Create a Living Privacy Screen in Your Backyard

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It’s that time of year again!  The weather is gorgeous and our living area has begun to expand outdoors in one way or another- fun, family BBQs; nightly drinks with friends; fetch with Fido; coffee on the patio; quiet afternoons with a book; or simply enjoying the garden.  Sometimes we need a little more privacy in our backyard retreats or outdoor living areas.  Street noise can be distracting, neighbors can be annoying, and we aren’t always lucky enough to have the best view. The best way to create backyard serenity is with plants!

Fences can look stark and some areas have restrictions on height leaving you with a lot of open area.  Plants provide the perfect screening alone or in combination with a backyard fence.  In addition to privacy, plants can provide a lot more benefits including wind protection, shade, noise reduction, and even security!  (Not to mention their benefit to the earth and our property values.)

Selecting Your Plants

 Evergreen Trees 

Evergreen Trees 

When planting a fence or privacy screen most people choose evergreen trees and shrubs – they keep their foliage and do their job year round.  But, if you are only utilizing your backyard in prime season, ornamental deciduous plants can work as well while providing another element of interest such as blooms and changing leaves.  Many evergreen trees can also add additional interest such as blooms and berries as well.  Evergreens that bloom: camellia, gardenia, abelia, loropetalum, elaeagnus, magnolia, laurel, osmanthus, banana shrub, viburnum.   Evergreens with berries: Pyracantha, Ilex(Holly) & Yew.

How long do you want to wait for your screen to be in place?  Many people choose fast growing evergreens for a privacy screen in less time. Arborvitae or Emerald Green Arborvita are a great fast growing choice. Although, it's not the only fast growing choice. Some more choices can include the Chindo Viburnum (Viburnum awabuki 'Chindo') or the Privet (Ligustrum japonicum 'Davidson Hardy' or 'Recurvifolium').

Another thing to consider is how much space you have.  If you have a large yard you may want to consider two or three rows of plants. The most popular choice (space allowing) is to plant a row of evergreens as a backdrop and fill in with other evergreen and deciduous plants in front for a full landscaped look.  If you have a narrow space to work with the best option is the Thuja occidentalis ‘Emerald Green’ Arborvitae.

Another factor (and maybe most important) to consider is height.  How tall do you want your privacy trees to get? Do you want trees to seclude your second story balcony or are you just looking to create a low growing hedge?

Tall to Medium Height Suggestions

 Emerald Green Arborvitae

Emerald Green Arborvitae

Thuja plicata ‘Green Giant’ (Arborvitae) –fast growing evergreen tree growing to 20-30’ tall and 10-15’ wide in full sun to part shade.  It's also known for its drought tolerance.  Arborvitae is less susceptible to bagworms and uprooting than Leyland Cypress.

Magnolia grandiflora – Large broadleaf evergreen trees preferring full sun (the more the better but 3 hours at minimum).  Plants are native, drought tolerant, adaptable and low maintenance.  Fragrant blooms come in summer.  Grows 50-60’ tall and 20’ wide with dwarf cultivars available growing to 20-30’ tall and 10-15’ wide.

Cedrus deodara – Beautiful evergreen with blue-green needles. Graceful pyramidal shape.  Grows up to 30ft tall and 15ft wide.

Cryptomeria japonica (Japanese Cedar) – Fast growing conifer with interesting blue-green needles.  Easy to grow in full sun to part shade.  Grows up to 30ft tall by 15ft wide.  We love cultivars like ‘Yoshino’ and ‘Radicans’.

Thuja occidentalis ‘Emerald Green’ (Arborvitae) –fast growing, narrow, evergreen tree growing to 10-15’ tall and 3-4’ wide in full sun to part shade. Its also drought tolerant.  Arborvitae is less susceptible to bagworms and uprooting than Leyland Cypress.

Pittosporum heterophyllum ‘variegatum’ (Japanese Mock Orange) – Variegated, broad leaf evergreen for sun or shade.  Easy care.  Grows up to 6-8ft tall and 8-10ft wide.

Michelia figo (Banana Shrub) – Extremely fragrant broad leaf evergreen for full sun or part shade.  Yellow-green blooms smell like bananas. Grows up to 10 ft tall & wide.

Viburnum awabuki ‘Chindo’ – Fast growing.  Lustrous evergreen leaves.  Features white flowers and red berries. Easy care in sun to part sun. Grows up 10-15 ft tall and 8-10 ft wide.

Ilex ‘Needle Point’ (Holly) – Easy to grow in sun or part shade.  Grows up to 10-12’ tall and 6-8’ wide.

Ilex ‘Nellie R. Stevens’ (Holly)– Easy to grow in sun or part shade.  Grows up to 12-15’ tall and 10’ wide.

Ternstroemia gymnantheria (Japanese Cleyera) – This round to oval broadleaf evergreen does best in shade to part sun but will tolerate full sun.  New foliage emerges red and leaves mature to waxy green.  Drought tolerant and produces white flowers in spring.  Grows  up to 8-10’ tall and 6-8’ wide and can be pruned to smaller size.

