When living close to roads, parks, and other homes, natural barriers to create privacy are often desired. Installing fast-growing plants to screen your land is a great idea that can yield multiple benefits – if the right plants are used! Plants provide oxygen and shade, protect our yards from wind and dust, and prevent erosion. The right plants will increase your home’s curb appeal, but the wrong ones could lead to costly headaches.
It’s important to do your research as you plan a botanical barrier. The right plants will offer unobtrusive roots that won’t lift fences, driveways, and sidewalks. Maintenance should be low: avoid plants that produce fruits that can rot and attract pests, and sap that can stain walkways or drop onto cars. Water requirements should be minimal outside of drought conditions.
Below are some suggestions of great barrier plants made with the Hawaiʻi homeowner in mind. Planted along property lines, they offer boundary delineation and a visual, sound, and wind barrier. While they are elegant in their natural shape, be sure to keep plants pruned to encourage robust, dense growth.
And best of all, they are all ‘āina-friendly – each of these non-invasive species is an excellent choice to fulfill your privacy screening needs without the risk of harm to our island environment. Visit your local Plant Pono endorsed nursery to find the perfect plants that suit your needs.
1. Panax (Polyscias guilfoylei)
Panax is an erect shrub with a dense, upright crown that fills into a thick and tall barrier. It’s fast-growing too! Tough leaves are dark green or green with a white or pale yellow variegated along the margins. Flowers are insignificant. Keep trimmed to avoid utility obstruction. Panax is low maintenance. It drops no rubbish and is virtually pest-free. Propagate vegetatively.
2. Hōʻawa (Pittosporum hosmeri)
Hōʻawa is a native shrub with a rounded shape. Elongated leaves, green on top with rust-colored hairs underneath, cluster at the branch tips. Sweet smelling, attractive white flowers grow off the stems in groups of 9 to 12. Following Winter and Spring, flowering comes hōʻawa fruit, a favorite food for the endangered alala. The walnut-like seed capsules naturally open up to reveal numerous black seeds against a dramatic orange backdrop. The growth rate is slower compared with other hedges. This species is a utility-friendly hedge; it won’t grow much higher than 15 feet. Hōʻawa drops little to no leaf litter. Rats can be a pest during the fruiting season. Propagation is by seed.
3. Kokiʻo kea (Hibiscus waimeae)
Kokiʻo kea is a flowering, endemic shrub with a round shape. They are densely packed with green leaves, creating a thick visual barrier. Blooming occurs almost year-round. Sweetly scented white hibiscus flowers are proudly displayed from the branch tips. A utility-friendly plant, at maturity, it reaches 15 feet. Some leaf litter is normal. However, rose beetles and other suckling insects can be problematic. Propagate vegetatively.
4. Areca Palms (Dypsis lutescens)
A cluster-forming palm with an upright, open form is made up of a crown of green pinnate fronds that gently arches away from a segmented trunk. Flowering occurs year-round, although the blooms aren’t scented or spectacular in appearance. The growth rate is fast. Plant under utility lines with great care as they can reach over 15 feet in height. Arecas are virtually pest-free, although they can be vulnerable to sooty mold – particularly as a favorite hiding place of little fire ants (always test new plants to ensure they are LFA-free!). Old fronds fall and litter the ground and can be used as mulch. Propagate vegetatively or by seed.
5. Samoan Gardenia (Tabernaemontana divaricata)
An everblooming shrub with an upright, rounded form and repeating Y forked branches. Shiny, deep green leaves are prominently veined. Radiant white flowers are pin-wheeled shaped. Growing singularly or in clusters from the branch tips, they stand out. Under a bright moon, the flowers seem to reflect the moonlight. The scent is most potent after the sun sets. Flowering occurs year-round. The growth rate is moderate. A utility-friendly plant, Samoan gardenia reached 15 feet at maturity. It is a low-maintenance plant that drops no leaf litter. Propagate vegetatively.
