I am looking for a small evergreen tree to block the view from the edge of our patio. Magnolia 'Little Gem' is what everyone recommends, but I find that they are a little sparse for my needs. Any ideas?
My loquat is blooming right now and is thick with both leaves and flowers. This native of China and Japan, Eriobotrya japonica, gets about 15 to 25 feet tall and can be nearly as wide, providing a great screen. The dark green leaves are coarse textured, with prominent veins, and pubescent underneath. Mother Nature artistically placed the flowers in a terminal panicle, about 6 inches long, with clusters of buds covered with a soft tan fuzz that open white. Loquat is one of my favorite plants to cut and bring inside for green arrangements on the chest of drawers in the front hall.
When I was a little girl growing up in Columbia, people espaliered loquats against southern facing brick walls to protect them from cold; considered a subtropical tree, they can only withstand temperatures above about 12 degrees. With our warmer winters, most South Carolina gardeners can grow this tree and in protected places and near the coast even have it set fruit - delicious small orange-fleshed ovals that make fabulous jelly to eat with meat. Unprotected trees will lose immature fruits if the temperatures drop below 25 degrees. At my house in St. Matthews, I get fruit occasionally, but a nearby tree attached to a brick wall at a bank loads up nearly every year.
Loquats grow in full sun or part shade and as long as they have well-drained soil, aren't picky about much else. Once established, they're actually quite drought tolerant and need very little fertilizer. The dropped leaves are long lasting, so treat this tree like a magnolia - don't prune it up but let the lower limbs hide the fallen foliage.
It's rare to see a loquat without horizontal circles of holes in its bark made by that dear little woodpecker, the yellow-bellied sapsucker. These birds drill holes into the phloem layer where the plant sap is thick and as nutritious as flower nectar, actually lapping up the viscous fluid with their long brush-like tongues. They continue to maintain these sap wells through the season and occasionally eat insects and fruit for good measure (bird fiber?).
Many other birds, mammals and insects dine at these flowing oases, as well. Some grumpy people insist that these birds ruin their trees, and no doubt weakened trees may suffer, but people with lawn mowers and weed eaters do a whole lot more damage to trees than these small, hard-headed birds who shyly move to the back side of a tree to do their drilling if they suspect that a human is watching them.
So plant your loquat this fall, the perfect time for planting because its roots can grow all winter and have a stronger underground system to withstand next summer's heat. Mulch your tree past the drip line with several inches of pine straw or leaves you've raked up. Water it during dry times for several years and keep your fingers crossed that down the road you might walk outside in the springtime, long before other backyard fruits are ripe, and pop a loquat into your mouth.