Myrica cerifera (Southern Wax Myrtle) – Tolerates a variety of conditions (wet soil, salt, clay & sand).  Requires plantings in full sun to half shade.  Grows up to 10-15’ tall by 10’ wide.

Ligustrum japonicum (Privet)– This evergreen is very hardy, drought tolerant and tolerates a variety of exposures and soils. Grows up to 10-15’ tall and 8-10’ wide. Can be pruned smaller or into a topiary.

Osmanthus fragrans – Evergreen wit h extremely fragrant flowers that bloom in Spring and Fall.  Grows up to in full to part sun 10-15ft tall and 10’ wide.

Camellia sasanqua – Shade tolerant flowering evergreen that blooms in fall and winter.  Cultivars can grow as tall as 15’ tall.

Loropetalum – Fast growing with purple foliage.  Easy to grow, drought tolerant and prefers full sun to part shade.  Blooms can be pink, white or red.  Prunable and size depends on cultivar.  Some as low as 2ft, some up to 15ft.

Elaeagnus angustifolia (Silverberry/Russian Olive) - Fast growing shrub for dry areas in sun to part sun.  Tolerant of salt and sandy soil conditions & deer resistant.  Silver foliage with fragrant white blooms and edible red berries.  Grows up to 8-10ft tall & wide and prunable.

Low to Medium Height Suggestions:

Euonymus japonica – adapts well to many soils.  Fast growing, full sun to full shade with little care.  Varieties with variegated leaves available.  Depending on variety, grows up to 8’ tall & 6’ wide but prunable to maintain lower height.

 Llex - Holly

Llex - Holly

Ilex ‘Dwarf Burford’ (Holly) – Dense screen featuring red berries.  Grows up to just 6ft tall and wide. Sun or part shade.

Illicium (Anise) – These interesting plants smell like anise.  Tolerant of shade and wet conditions and grow in full shade to full sun.  ‘Florida Sunshine’ features yellow foliage and grows up to 5’ tall and wide, ‘Scorpio’ grows up to 5’ tall and 3’ wide, 'parviflorum' species grows 10’ tall by 8’ wide with olive foliage.

Prunus laurocerasus (Cherry Laurel/English Laurel) – A handsome broadleaf evergreen with dark green foliage and bold leaf texture.  Moderately fast growing for full sun or shade.  White flowers in spring & drought tolerant.  Size varies by cultivar and plants can also be pruned.  ‘Otto Luyken’ grows up to 3-4ft tall and 4-5ft wide and ‘Schipkaensis’ grows up to 6-8ft tall and 6-8ft wide.

Camellia sasanqua – Shade tolerant flowering evergreen that blooms in fall and winter.  Cultivars can grow as low as just 3’ tall.

Gardenia jasminoides – These blooming evergreens are compact, deer resistant and are extremely fragrant.  The grow in part to full sun, requiring a little more water in full sun.  They bloom May-July and size depends on cultivar.  ‘Crown Jewel’ reaches 2ft tall by 5ft wide, ‘Frostproof’ reaches 4ft by 4ft and ‘August Beauty’ 6ft by 4ft.

Cephalotaxus harringtonii (Japanese Plum Yew/ Cow’s Tail Pine) – Attractive needled evergreen that is deer, heat and disease resistant.  Grows up to in part sun to shade but will tolerate full sun.  Size depends on cultivar – ‘Duke Gardens’ grows up to 2.5ft tall by 6ft wide, ‘Prostrata’ 3.5 ft tall by 6 ft wide and ‘Fastigiata’ 10ft tall by 6ft wide.

Abelia – This evergreen is easy to grow, fast growing and comes in many different cultivars with attractive leaves.  Disease and pest resistant.  Grows up to in full to part sun with minimal care. Blooms are white to pink and come Summer to Fall.  Size depends on cultivar but generally 3-6ft tall and wide.

Loropetalum – Fast growing with purple foliage.  Easy to grow, drought tolerant and prefers full sun to part shade.  Blooms can be pink, white or red.  Prunable and size depends on cultivar.  Some as low as 2ft, some up to 15ft.

Are you looking add a little security as well? Plants with sharp edges and thorns will definitely deter intruders in your yard.  Great choices include evergreen Hollies (Ilex) and Osmanthus.  Both include attractive glossy foliage – some with variegation and colorful winter berries. Other options include flying dragon – a thorny shrub with beautiful white flowers and orange fruit or Pyracantha that features dainty white flowers in spring and red or orange berries in fall.

Once you have your new privacy screen or hedge in place you’ll be able to enjoy your outdoor spaces even more!  The yard will be a little quieter, the neighborhood dogs will no longer try to fight yours at the fence and you’ll be able to rest assured the neighbors won’t see you when you’re laying out by the pool!

Brittany Guntang