Creating a Natural Privacy Screen

By Kathy Torres

You may have the best neighbors in the world, but when you are relaxing in your backyard by the pool, having an outdoor meal with your family, or just reading a book and watching the birds come and go from the feeder, it’s really nice to enjoy a little privacy. And maybe you don’t have great neighbors…. even more reason to create a way to ensure that privacy, or to put it in simple terms, a way to HIDE from them! HIDE being the critical word, there may also be a structure that is not exactly attractive, for example… a dog pen, storage shed or wood pile. Installation of screen plants can improve this situation as well. Fencing is an option, although it can be expensive and, if constructed of wood, will need to be painted or stained. You’ll likely want to plant shrubs to “soften” the look of the fence, so, why not just use screen plants instead to create a beautiful, natural separation between you and your neighbors or that unsightly structure. More esthetically pleasing, a natural screen will contribute to a more peaceful environment, requiring much less (if any) maintenance.

There are a few attributes of screen plants that are desirable:

  1. Evergreen: Typically, evergreen shrubs/trees make the most sense in creating a screen. Due to their year’ round foliage, it’s difficult to see through them. There is an alternative, if you have the space, to plant something deciduous (leaves fall) along with an evergreen shrub. One can provide the screen and the other can add interest or contrast.
  2. Medium to Fast-Growing: It seems that most garden center shoppers these days aren’t willing to wait years and years for shrubs and trees to mature, and are looking for fast-growing specimens. This is especially true for folks looking to create a screen. Some of the plants we recommend will grow about 3 feet a year, so if you are really in a hurry, plant fast-growing shrubs or trees. Regardless, it’s going to take a few years to establish them and to have the screening results you desire.
  3. Mature Height and Width of Plants: Determine what your height and width requirement is when choosing screening shrubs or trees. Don’t set yourself up for constant pruning by selecting plants that will grow to a larger size than anticipated. Pay careful attention to the MATURE HEIGHT AND WIDTH. Also recognize the fact that any plant can grow a little more or less tall and/or wide depending on how happy it is in the environment due to soil quality, sun, drainage, wind, etc.

While 8-10 ft. is an average height for most privacy screening, 12-18 ft. or even higher (30-40 ft.) is attainable with several varieties and may be appropriate depending on the landscape. In a subdivision with ¼ acre lots, it’s unlikely that 30-foot Carolina Sapphire can be installed along the property line, however, it would work beautifully on a larger lot on the lake or in a more rural area. Note: A trick to raise the elevation of your plant screen is to build up the soil or “berm” the planting area. In areas of dense clay, this will also improve the ability of plants to establish a good root system.

Spacing, in terms of width and depth of the area in which you are planting, may limit the plants you select to more narrow species. Some specimens can adapt to being planted closer together, but some may develop fungus if the foliage becomes too dense, prohibiting air flow and light. It may take longer for the space to fill in, but adhering to spacing recommendations may keep the plants healthier.

When considering a natural screen, it’s all about your vision for the area and the space you have available. Decide whether you prefer a continuous hedge of the same species, or a combination of different varieties. Keep in mind that a hedge can be natural or pruned. If you’re going for the “English Garden” look, feel free to prune to a box shape. Planting a combination of different specimens will create a more natural look and pruning should not be necessary, as long as plants do not crowd each other when full-grown. Again… It is critical to be aware of the mature height and width of every shrub or tree in your plan. Whether you choose a hedge or a combination of different plants, it’s simply a matter of preference.

Just so you know… Combination or mixed screens provide all the functional aspects necessary, but in addition provide biodiversity to the landscape resulting in benefits to plant health and longevity. You may be aware of the problems years ago that developed with the Red Tip or Fraser photinia and more recently, the Leyland cypress, both over-planted in hedges and natural screening. Over-planting, especially when planting a continuous line, creates an ideal environment for the spread of fungus from one plant to the next. Here are examples of mixed screen planting in case you’re just not convinced of their beauty and function. There may be a plant or two pictured that we don’t typically grow here, but something similar can be substituted. Also, keep in mind, that SOME repetition is ok in a mixed grouping to provide a bit of symmetry.

The amount of sun received in the area where you will be planting is ALWAYS an important factor in the plant selection process. Most all screen plants we recommend need at least 6 or more hours of full sun, and many of them will actually thrive in all day sun. There are not as many choices for shade, but several excellent specimens are available.

The following shrubs and trees are in stock at Wingard’s right now and are recommended for natural screening:

Evergreen Trees Mature Size
Little Gem Magnolia 20 ft H x 10 ft W
Loquat 25 ft H x 20 ft W
Green Giant Arborvitae/Thuja ~ 60 ft H x 18 ft W
De Groot Spire Arborvitae/Thuja 20 ft H x 5 ft W
Carolina Sapphire Cypress ~ 30 ft H x 20 ft W
European Fan Palm 15 ft H x 20 ft W
Tall Evergreen Trees Mature Size
Wavy Leaf Ligustrum ~* 8 ft H x 6 ft W
Cleyera (Standard) ~ 10 ft H x 6 ft W
Carolina Midnight Loropetalum 15 ft H x 10 ft W
Tea Olive ~ 10 ft H x 6 ft W
Podocarpus ‘Maki’* 10 ft H x 4 ft W
Sasanqua* 6 ft H x 5 ft W
Gardenia First Love 8 ft H x 6 ft W
Pittosporum Variegated 8 ft H x 8 ft W
Viburnum Coppertop 10 ft H x 6 ft W
Viburnum Odoratissimum 20 ft H x 20 ft W
Viburnum Chindo 12 ft H x 8 ft W
Viburnum Sandakwa 12 ft H x 10 ft W
Cleyera Big Foot ~ 20 ft H x 6 ft W
Cleyera Bronze Beauty 10 ft H x 6 ft W
Oakleaf Holly 15 ft H x 8 ft W
Needlepoint Holly 20 ft H x 20 ft W
Emerald Colonnade Holly 12 ft H x 8 ft W
Christmas Jewell Holly 10 ft H x 8 ft W
Nellie Stevens Holly ~ 12 ft H x 8 ft W
Oleander ~ 6-12 ft H x 8-10 ft W
Wax Myrtle* 10-20 ft H x 12-15 ft W
Evergreen Shrubs for Shade
(Filtered or morning sun only)
Mature Size
Yellow Anise 15 ft H x 10 ft W
Camellia Japonica 10 ft H x 5-6 ft W
Fatsia ~ 8 ft H x 8 ft W
Formosa Azalea ~ 8 ft H x 8 ft W
George Tabor Azalea ~ 8 ft H x 6 ft W

* Also good in shade    ~ Fast-growing

Making a home comfortable and private is, I believe, a goal most of us share. Our yard should be an extension of that desire, creating a place to be alone or to spend time with family, friends and don’t forget the 4-legged family members. Framing a home with foundation plants, annuals and perennials softens the “hardness” of the building, making it more appealing and beautiful. Natural screening is a great way to add separation and privacy in the same way. Consider visiting Wingard’s and ask our staff to discuss a plan for your landscape.

Of course, this writer would NEVER suggest that GOOD NEIGHBORS should not be appreciated! When you have them, often they become part of your “extended” family. So don’t completely hide from your (good) neighbors! Enjoy your private time but share the tomatoes you are growing in your garden or cut a few flowers from your Hydrangea this summer and be a good neighbor yourself. That goodness will come back to you!

There’s Always Something Blooming at Wingard’s!