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Gardening 101: Pittosporum

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Gardening 101: Pittosporum

September 6, 2018

In my garden I rely on pittosporum shrubs to behave like a sheer curtain, creating a shimmery 10-foot-tall privacy layer to block street sights and sounds. But that’s just me. With more than 200 species of these versatile evergreen shrubs and small trees, you can use rely on pittosporum to solve almost any problem—these versatile plants are amenable to being sheared, clipped, shaped, or left alone to develop shaggy, friendly silhouettes.

Is pittosporum the right plant for your garden? Read on to find out.

Behind a theatrically pruned Meyer lemon tree (Citrus × meyeri), a shimmering hedge of Pittosporum ‘Silver Sheen’ softens the texture of a fence in a Bay Area garden. See more in Designer Visit: A ‘Magical Green Pocket Garden’ in San Francisco. Photograph by Airyka Rockefeller, courtesy of Talc Studio.
Above: Behind a theatrically pruned Meyer lemon tree (Citrus × meyeri), a shimmering hedge of Pittosporum ‘Silver Sheen’ softens the texture of a fence in a Bay Area garden. See more in Designer Visit: A ‘Magical Green Pocket Garden’ in San Francisco. Photograph by Airyka Rockefeller, courtesy of Talc Studio.

Widely grown throughout New Zealand and Japan, pittosporums are native to Asia and Africa and enjoy mild climates, full sun, and well-drained soil. But really, what plant wouldn’t if given the choice?

&#8\2\16;Silver Sheen&#8\2\17; has delicate, silver-green leaves and rustles in a breeze. For this variety, ask for Silver Sheen Kohuhu grown by Monrovia; it&#8\2\17;s hardy in USDA zones 8 to \1\1.
Above: ‘Silver Sheen’ has delicate, silver-green leaves and rustles in a breeze. For this variety, ask for Silver Sheen Kohuhu grown by Monrovia; it’s hardy in USDA zones 8 to 11.
How do you know which pittosporum to buy? Many widely available cultivars belong to the species P. tenuifolium, which can be trained as hedges, shrubs, and small trees (with heights that can reach 30 feet or more if left unchecked). In addition to ‘Silver Sheen’ (my favorite), consider variegated ‘Silver Magic’, with light green leaves edged in cream. ‘Tom Thumb’ is a low-growing, mounding variety with handsome purple leaves.

If you are looking for a specimen shrub to add interest to a corner of the garden, P. tobira has large, glossy green leaves and clusters of tiny white flowers in springtime.

If you’re looking for a small tree to thrive in a warm, humid climate, consider P. dasycaulon (native to India).

Above: In garden designer Flora Grubb’s own garden in Berkeley, California, Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Silver Magic’ in the background frames the fountain and contrasts with the texture of Acacia cognata ‘Cousin Itt’ is at right. Photograph by Caitlin Atkinson. See more at Landscape Designer Visit: At Home with Flora Grubb in Berkeley, CA.

Cheat Sheet

  • Consider pittosporum if you’re looking for a faster-growing, hardy alternative to boxwood.
  • Think: fence alternative. A hedge of pittosporums will generally grow as tall and dense as you allow, but you can also keep it in check with twice-a-year clipping.
  • Pittosporums are unfazed by deer, and resistant to disease and garden pests.
  • “Repeats of pittosporum can be unexpectedly interesting, the plants themselves revealing handsome dark stems,” writes our UK contributor Kendra Wilson. Read more in Landscape Ideas: Boxed in by Boxwood? 5 Shrubs to Try Instead.
I replaced a fence with a hedge of Pittosporum tenuifolium &#8\2\16;Silver Sheen&#8\2\17;. The savings for buying small plants versus established shrubs was more than \$\1,000. Within \18 months of when this photo was taken, the small plants had grown in thickly and the hedge was more than six feet tall. Photograph by Matthew Williams.
Above: I replaced a fence with a hedge of Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Silver Sheen’. The savings for buying small plants versus established shrubs was more than $1,000. Within 18 months of when this photo was taken, the small plants had grown in thickly and the hedge was more than six feet tall. Photograph by Matthew Williams.

Keep It Alive

  • Pittosporums are hardy in USDA growing zones 8 to 11, depending on the cultivar.
  • It’s not unusual for a pittosporum to grow 24 inches in a single year (the grow rate will slow as a plant matures).
  • Plant in spring or fall and water well, weekly, until the root system establishes itself.
A clipped hedge of Pittosporum tobira. Photograph by Farm via Wikimedia Commons.
Above: A clipped hedge of Pittosporum tobira. Photograph by Farm via Wikimedia Commons.

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For more growing tips, see Pittosporum: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design in our curated guides to Shrubs 101. Read more:

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