitable for your particular garden.

It's a bit of a balancing act on your part, for example keeping a Griselinia hedge at a height of 1.5 metres will require trimming once if not twice a year. Whereas trying to keep Leylandii to a height of 1.5 metres is the devils own job, with the hedge growing very strongly and not responding well to hard pruning. Now imagine this with trees instead of hedging, where tree surgeons with climbing gear have to be called in once the problem becomes too large for you to manage, and you will see that a bit of thought must be put into the plant selection.

Evergreen screening trees for your garden.
I will now share with you my top tree selections with screening in mind. Although hedges are the main source of enclosure for your property, there are times when unsightly neighbouring structures tower so high that growing a hedge to their height would mean the complete loss of sunlight for your garden. In situations such as this, a carefully placed cluster of three to five trees is often the ideal compromise, screening only the area of sky containing the offensive view.

Total privacy trees.
For total privacy similar to that provided by a block wall you should be thinking in terms of broadleaf evergreen trees or perhaps conifers. Conifers are rapid growing but tend to have an extremely darkening effect on any area they are planted in due to the dullness of their leaves, whereas broadleaf evergreens often have glossy light reflective leaves resulting in a brighter effect.

Of the conifers, have a look at....

Arrow 1. The Leylandii.
Leylandii or x Cupressocyparis Leylandii is a rapid growing, large, evergreen coniferous tree. Sporting small, dense, light blocking foliage it makes a good screen so long as the foliage is regularly trimmed to keep it under control. Control is key, because if left untended it can grow to 60ft tall and 30ft wide. A slightly slower growing variety of x Cupressocyparis leylandii known as 'Castlewellan Gold' is also available with neater, golden foliage.

Arrow 2. The Western red cedar.
Also known by its Latin name Thuja plicata, this conifer tree although slower growing than the Leylandii has numerous advantages over it. The trees neat green foliage, fragrant when crushed, offers an interesting colour change as it becomes become bronze-tinted in cold winters. Although eventually growing to the size of the Leylandii, Thuja requires much lower maintenance and copes way better with hard pruning than Leylandii.

Of the broadleaves, have a look at....

Arrow 1. The Eucalyptus.
Eucalyptus gunnii is the most commonly available Eucalyptus for screening, its round, bright glaucous-blue leaves when young, turning grey-green and lance-like with age. You can let this native of Australia grow away untouched as a tree for the mature foliage, or else you can grow it as a shrub, regularly pruning it to promote the rounded juvenile leaves. It is through this regular pruning that Eucalyptus provides us with complete privacy, unpruned it offers only partial closure due to the trees open shape.

Growing quickly to 35ft tall and 35ft wide, it should be noted though that the tree could get knocked back in a hard winter where its frost tenderness is exposed. This rarely results in nothing more than a blackening of the trees leaves which are usually quite quick to resprout.

As well as the grey-blue leaves, Eucalyptus gunnii also produces clusters of small white flowers and peeling cream and brown bark on mature trunks. Everything about Eucalyptus gunnii is only assured though if you avoid heavy wet clay type soils, good mind drainage is key.

Arrow 2. The Holly.
Our only native on the list today, holly or Ilex aquifolium although the slowest growing of all trees already mentioned has a lot to recommend it. Firstly, holly has a coat of waxy leaves, which reflect sunlight directly into the garden. Team this glossy green foliage with the bright red holly berries and you have an ideal Christmas decoration for any home.

Ok so the leaves are a bit thorny and I am occasionally asked why does the holly produce these thorns and what purpose could they serve, besides making the job of a pruning gardener more difficult. Well one theory put forward is that because of the thorns spacing, the plant provides an ideal refuge and protected nesting site for birds. Their eggs when kept safe and out or reach of predators will hatch to become new generations of birds for your garden.

It's a very adaptable plant, happily growing to 2 metres (6 ft) high over the short term, or if left unpruned over a long period it can reach heights in excess of 15 metres. Be warned though, holly grows very slowly in its first few years, requiring you the gardener to have foresight and strong patience. If your patience is short, you can always opt to plant larger specimens of holly available root-balled in Feb-Mar or containerised year round, siting them in a raised bed for increased initial height.

Screening without loosing light
So after offering you my views on some of the best evergreen trees for screening purposes, now it's the turn of the deciduous trees. There are two main benefits to a deciduous screen; the first is that being leafless in winter it will allow as much sunlight as is available to enter your site thus staving off those winter blues. The second benefit is again to do with light, and it is that winter light through bare trees means less moss growth on your lawn, much less that which would grow beneath an evergreen tree.

So you should really consider how dark an area is during the winter months even before you plant a dense evergreen screen, perhaps a leafless winter screen would be much better suited to your situation. To help you decide, here are a few of the best deciduous screening trees for Irish gardens....

Arrow 1. The Alder.
Your first port of call when looking for a deciduous screening tree is our native black alder, Alnus glutinosa. Its advantages are numerous, from its growth rate of up to ½ a metre a year, to its maximum height of 20-25 metres, a height that should be high enough to cover most eyesores. The tree prefers to grow in moist soil, helping it achieve these sorts of growth rates, but as I am sure you know moist soil is never too far away in these climes.

