How to Choose the Best Privacy Trees
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in September of 2017 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
One of the many benefits homeowners enjoy is the outdoor living spaces that come along with property ownership. However, many of these yards lack privacy as they are too open and exposed to both neighbors or passerby. Without this sense of sanctuary and needed privacy many homeowners and their families may feel less inclined to spend quality time using in their yards.
On the other hand, when a yard is private and welcoming, it gets much more use. Homeowners and their families can enjoy their yards year round without feeling like their activities are on display. Without the constant feeling of being watched by neighbors or passersby, a family can make full and wonderful use of their outdoor spaces throughout the entire year no matter what the season.
To help address the lack of privacy many property owners put up fences or wall panels to increase security as well as privacy. But many times the look is stark and cold and with limited height it’s often not enough. In cases such as these, the best answer is to install privacy trees as a natural screen. There are numerous trees that make an excellent choice for privacy while softening the outdoor space with what is in effect a living green wall. Besides adding greatly to the sense of privacy to your home, a privacy tree buffer is naturally aesthetic way of framing outdoor rooms while mitigating sound and encouraging healthy biodiversity.
Table of Contents
- Best Trees to Plant for Privacy (In order by fastest growing)
- Best Privacy Shrubs
- Benefits of Privacy Trees
- Types of Privacy Trees
- Choosing the Right Privacy Trees for Your Yard
- Traditional Privacy Tree Arrangements
- Purchasing Your Privacy Trees
There are countless deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs you can use for privacy. Some of them are ideal for creating short but full hedges, while others are better suited for achieving height. Here are some of the popular options for great trees for privacy:
Best Trees to Plant for Privacy (In order by fastest-growing)
- Leyland Cypress: The Leyland cypress is a fast-growing and hardy evergreen tree used for privacy screens. It grows 3-5 feet per year and reaches a mature height of 50 feet, making it another one of the best tall trees for privacy.
- Thuja Green Giant Arborvitae: If you’re looking to block second-story views, Thuja Green Giant is one of the best tall trees for privacy. This evergreen tree grows 3-5 feet per year. It forms a conical shape but provides dense foliage that stays a rich green color year-round.
- Thuja Emerald Green Arborvitae: A cousin of the Green Giant, the Thuja Emerald is a smaller evergreen that grows up to 15 feet tall and only 4 feet wide. For smaller yards or narrow paths, the Thuja Emerald is an excellent low-maintenance option.
- Nellie Stevens Holly: A hybrid of the Blue Holly and Chinese Holly this upright evergreen tree is a gem in terms of size, shape, color, and appearance. Vigorous and fast-growing, the Nellie R Steven grows rapidly into a broad pyramidal shaped evergreen reaching 25’ height and 12 -15’ width
- American Holly: A true American classic. The American Holly is native to North America from Florida to Massachusetts and west to Texas and Northern Missouri. With lush dark green glossy leaves and brilliant red berries in the fall, it is as often planted as a specimen as it is used for a natural privacy tree. The American Holly reaches 50’ height and 20’width at maturity. It grows best in dappled light conditions with well-drained soils
- White Pine The Eastern White Pine is a sturdy evergreen tree that's best used in landscapes with ample space. It's fine feathery needles, open canopy, and straight trunk get more picturesque with age. White Pines are known to be fast-growing and long-lived and are the perfect tree for windbreaks, buffer plantings or privacy screens in large open areas.
- Blue Ice Arizona Cypress The Blue Ice Arizona Cypress is a conical conifer that has smooth, flaking reddish-purple bark and upright, spirally arranged sprays of scale-like, aromatic, glaucous blue-gray leaves/needles that are flecked with white resin. It develops globular cones which are chocolate brown. Prefers full sun, and thrives especially well in somewhat hot, dry environments. Makes a wonderful medium to large specimen tree or a great privacy screen or hedge. Maintains its beautiful silvery-blue color all year round.
Blue Point Juniper: The Blue Point juniper grows into a pyramidal shape and reaches up to 12 feet tall. As an evergreen, the Blue Point Juniper can provide homeowners with a year-round privacy screen along a fence line. The Blue Point Juniper also works well in a cluster or multi-row arrangement.
Privacy plants don’t have to be towering specimens. If you are creating an outdoor room, meditation garden or are just simply looking to add privacy to your patio area, there are numerous evergreen shrubs that can be used as privacy screens. Whether you are looking for a small to mid-height hedge plant, or a small windbreak we offer many options, in fact, some of our larger sized shrubs can be used to create an instant hedge.
- Boxwood: Boxwoods are likely the most well-known type of plant used to create privacy screens. These evergreen shrubs are dense, and you can prune them into any shape. Apart from needing regular pruning to maintain shape, boxwoods are low-maintenance and stay a rich green color year-round.
- Privet: Northern privet is a semi-evergreen or slightly deciduous shrub that can be shaped into a dense, hedge form. It grows fast but requires ongoing maintenance to keep its hedge shape. Privet produces bright white flowers in the spring, which enhances the visual appeal of your privacy screen.
