Jan HintzeChoosing plants for tropical 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.

Syzygium fibrosum. Photo by Tatters ❀


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.

Shiny red foliage on Leea guineensis. Photo by Forest and Kim Starr CC3.0


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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Jan Hintze

About Jan Hintze

Jan is a professional flower grower, horticulturist & consultant, specialising in tropical plants including fruit and vegetable production and cut flowers. Darwin, Northern Territory

17 thoughts on “Choosing plants for tropical hedges

  1. 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

    • 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. 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.

    • 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.

        • Thank you for posting such a delightful link. Your pics of butterflies are very beautiful, and the information with them is very clear and complete. The Ixoras you picture there with your butterflies would appear to be those sold here in Australia as King Ixora. The colour variation is the same, and certainly the leaf size is large. The picture in my note showing the Superking Ixora lining a fence is most likely this species. It has red flowers, although it wasn’t flowering when I took the pic. – I think it had been recently trimmed. These very large Ixoras make a beautiful addition to any tropical garden, and are excellent as a privacy screen, as well as a trimmed hedge. They do grow quite tall – 3 metres or more.

          Jan Hintze,

  3. 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. 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.

  5. Another plant that may be worth considering is Aglaia odorata (aka Chinese Perfume Plant, Chinese Rice Flower, Mock Lemon). I understand it is often grown as a hedge in Taiwan. It has a fine dense foliage with small yellow ball flowers most of the year, which give of a fresh lemon fragrance that wafts.

  6. I must confess that I don’t know this plant, but upon looking it up, it certainly does look attractive, and its perfume is an added bonus. The dense foliage would certainly provide a nice hedge, and its relatively small size would make maintenance less onerous. Thank you for drawing attention to this.

    Jan Hintze.

  7. Delighted to discover this blog. I’d like to plant an informal stilted hedge of Michelia Dolsopa to screen a neighbouring first floor deck, and wondered how closely I could plant them. Or of course if feasible at all as I couldn’t find an image anywhere on the net! Ideally I’d keep it within 5 metres in height and a width of 2 metres. Clipping after flowering of course! Thanks

    • Hi Moira – glad you’re enjoying GardenDrum. I will answer your question as this blog post from Jan is about tropical hedges and your Michelia is more cool climate. The usual recommendation for a hedge is to space your plants by about one third of their eventual height. So for a 5m hedge, so that would be about 1.6mm apart. The closer you plant, the faster your hedge grows together but the more clipping you will need to do as the plants mature.

  8. Hi Jan, thanks for the your informative post, I just realized hedges could be bare if they don’t get the sun light. I’ve been looking for tropical species to hedge my house in Indonesia. Acalypha Siamensis is widely used here for hedges. But I am still looking for smaller leaves and bluish green like Yew. Another species to consider is Murraya Paniculata.

    I wonder if there are any hedge plants from cool climates that could grow well and dense in tropics.


  9. The only thing I can think of which would maybe work like a Yew, would be the tropical Cypress Pine, Callitris intratropica, It is actually a fairly large tree, but would be ok to prune it into a hedge for a fair few years, as it is pretty slow growing (I have one that is about 5years old and 3 m tall, 2 m wide).
    Otherwise there would be Phaleria clerodendron, which has an erect habit to about 4 m. dense, white scented flowers several times annually, or Phylanthus cuscutiflorus, which is a fine leafed tree to about 3 or 4 m columnar, and the new foliage is bright copper-coloured.
    Possibly too, a bit shorter, an assortment of Aralia varieties, Durantas, Crotons, Acanthaceae, all of which have nice leaves, are evergreen, grow about 2-3 m, and can be roughly shaped. These days there is a fair assortment of stuff available in Indonesia, so you should be able to pick the plants up easily.
    Most tropical plants are evergreen, and will handle some shade, although you are right to consider it a problem if the house provides total shade. In such an area you might have to consider a metal screen with a creeper, or some such. The trick with a hedge or screening planting is to choose plants which grow to the same height, so the pruning regime is similar.

    • Thanks for the suggestions Jan. I would love to have the pine as hedge, their color and texture is beautiful. But my land is small, 15m x 10m, so I should find small bushes plants 1-2 m that works like Privet and hide metal fencing with their leaves.
      The Durantas is nice, will be great as accent with their striking yellowish green. I just realized that Ixora in your photos has fine leaves, it could be another option. Yes there are a lot of assortments of plants here, but I’m too perfectionist and still hoping there is a perfect species for hedge that has very fine leaves, deep bluish green and dense 🙂
      At this time, there are no houses beside. But in time they will, and most people here will build walls, sometimes they are tall enough to block sun light. It is also become my consideration. I hope my upcoming neighbors could see the beauty of living hedge and grow their own hedge instead of building tall walls.
      The metal screen with creeper sounds brilliant. I love the texture and color of Ficus Pumila. This could be a good solution. Thanks for sharing your knowledge 🙂

  10. Can u please help me I like to grow a hedge as a screen and there is no sun it’s full shade getting lots of different advice thank you john

  11. Hi John, Growing dense plants as required for a hedge in dense shade is difficult. I would suggest you consider planting a mix of the different Pleomele or Dracaena reflexa bushes. They come in several different colours, green, two-tone green, green with a gold stripe, gold with a green stripe. They are very hardy, and can grow very dense, if pruned to promote side shoots. Mixing the colours could add variety and interest, although a single species is more uniform. These plants would grow to about two metres within a few years, and can be trimmed to fit the space available or if preferred, they form a fairly graceful weeping habit. They grow fairly readily from cuttings, if you want to grow your own, but most good nurseries will have them. Good Luck. Jan H.

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