Plants for screening

Jul 09, 2019

One of the most common landscaping issues is screening. Many backyards lack privacy from neighbors which can make a space feel less like your own. Some yards also have unsightly views that make spending time in the space less enjoyable. While some choose to install tall fences to solve this problem, this can feel like you are walling yourself in. Fences also have limited heights and are often not enough to provide the necessary screening. Using plants as a screening solution can give you the height you need and if strategically placed will feel like an integrated part of the landscape, allowing you to enjoy their greenery rather than the views that they are put there to obscure.

A commonly used plant for screening is the Leyland cypress. Leyland cypresses are fast growing shrubs that can grow up to fifty feet tall. Growing as much as 3 feet a year, these cypresses can feel like a quick fix to an unsightly view. With that in mind, they can quickly outgrow a space. With widths as wide as twenty feet, this plant should only be used in spaces large enough to accommodate it at its maturity.

        Similar in texture to the leyland cypress, arborvitaes are another set of conifers frequently used as plants for screening. Many varieties of arborvitaes exist, but the two most commonly used for screening purposes are Green Giant and Emerald Green. Green Giant arborvitae is the larger of the two, growing to approximately fifty feet tall by fifteen feet wide. A much smaller option, Emerald Green arborvitae is a more appropriate choice for tighter spaces, only growing three or four feet wide and fifteen feet tall. 

        For a broader leaf texture, Skip laurel can be a good screening choice. Unlike the pyramidal forms of the Leyland Cypress and arborvitae, Skip laurels are vase-shaped, keeping a full, dense screen even at the upper portion of the plant. Skip laurels also bloom, giving way to tiny stalks of fragrant white flowers in spring. The skip laurel grows to a height of ten feet over time, which is appropriate for many, but not all, screening purposes.

        For a deciduous plant screen, few plants beat the fastigiate European hornbeam. Fastigiate European hornbeams are narrow trees with densely growing branches that continue to provide a certain level of screening even after shedding its leaves in late fall. The crown of the canopy has a distinct natural cone shape that sits atop its smooth, grey trunk. Because of its tree-form, fastigiate European hornbeams are appropriate for narrow spaces and allow room underneath for additional, lower plantings.

        For a more contemporary look, bamboo can make for an interesting plant screen. A fast-growing option, bamboo on average grows 3 feet a year. It is important, however, to be sure to install a clumping bamboo, as other varieties spread too quickly, becoming unmanageable over time. Even with clumping bamboo, underground bamboo barriers should be installed prior to planting to keep rhizomes from spreading to unwanted areas of your garden. Bamboo can also be difficult to remove from a garden, so it is best not to plant without careful consideration.  

        By no means is the above selection an exhaustive list. Some plants not yet mentioned but still great candidates for screening options include hollies, privet, upright junipers, and certain varieties of viburnums, among many other plants.

        When selecting plants for screening purposes, there are many factors to consider. Be certain to choose plants whose widths will not overwhelm a space once it matures, and a plant that will be tall enough to obscure unwanted site-lines. Keep in mind the growth rate of the plant you are selecting and know that many plants may take years to fill in for maximum screening. Also, of course, consider the conditions of the sight and make sure the plant will be getting an appropriate amount of light.