A dense tree with foliage extending to ground level, Podocarpus macrophyllus, commonly called podocarpus, Japanese yew and yew-pine, provides privacy as a hedge around many homes and yards. It is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8b through 11 and grows 30 to 40 feet tall and 20 to 25 feet wide when not pruned. Because podocarpus' light-blue, fleshy seeds are mildly poisonous, the tree should not be planted where children and pets can access it.
Correct spacing allows podocarpus to grow healthily as an effective privacy hedge. Set podocarpus transplants 5 to 7 feet apart in a line -- or in a triangular pattern for added depth -- along the intended hedge line in a site exposed to full sun, partial sun or partial shade. Podocarpus grows in well-drained clay, loam and sand soil, and in acidic and alkaline soil. When in the ground, the plants should be no closer than 6 feet from utility equipment and no nearer than 12 feet from a door or other entrance. Move the podocarpus plants back, retaining their spacing from each other, and spray landscape paint to mark the hedge line so it is twice as wide as the podocarpus root balls. Dig a trench along the marked line, making it the same depth as the root balls. After the plants are removed from their containers, they can be placed in the trench at their previous distance from each other and from structures. Fill the gaps around the plants with the soil you removed to create the trench. Putting the soil firmly in place then stepping on it gently removes air pockets. Water the site thoroughly.
Podocarpus grows quickly into a privacy hedge with the help of fertilizer applications. One application of 12-4-8, slow-release, granular fertilizer provides sufficient nutrients for two or three months. Sprinkle the fertilizer on the ground around the podocarpus trees, avoiding getting it on their trunks or foliage; use 4 tablespoons of the fertilizer per every 4 square feet of ground in mid-spring, or apply the product according to its manufacturer's instructions. Apply the fertilizer again in early summer, and then don't apply more of it for the rest of the year. Otherwise, it could encourage soft, sappy growth that is susceptible to pests and diseases. Water the podocarpus trees' soil regularly throughout the first season so that the soil is constantly moist but never sodden. Spread a 2-inch-thick layer of organic mulch on the soil surface -- keeping the mulch away from the trees' trunks and foliage -- to help conserve soil moisture.
Prune into Shape
Pruning controls podocarpus' size and creates a neat, formal look for the privacy hedge. Hand shears are the best tools for pruning podocarpus leaves to avoid stubby, half-cut leaves. Prune the podocarpus in spring when the plants begin to grow together. Wipe the pruning shear blades with rubbing alcohol, and prune the ends of the plants' stems to create a uniform edge. Shape the hedge so that it's slightly wider at the bottom than the top. Allowing the top to grow wider than the bottom shades out the lower foliage, creating thin foliage and leggy stems and reducing privacy. Clippings can go on a compost pile, but mix them with soft, green leaves or grass clippings to speed their decaying process.
Grow Suitable Varieties
Some podocarpus varieties are more suited than others for growing as a privacy hedge. Podocarpus macrophyllus var. angustifolius, which is hardy in USDA zones 8b through 11, forms a neat column. Growing 35 to 40 feet tall and 10 to 15 feet wide, this variety has recurved or curled leaves. Podocarpus macrophyllus var. maki grows slowly to 8 to 30 feet tall and 3 to 12 feet wide, and also has a columnar form. This variety's needlelike leaves are short, dense and finely clustered in spirals around the stems. It is hardy in USDA zones 7 through 10. Angustifolius and maki grow in full sun and partial shade, and they require well-drained soil. Angustifolius grows in acidic and alkaline, clay, loam and sand soil.