- Schip Cherry Laurels: Skip Cherry Laurel is an easy to grow evergreen shrub or hedge plant for filtered sunlight to dappled shade. Glossy, medium-green leaves with a refined look on a solid, vase-shaped form create a layered effect. Stalks of fragrant white flowers appear in spring. Schip is one of the hardiest of the Laurels. It makes a stunning hedge or accent plant that responds to pruning very well.
- Hicks Yew: Hicks Yew is an excellent evergreen shrub for mid-sized privacy hedges and screens. The upright-growing branches are covered with dense, glossy, dark evergreen foliage and it naturally forms a narrow, columnar plant that works well as a hedge plant.
- Golden Euonymus: The Golden Euonymus gives a stunning effect when planted in a row. It can be used as a specimen or foundation plant and creates s nice border or hedge (if clipped regularly). Golden Euonymus is an ideal hedge, as it can be sheared to maintain a height or left to grow into a natural form that is dense enough to make a good visual and sound barrier.
- Manhattan Euonymus: Euonymus Manhattan is an excellent choice for a fast-growing evergreen hedge, informal screen or espalier. This underutilized shrub has dense, lush, dark green foliage and a naturally neat, formal appearance, without pruning.
- Red Tip-Photinia: red-tipped Photinia (Photinia x fraseri) is a very popular shrub. It's used as a privacy, screening or buffer plant. The oval leaves of photinia plants start bright red but turn into the dark reddish-green after a couple of weeks to a month. During the spring, the Red Tip photinia also has small white flowers that produce red fruits, that often last into the winter.
Ilex glabra Shamrock: Shamrock Holly is perfect for use as an Evergreen Privacy Hedge. Ilex Glabra Shamrock or Inkberry holly is one of the best selections of our native holly on the market today. It has a broad upright habit and holds its foliage at the base of the plant. Tolerates heat, drought, sun, and shade. It grows very well in urban areas which makes it great for use in smaller city gardens.
Benefits of Privacy Trees
If you haven’t used privacy trees or screen trees as a natural buffer before, you may be surprised to learn that they offer so many advantages. By strategically locating where you plant privacy trees you naturally establish yard boundaries. Once up and established the natural screening will greatly enhance your sense of ease and allow you to relax more in your own backyard. A well-planned privacy tree buffer screen installed in staggered natural groupings not only looks great but greatly reduces unwanted noise pollution.
Here are some reasons why homeowners may choose to plant staggered rows, groupings or masses of shrubs and trees to create a privacy screen:
- Draw natural yard boundaries instead of or in addition to privacy fences
- Block one or multiple viewpoints from neighbors or street traffic
- Protect your property from high winds
- Reduce snow buildup in your yard
- Enhance the architectural design of your landscaping
- Create a natural sound barrier
Types of Privacy Trees
Once you’ve decided the best way to arrange your trees for privacy, it’s time to consider the best tree types. Experts recommend certain species of trees or shrubs over others to create an effective privacy screen. Here are the two broad options homeowners have available to choose between when selecting the best trees to plant for privacy:
- Evergreens: Many people consider evergreens to be trees that are best for privacy. They fill in nicely as they mature and offer a nice consistent look for a privacy screen. Unlike deciduous plants, evergreens maintain their foliage and color year-round. However, they don’t provide quite the color diversity that you would find with many deciduous plants.
Deciduous: These trees and shrubs come in many varieties, which can make for an attractive and colorful privacy screen. However, deciduous plants lose their leaves in late fall and throughout the winter when they are dormant and won’t provide year-round privacy.
Choosing the Right Privacy Trees for Your Yard
Each property owner must consider their unique needs when deciding what the best trees for privacy are. This comes down to not only the space, size, and slope of your yard but your tastes as well. It’s also important for homeowners to think ahead about what their privacy screen will look like once their plantings mature.
Here are some of the basics to consider when choosing trees or shrubs that are good for privacy in your yard:
Privacy Screen Height and Width
When choosing the right type of privacy trees or shrubs for your home, you must consider the full mature size of the plant. You’ll want to make sure that the plants reach the right height for your desired screen when they’re fully grown. On the one hand, you’ll want your plants to be tall enough to hide particular views. On the other hand, you don’t want them to be so tall that they may reach overhead power lines and endanger your home.
Width is another important consideration for your privacy trees and shrubs. If you’re planting along neighboring property lines, you’ll want to make sure your screen isn’t encroaching on your neighbor’s yard. The full width of the plant at its mature stage will also help you determine the spacing between each one. The screen may initially have large gaps between each plant, but this will fill in overtime.
Amount of Usable Space
In addition to the size of the trees themselves, you also need to consider the size of your yard. If you already have a small yard, you’ll want to maximize space by selecting taller, thinner trees. If you have an excess of space, you may be able to afford to lose some of it to fuller, wider hedgerows.
If you plan to line a walkway, driveway or patio with privacy trees, consider how the roots will grow outward below the ground. Be cautious of not planting your trees or shrubs too close to your pavement. Roots may spread under the pavement causing it to push up and possibly create cracks or uneven patches.
Level of Maintenance
Another important thing for homeowners to consider is how much they’re willing to invest in maintenance costs and time. Some hedges require regular pruning to ensure they maintain their neat appearance. For some people, this may be too much of an undertaking.
