Q. What can I plant at our condominium that is colorful and requires little care or water? I need two plant choices for along the sides of 24 buildings. 

A. Between the windows, plant variegated arboricola, a colorful hedge with green and yellow leaves. It will grow in all exposures except deep shade. Space 2-2 ½ feet apart and plant out beyond the drip line of the eaves so they can get natural rainfall. Plant Indian hawthorn under windows in sun or shade. Space 1½ feet apart. Water daily for the first two weeks to get them established and then twice a week if there is no rain. 

Q. Our homeowners association wants to plant 2,500 feet of hedge. About 700 feet will be planted under ficus trees about 12 feet from the trees. What hedge do you recommend to be maintained at 4 feet against a 6-foot chain link fence? Is ficus or eugenia a better choice? What about planting arboricola in the shady area? 

A. My first thought is to maintain the hedge at just over 6 feet so you do not see the fence. The eugenia or Surinam cherry hedge will take a lot more shade than ficus, and it doesn't have invasive roots. The cherry takes pruning well and is an excellent hedge for sun or shade. The arboricola is good in shade but does not look good as a clipped formal hedge. Its growth pattern and foliage are too coarse. Viburnum suspensum is another possibility; it tolerates shade and stands clipping well. 

Surinam cherry hedge is one of our tougher plants. It can endure heavy shade or full sun quite well. Your plants are small but will grow rapidly once established. Use aged cow manure or Milorganite in the planting hole if you wish. These products will not burn the tender plant roots. You can space the plants as close as 18 inches for a fast effect, although 2-2 ½ feet is more normal spacing. The new plants will grow quite rapidly for you _ 2-3 feet a year. Watering will be most critical the first three or more weeks. 

Daily watering with a soaker base is essential. Water in the morning only for about half an hour. After three to four weeks, the regular sprinkler system schedule should be fine. Make sure all of the plants are covered by the system before you remove the soaker hose. This plant can be maintained as a hedge from 2 ½ feet to 8 feet in height. Prune the plants after they grow to the desired height to encourage fullness of growth. Ultimately prune the hedge like a flat topped pyramid so the lower branches receive adequate light and you have a full hedge to ground level. This is one of the best foundation plants for hard to maintain condominium grounds Surinam cherry has edible fruit which can be used in jams or jelly. 

Q. I live next to a wetland area and near a very busy road. What could I use for a hedge in such an area that would comply with wetland restrictions? 

A. I think native cocoplum would make a good hedge. It is tolerant of wet conditions and grows thickly, but does not do well in shade. 

Q. What is wrong with my ixora hedge? It looks sick and has black smudges.

A. You could have several problems. All your plantings need to be fertilized in March, June and October with an ixora/gardenia fertilizer if they all look chlorotic. Poor air circulation, excess watering and watering at the wrong time of day causes fungal conditions. Plants used as hedges have poor air movement because of the dense growth and are prone to fungal problems. Water in the morning only between 2 and 10 a.m. to avoid fungal leaf spotting. You can spray with Daconil, but most of the old leaves will fall off as new growth begins. Sooty mold (the black smudges) on some of your leaf samples indicates sucking insects such as scale or mealybugs. Treat the shrubs with a systemic insecticide such as Orthene. 

Q. We live inland where it gets fairly cold. What can we plant under our windows? They face the north and are in the shade.

A. Low plantings for wider windows could include Wheelers pittosporum (in dry location) and Schillings holly. Both plants will grow on a north-facing exposure in shade. 

Q. What can we grow as a flowering hedge near a fence? 

A. `Nora Grant' ixora blooms well with large pink flowers. It will reach 6-7 feet in time. It blooms year-round if it isn't pruned. Flowering plants bloom at the ends of the branches so pruning cuts off the flowers.


