Has your neighbor decided to build an ADU with windows facing directly into your back yard? Maybe they’ve added another story to their house or a 2nd floor deck that makes you feel exposed. Or maybe you have a large property and just want to block the view of a junkyard down the road. No need to build a wall. There are other ways to solve these issues with plants while adding interest and beauty to your landscape.
Some of the most common plants to screen unwanted views are tall, narrow, fast-growing, evergreen conifers which look more or less the same. Examples of these are Columnar Norway Spruce, Skyrocket Juniper, Italian Cypress, Incense Cedar, Leyland Cypress, and your common Aborvitae. These are all perfectly suited to do the job. But if you’re looking for something different, here are some ideas that offer more than just screening.
Evergreen vine on a trellis
A vine on a trellis is an excellent way to create a screen or divider without taking up much valuable real estate. You can add height to a fence by attaching a tall trellis in front of it. Vines like Akebia or Evergreen Clematis are fast growing and will provide year round coverage. Although slower growing, Star Jasmine is a favorite because it looks great all year and has amazingly fragrant flowers.
Little Gem Magnolia – Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’
With their large, fragrant flowers in spring, Little Gem Magnolias add elegance to the garden. Plant about 4 feet apart and keep pruned to act as a tall hedge. Or just use a single one to block a sight line and expect it to get 8-10′ wide and 15-20′ tall. Note that although evergreen, Magnolias do drop some brown leaves and seed heads which could be a maintenance issue. It also takes them a few years to fill out and become dense.
Fargesia robusta ‘Campbell’
Sure, running bamboo will grow taller and faster, but with its aggressive nature, it usually becomes a maintenance nightmare. Fargesia is a clumping bamboo that can reach 15′ tall and provide a solid screen in 4 to 5 years. This is the ‘go-to’ bamboo for part shade areas. It expands about 6″/year which makes it very managable. See this page for a great example of it’s yearly growth: http://www.bamboogarden.com/Bamboo%20growth%20rate.htm.
Hicks Yew – Taxus x media ‘Hicksii’
This Yew is an excellent choice for a narrow hedge plant. It tops out around 10′ and will get 3-4′ wide. Its upright habit provides a nice foil to shorter, round shrubs. Note, all parts of Yews can be toxic if ingested, so consider that if you’ll have children or pets around.
Weeping Alaskan Cedar – Chamaecyparis noot. ‘Pendula’
This Northwest native will add tons of character to your landscape. Its weeping branches hang like curtains and give an almost whimsical look that’s eye-catching to say the least. This conifer will grow to about 15′ tall and 8′ wide in 10 years.
Schipka Cherry Laurel – Prunus laur. ‘Schipkaensis’
There’s no need to worry about this shrub outgrowing its space like most laurels. This dwarf cultivar will provide a dense 10’x10′ screen in 10 years. Like other laurels, it responds well to hedging and can easily be trimmed to fit any space. Its small, fragrant flowers are an added bonus.
Purpleleaf false holly – Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Purpureus’
Like the Schipka Cherry Laurel, this large shrub can be hedged to provide a dense screen in a short amount of time. What makes this plant stand out is the change in color from deep, rich purple in the spring to dark green in summer. It provides a dark backdrop that heightens the colors of plants next to it. Very drought tolerant and fragrant flowers once established.
Heavenly Bamboo – Nandina domestica
Heavenly bamboo is popular because it provides that fine-textured bamboo look and year-round interest with shiny red berries, white flowers, and reddish leaves in the winter. However, it is not actually bamboo and like Yews, the bark and berries can be toxic to animals and children if ingested. There are lots of dwarf cultivars out there, so for screening, be sure to get the original species which will get 8′ tall and 4′ wide.
Deciduous Plant Options
An overlooked screening option is using deciduous plants instead of evergreen. Deciduous plants will lose their leaves in winter, but that’s no reason to dismiss them. If you only require privacy in summer when you’re using your landscape the most, these plants will do the job and open up unlimited varieties to choose from. For a great combination of fast, tall growth with bright fall color and attractive bark, try Quaking Aspen. These trees tend to colonize over time, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing when you want to expand your screen naturally.
Also consider that you can visually layer deciduous plants to block views even in the winters. Once you have two or more plants in line with each other, a dense grid is created by the combination of their branches. The more branches, the less space there will be to see through.
It’s great to use plants for screening. But sometimes you need something immediately and don’t have the budget to put in large plants to get that affect. Wood or metal dividers can be constructed to fit any size and style. They also open up opportunities to get artistic. They can be relatively inexpensive, give you immediate screening, and require no maintenance, besides the occasional staining in the case of wood.
Hopefully these options will give you the confidence to choose a privacy screen to match your needs, budget, and taste. Think of it as an opportunity to add value to your landscape!
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