6. Podocarpus (Podocarpus gracilior)
Podocarpus is a tall tree with a dense, upright crown. It’s densely packed with thin, uniform green leaves reminiscent of bamboo leaves or pine needles. Flowers and fruit are inconspicuous. The growth rate is fast! Keep trimmed to prevent utility obstruction. Trimming and hedging are the only maintenance issues with podocarpus. Podocarpus will grow into a thick, impenetrable, green wall with regular trimming. Propagation is by seed or vegetative cuttings.
7. False eranthemum (Pseuderanthemum carruthersii)
False eranthemum is a multi-branched shrub with a rounded, upright shape. Depending on the variety, leaves can be yellow or pink and purple mottled. The colorful leaves are simple and narrow in form. Flowering occurs year-round, although they are insignificant. The growth rate is fast. As a utility-friendly plant, false eranthemum reaches eight feet at maturity. It is a pest-free and low-maintenance plant that drops little to no leaf litter.
8. Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata)
An everblooming shrub with a dense, upright shape is made of small, thin green leaves with minute gland dots. Single flowers consist of 5 petals atop a long tube, growing in clusters on the terminal ends. The brilliant blue or white flowers are always on display among the evergreen leaves, which are a favorite for bees and butterflies. Fast-growing but utility-friendly, at maturity, cape leadwort reaches 6 feet. A tidy species, vegetative litter, is not a problem. Propagate vegetatively or by seed.
9. Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea glabra)
A thorny climbing shrub that provides constant color consists of papery ‘flowers’ and heart-shaped or oval green leaves. The vivid color is from bracts; the flowers are small and insignificant. With regular fertilizer, it can grow three feet per year. Routine maintenance and trimming are crucial as bougainvillea can scramble over a fence or into utility lines. Some leaf litter from the spent bracts is normal. For dry areas, keep this raked to reduce fuel load. Propagation is by cuttings.
10. Naupaka (Scaevola taccada)
Naupaka is a native hedge with a spreading form made of waxy, green, narrow leaves that are densely packed to create a thick visual barrier. Everblooming ‘half flowers’ are off-white, often streaked with purple. The buoyant fruits are pea-sized with a styrofoam-like texture. The pleasantly scented flowers and white fruits are prominently displayed on the branch tips. Fast-growing and utility-friendly, naupaka won’t grow above 10 feet. Naupaka drops little to no rubbish and is low maintenance. This plant does better at lower elevations. Propagation is by seed and vegetatively.
11. Song of India (Dracaena reflexa)
Song of India is a clump-forming shrub with multiple branches and an upright, rounded form. Gently arching branches are tightly packed with spirally arranged leaves. Green and bordered with yellow, each narrow leaf has a pointed tip. Blooming in the Spring, small, clustered flowers are incredibly fragrant, especially at night. The growth rate is moderate, song of India reaches 15 feet at maturity. It is utility-friendly, pest-free, and drops no leaf litter. Propagation is from cuttings.
12. Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)
Hibiscus is a flowering shrub that blooms year-round. Intensely colored flowers grow from the branch tips, a beautiful display set against green leaves. The flower color, size, petal shape varies as many cultivars have been created. A utility-friendly plant, it won’t grow more than 15 feet. While naturally bushy, occasional pruning is recommended for robust, dense growth. Hibiscus doesn’t drop much debris. Rose beetles and other suckling insects can be problematic. Propagation is by cuttings.
13. Rainbow Hau (Talipariti tiliaceum f. tricolor)
A spreading hedge packed with colorful variegated heart-shaped leaves. While beautiful, the hibiscus-like flowers last only one day. Flowers are always present as it blooms continuously throughout the year. A fast-growing hedge, rainbow hau, needs trimming to prevent utility obstruction. Some leaf litter is normal. This variety comes from the Polynesian introduced and somewhat agressive hau (Talipariti tiliaceum); however, invasive characteristics were bred out. It does not make viable seeds. Propagation is by cuttings. *Somewhat intrusive roots*
14. A Colorful Combination
Choose a variety of colorful, noninvasive plants to create a barrier. Plant the taller plants in the back, with the shorter ones in front. The cascade of heights and color combinations is a striking display.