If you’re looking for low-maintenance privacy trees, consider going with a medium-height evergreen tree. Trees that grow in conical or pyramidal shapes may be a suitable option because they don’t require as much pruning.
Plant Care Needs
Each plant has its own needs when it comes to soil type and amount of watering and sunlight. Before selecting the right plant for your yard, you need to determine the amount of sunlight your yard receives throughout the year. Pay attention to the exact areas of your yard you want to screen off with trees and whether these parts receive full or partial sun.
Additionally, you may need to have your yard’s soil tested for pH levels. While many plants prefer a neutral pH, some prefer more acidic or alkaline soil. Once you’ve selected the right plants based on soil and sunlight needs, you’ll then need to learn about their watering frequency needs. Newly planted trees and shrubs need to be watered consistently for the first several years so be prepared to use a sprinkler or watering system if necessary.
The final consideration is your immediate privacy screening needs. Do you want your privacy trees to be full enough now to block view corridors? If so, you can purchase several immature trees or shrubs and place them close together to avoid gaps. Or for immediate privacy, you can consider using a multi-row or clustered arrangement for your privacy trees. This is another way to block out your neighbors or street traffic.
However, this approach requires purchasing more trees and can drive the budget up. If you can wait, it may be more cost-effective to purchase immature trees, space them further apart and wait for them to grow. Eventually, they will fill in the gaps and create a fuller privacy screen. In this case, you may want to invest in fast-growing trees such as some of the evergreens mentioned above.
Traditional Privacy Tree Arrangements
Planting a privacy screen of trees may seem straightforward. We’ve all seen beautiful and immaculately manicured hedgerows along sidewalks that effectively block front yards from sight. But this isn’t the only way to plant your privacy trees. In reality, there are several different ways to arrange your shrubs and trees to build the right privacy screen for your yard.
Here are some of the traditional arrangements and ways you may choose to plant your privacy trees:
Same Plant Type
Using multiple trees of the same type to build a privacy screen is one of the most popular options. It creates a perfect, consistent screen that looks impressive to all who pass by. The even spacing, height, and fullness along a row of privacy trees or hedges can be a truly stunning feature to add to your home.
However, it can be a difficult effect to maintain. One poorly performing tree can cause the row to look uneven. Or a wave of pests or disease can wipe out your entire row. It also requires a regular pruning regime to maintain the appearance of evenness and consistency. Many homeowners find this too time-consuming and may look at alternative options.
An alternative option to planting privacy screens of the same plant type is to go for a mixture of shrubs instead. For busy homeowners, this may be a more practical option. Part of the visual appeal is having a beautiful combination of interesting plants. This can add depth and intrigue to your landscape design.
Choosing a mixture of different plants is also more practical from a maintenance standpoint. Homeowners won’t have to worry about differing heights or performance levels of their chosen plants. A shorter, smaller tree won’t stand out like a sore thumb as it would in a single row of all the same plant type.
Arranging a privacy screen in a straight line is usually the most common option for planting. A single row of plantings works well if you have the luxury of a perfectly level and straight boundary along which you’re planting. You can plant a straight row of all the same type of tree, or you can do mixed shrubs along a fence line.
This approach also works well if you wish to occupy a limited amount of space with your privacy screen. A straight line of plantings can help you to maximize the space in your yard while also giving you the privacy you desire.
Cluster planting is an arrangement approach that works if there is a particular view you wish to eliminate. In a cluster formation, you strategically plant a group of 3-5 shrubs of trees in front of whatever it is you’d like to block. Experts recommend grouping in odd numbers.
Homeowners looking for a more natural-looking privacy screen may prefer cluster planting. This is the opposite of a perfectly manicured straight-lined hedge. The cluster arrangement works whether you want to plant the same type of tree or a mixture of trees and shrubs. Some homeowners enjoy getting creative with a cluster formation by adding in flowering bushes to add further landscape design features.
A final option that homeowners have is to plant 2-3 staggered rows of trees. The idea with this arrangement is that the back row fills in the gaps of the row in front of it. This way of arranging a privacy screen allows the homeowner to benefit from immediate privacy as opposed to waiting for the gaps to fill in on their own.
This arrangement also creates a more solid wall effect compared to the other options. A multi-row privacy screen is a good option if you have a large, open yard or are next to a busy road. A multi-row is an excellent option for canceling noise pollution. It’s also the best choice if you’re looking to protect otherwise open space from high winds.
Purchasing Your Privacy Trees
There are several other factors to consider when choosing the best trees to plant for privacy. It can be hard to keep track of all these factors on your own. That’s why it’s always wise to seek the advice of local professionals who can recommend what the best trees for privacy are for your yard. Whether you want low-maintenance evergreens or beautifully manicured hedges, garden experts can help you build a natural, privacy screen that allows you to enjoy outdoor living.
For three decades, Garden Goods Direct has been supplying healthy, high-quality and disease-free trees from our Maryland nursery. Garden Goods Direct offers a beautiful range of trees and shrubs including Green Giants, Leyland cypress, boxwoods and more. Visit Garden Goods Direct today to purchase your privacy trees and shrubs online.