I sometimes jokingly refer to the alder as the ultimate tree for the wet and windy west. Yes, windy, that's right, as wind or seaside exposure is no problem to the black alder. Plant your alder trees quite close together, approx every 2 metre centres to allow them form a dense thicket which still allows light in during winter.

Arrow 2. The Birch
Plant a few multi-stem native birch (Betula pendula) and you will benefit from fast screening for three seasons of the year. Also because birch branching is light and its leafing well dispersed you will just receive dappled shade in the summer, whilst still retaining that all important screening. This makes the birch the ideal tree for shielding a patio or seating area, plus it gives you the option of under-planting the tree if desired (heathers perhaps).

Sizewise you can expect a mature birch tree to reach 13 metres high by 12 metres wide. To grow well, just like the alder it prefers a moist soil.

. A look at the profile, bark and leaves of our native poplar , photo / picture / image.

Arrow 3. The Poplar.
I give a reserved recommendation to the Poplar. These reservations are because of the trees extremely aggressive root system. These roots have the ability under certain circumstances to damage building foundations within a 10-metre radius, and to create further poplar trees by means of root suckers.

Once you are aware of the possible complications with the poplar, there are then many advantages to consider with this tree. It creates a rapid growing screen or wind resistant shelterbelt easily up to 20 metres tall by 10 metres wide. In fact, our very own own native poplar (Populus tremula) will provide you with this quick growing deciduous screen in a short time, whilst wearing a coat of loosely toothed, almost circular leaves (3 to 8 cm across) which rustle in the slightest breeze.

So there you have it, three trees, all native, and all fit for seasonal screening. Choose any of these for shade and cooling during a hot summer, followed by shafts of warming sunlight through leafless branches each winter.

This might help you with further research......

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Last edited by James Kilkelly on Thu Feb 03, 2011 1:37 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 08, 2010 12:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

That is an interesting and very informative post. Can you tell me what height/width the trees would be when bought? In other words can one buy slightly more mature trees to plant? I think the term may be semi mature?

My house is new and i want a privacy screen fast. there is a 2 meter high fence around back but because the houses are one story people in upstairs room in other houses can overlook. so can kids playing on trampoline as top of trampoline is visible over the fence looking unsightly and kids on it can overlook

So i would want the trees to be maybe four meters high and wide as possible when planted. Is that possible? Think Leylandi is banned here and it probably is too fasts growing. If could start at four meters high/wide as poss then medium growths would do.

I am not sure what the soils is like.not great i would say as there was no topsoil.How would i find out if it is wet or what is it like

Hope you can advise me. Thanks
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 08, 2010 11:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

You can get pretty well any sized tree you want within reason.......if you're prepared to pay for it ! But the more mature trees sometimes do not transplant well. Younger trees settle in more easily and sometimes make such good growth that they catch up with the far more expensive ones very quickly. I wouldn't get too hung up on size, as whatever you plant will immediately enhance the fence and make you less conscious of what is behind it (houses/trampolines ) and with just a little patience,the trees will grow and you will get the privacy you need.
A row of silver birches would be lovely and they also allow the light to filter through.......check your don't want to cast the neighbour's garden into heavy shade.....or indeed your own, so deciduous trees would be the best in terms of allowing winter sunlight into the garden.
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 08, 2010 12:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

i've seen many references to Alder on this site.

can anyone post a picture of an Alder tree please. i have googled it but cant get a good look. does anyone have one in their garden that they could post a picture of please

i have an area in the garden that i could sow some in if i like them
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 17, 2010 9:54 pm    Post subject: Alder pictures Reply with quote

Hi Aine,

I have a VERY windy site on sandy soil and planted a mix of Alder, Alnus Cordata, which is the Italian Alder and has beautiful shiney leaves and grows in any soil, even compacted thin soils and the native Alnus Glutinosa mixed in for good measure, I also have a few Alnus Rubra - the American Red Alder which is not as pretty and is a bit of a monster as regards outgrowing the others and needs goodish soil and is prone to wind damage. You could mix with some Silver Birch - they do well on my sandy site with protection from the wind provided by the Alder - or Downy Birch if you have wet acid ground but it's not as nice as the silver variety.

Any recommendations for a tree with good autumn colour to compliment them?

The Italian Alder will grow on dry sites and is almost wind proof one my site, Planted three years now from forest saplings bought by the bunch of 25 at 80 cents each and are now over 4 metres tall, you can get them mail order from Coillte Nurseries in Carlow or Future Forests in Cork but if you want larger plants you can get them in Tipperery at Dundrum Nurseries at about a tenor for a 4 metre specimen or if you want a really bit one then the Irish tree centre in Cork has them, the price list is on the site.

I also have few Holm Oaks - slow growing evergreens suited to dry sites but Holly would be better and I'm planning to replace this year.


The rainy part of Cork
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