Jan HintzeTropical hedges

In the tropics, hedges are a bit difficult. However in these days of closely built suburban developments, a sound and sight screen is often desirable. There are not a lot of plants really suitable for a classic hedge, and things tend to grow so fast that you are forever clipping them to keep that nice clean line, so beloved of maze builders, parterre planters and topiarists. However, it is not impossible, and really it is up to you how much work you want to put in, and how much untidiness you can tolerate. Topiary is usually fairly basic in tropical gardens, but geometric shapes can be achieved.

A hedges of Ixora ‘Superking’ outside a home where the owner is using the steel fence as a trimming guide

First, you select your variety; decisions like, how tall, flowering, variegated, etc. need to be considered. Traditionally, hedges are not flowering plants, but cypress and box, but they don’t do well in the humidity and heat. However, there are many flowering tropical shrubs which do quite well as hedges and screening plants, and which last for many years of clipping to shape. What you are basically looking for is a densely growing plant, which has reasonably small leaves and will tolerate tip cutting without dieback.

Another Ixora javanica hedge nearby is clipped lower to allow light through to the shops behind. It’s a tough hedge that handles being right next to the carpark but you can see how open and bare it is on the side that gets no direct sunlight.



For instance, there are two sizes of Ixora – the larger King Ixoras which grow up to 3 metres or more, and come with red, orange, pink and apricot flowers. There are also miniature Ixoras which are more suited to a 1 metre hedge, although with time, they will grow taller. There is also Duranta erecta, which comes in green, gold variegated white and variegated yellow, with white, pink or blue flowers. The dwarf ones make lovely low borders around beds, the standards can be shaped into quite tall (2 metres) hedges. Hibiscus, in all their many foliage types and flower colours, can be pruned to a hedge, as can crotons (Codiaeum variegatum), but it should be noted that the broader leafed varieties are more successful. Plumbago capensis also makes a pretty low hedge, with blue flowers.

A tall hedge of Ixora javanica provides shade for tables at the outdoor cafe behind, and separation from the carpark

If you want a cypress hedge, then there’s the top end native Cypress Pine (Callitris intratropica) which can be pruned to shape for a few years, but not as a long term proposition.

If you want to use native plants, some of these are quite suitable as well – Satinash (Syzygium fibrosum) grows to about 3 metres and has bright red new leaves. Phaleria clerondendron has strongly scented white flowers, Phyllanthus cuscutiflorus has pretty clusters of tiny flowers as well as pink new leaves.

Many other shrubs will make beautiful screens, even if you don’t get to trim them severely to shape – Gardenia, Acalypha, Leea, Grevillea and Phyllanthus.

Trimming hedges needs to be done fairly regularly during the growing season, since if it gets too unruly, the radical pruning then needed can cause dieback of a branch. Flowering plants should be pruned after a flowering flush, since most flower on the tips; trimming them back will encourage more flowers. It is perhaps better to ease back on the trimming during the cool/dry time, since it will take some time then for the new growth to fill back in.


Phaleria clerodendron, where the flowers come straight out of the bark on the older branches, followed by red fruit (shown below). [Photo by Tatters:)]

Phalaria clerodendron is a tree, multitrunked to about 3-5 m, fast growing, with smallish shiny leaves and flowering 2-3 times a year with masses of scented, white tubular flowers, from the bark of the older branches. Leea has a few forms, but basically a multiple leaf, sometimes quilted, sometimes shiny, sometimes green, sometimes deep claret purple, and heads of pink flowers, which are not that impressive, but the purple one is quite pretty. Phyllanthus is can be a ground cover for a while but then grows about a metre. It has tiny leaves, arching horizontal branches and insignificant flowers. All three are pretty tropical although Leea does OK as a pot plant in Brisbane, and maybe some Phyllanthus species too.



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6 thoughts on “Tropical hedges

  1. Michelle on said:

    Hi great information thank you. I want to plant some hibiscus around some palms and create a hedge effect up to or just above a metre. I would like to keep with the colours in the garden, pink, white, purple/mauve and blue. Any suggestions? I am on the Central Coast NSW. THanks Michelle

    • Jan Hintze on said:

      It looks as if your query has been overlooked – my apologies. If it is not too late I just have a couple of comments – hibiscus would give you the pink and white, but the purple mauve and blue is a bit difficult. Have you thought of hydrangeas – they come in pink, white and blue. and need to be pruned each year, so make a nice hedge. You will need to be careful of the palm roots, which tend to form a carpet and choke nearby plants. Spraying liquid fertiliser every now and then in the growing season will help your shrubs compete. cheers Jan H.

  2. SK on said:

    The tall Ixora hedge in the photo doesn’t look like Ixora javanica. If anything, it’s probably Ixora siamensis. I. javanica has very large leaves, and not tiny ones as shown here.

    • Jan Hintze on said:

      You may well be right – most ixoras are sold with a name tag indicating the colour, and I suspect some are hybrids. This one is growing in a very stressed position on the edge of a carpark, in full sun from the east. I suspect it gets little care and attention, although someone does trim it from time to time. I should imagine it gets little fertiliser and sporadic watering, which shows how hardy it is, but may have influence the leaf size.

  3. Wayne on said:

    Scented Daphne tree (Phaleria clerodendron); I have a young one of these about 30cm tall. I’m in Sydney, and was wondering if you have any tips on keeping one in a large container, and limiting their height and width?

  4. Jan Hintze on said:

    Phaleria trees make a useful tall hedge – unpruned they grow to about 4 metres, but are generally fairly dense. To keep one in a container should be possible, although I have never tried. The size of the container will dictate the height to which it will grow, and its natural shape is rather narrow, rather than spreading. Pruning the height carefully to keep it restrained should take place after the flowering, to encourage a new flush of leaves. It tends to have multiple stems, so take out the stronger ones and the more slender stems will provide the framework for the tree, now to be a bush. They are a tropical plant, but should manage to tolerate a cool environment, so long as it is protected from frost. In a container, you could bring it to shelter in the colder weather, particularly if you keep it on a wheeled base. Keep it moist and feed sparingly during cool times.
    Good luck.

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