Q. We live in a town house that has a 30-inch height requirement for hedges in our front yard. What should we plant? 

A. Most shrubs in Florida grow quickly and will exceed the 30-inch height in no time at all. I would recommend low shrubs that stay naturally around 3 feet in height with no trimming necessary. My first choice would be Indian hawthorn, which normally has white flowers six to seven months of the year. A pink flowering form is seen in California and may be available here. Space the plants about 2 feet apart. They are slow growing and should not require any pruning. Shillings holly is another low growing choice for a formal shrub without blooms and very tiny neat foliage. You may want higher plantings for the corners of the town house such as Viburnum suspensum, which is amenable to pruning and reaches 5 to 6 feet in height. 

Q. What is the best plant to hide an air conditioner? I need it to grow at least 3 feet in height …fast! 

A. Keep all plantings back from the air conditioner to allow for servicing and air movement. Fishtail fern would be a good choice for a 3 foot tall screening plant for the shade. It would not need pruning and is a relatively trouble-free native. The 3 foot height range is a hard one to reach with some shrubs. Most of the good shrub choices (Indian hawthorn, Viburnum suspensum, and Shillings holly) are slow growing. I've seen liriope `Evergreen Giant' grow 3 feet tall in good condition, so this might be another possibility. 

Q. Can you recommend a thorny shrub that is not too dense but will keep people from cutting through our property? I was thinking about using pyracantha or crown of thorns. We live in Port St. Lucie. 

A. Pyracantha is a tall shrub that grows about three to four feet a year and can reach 15 feet. It is thorny and has small white flowers and red or orange fruit. Pyracantha is normally not too dense. The crown of thorns is a slow grower (6 inches to1 foot a year). It reaches 5 feet in the standard form and about 2 feet in dwarf forms. 

It is cold sensitive and could easily freeze at Port St. Lucie particularly if you are west of I-95. It does fairly well on the coast to Vero Beach. The tall form is leggy and has flowers and tufts of foliage at the branch tips. The dwarf form is denser, but at 2 feet is not very practical because all the flowers occur at the branch tips. If you prune it regularly to make it denser, you cut off all the blooms. Thorns can mean lawsuits if you place these plants too close to sidewalks, roads, etc. where people pass. My own choice for a somewhat thorny hedge for your area is silverthorn (Elaeagnus pungens). Spaced about 2 ½ feet apart they grow quickly into a nice tight hedge. In the fall, the plant has small white flowers that are very fragrant. Give it plenty of room. If left alone it can reach 10 feet across and 10 to 12 feet tall. It is naturally dense growing. The fast rate of growth means pruning fairly often. Silverthorn is drought and salt tolerant. Keep grass away from the base of your hedges and trees. I have seen too many plants girdled by the weed trimmer and killed. 

Q. We have two big ficus trees and a ficus hedge near our swimming pool. The owner has no objection to the trees being pruned. Will pruning encourage root growth

A. A ficus hedge is a ficus tree in waiting. The trees definitely have invasive potential. Pruning may slow down some root growth temporarily. I would recommend you contact Arborist's Supply House in Oakland Park. They carry Deep Root Barrier, which could deflect the roots away from the pool. It is expensive but worth the trouble. 

Q. Where can we get more information on Surinam cherry and orange jessamine and where can they be purchased? 

A. Surinam cherry is a good hedge plant. It is also grown as a small tree and can grow to 15 feet or so. It has foliage similar to ficus but without the bad roots. Orange jessamine also can be used for hedge work or as a small tree. The `Lakeview' variety has larger flowers and fruit and is a bigger, faster grower. Flowers are very fragrant and small red fruit is decorative. Blooms usually occur near the time of the full moon, which seems typical of many fragrant white flowering plants. Both plants can seed in woodlands so may be a pest in native areas. These shrubs are easily obtainable at most garden centers. 

Q. My orange jasmine hedge is yellowing and dying off. What can I do to save it? 

A. Judging from the foliage, the hedge needs fertilizer. Use an acid 10-5-5 palm fertilizer to help restore growth to the plants. If the plants were planted too deep or growing near cement similar conditions would be apparent.