Issue: January 28, 2005

Evergreens for a hedge


Is there an evergreen tree or bush for my hardiness zone in Taos that will only grow to approximately 8 ft.? We have a garden bed on the north side of our house where we have several pinyon trees as a backdrop. My husband trims them every few years because of space needed for my flowers. We are trying to hide an unsightly storage building belonging to our neighbors, but we don't want to spoil our view of our beautiful mountains, thus the need for only 8 or 9 feet. I really don't want another pinyon there. The space will get plenty of sun and is approximately 6-7 ft. wide. Are we out of luck?

Kathy Emerson

Your request is challenging. Many coniferous (needle-leaf) evergreens are hardy in Taos but may grow too large. Hardy broadleaf evergreens are less common but more easily maintained at the size you want. There may also be some vines of interest.

Among conifers to consider is the dwarf Alberta spruce (Picea glauca var. conica). This can ultimately grow larger than you want, but it grows very slowly and will take a long time to exceed the allotted size. It has a beautiful cone shape and dense needles. It may grow too slowly to serve your purpose unless you can purchase some relatively large plants to start your planting. The yews, Taxus cuspidata and T. x media, should be hardy and may be managed by pruning. They tolerate severe pruning and shearing better than many other needle-leaf evergreens. Arborvitae (Thuja species) are good choices. There are some that grow large, others that are very dwarf, and some that are the size you require. Some pruning may be needed once they reach the appropriate size. Thuja are also quite tolerant of dry conditions and may need less irrigation than some of the other plants mentioned. Junipers are also very tolerant of our poor, dry soils. Some become large, but others may suit your purpose. There are some that will be too short, so choose carefully. Curled-leaf mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius) is a broadleaf evergreen shrub that grows in the mountains of New Mexico. Red berry mahonia (Mahonia haematocarpa) is another New Mexico native that tolerates our soils and dry conditions.

You may also consider some evergreen vines. English ivy (Hedera helix) which can climb a fence or wall may be suitable for your needs. This plant is evergreen and should be hardy in Taos and most of New Mexico. Although it is an old favorite in many landscapes, it has recently fallen into disfavor in regions with sufficient moisture for it to spread vigorously. In those regions, it is considered a weed to be eliminated. I have not seen it spreading out of control in New Mexico, but keep that warning in mind. The evergreen honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) may also be a plant to consider. However, it may not be dense enough for your purpose as a screen. It does flower and attract hummingbirds.

These are a few of the possibilities for your garden. As you look at other gardens and visit nurseries, look for other plants that appeal to you as well.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


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