Plants for Privacy

No matter how well you like your neighbors, there may be areas of your landscape where you’d like to create some privacy.  Structures can provide privacy, but many plants make screens that are more enjoyable and less stark than a wall or fence.  Hedge or screen plants can also provide some buffer from cold winds or unpleasant noises.

Classic Screening Plants for Privacy

Laurels – Several types of laurel are widely used for hedges and screens, providing some options in size and appearance.  Unpruned laurels may produce white flowers in spring and black fruit in summer – the fruits are a type of cherry, so the pits may be poisonous to dogs. The larger versions – English Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) and Portuguese Laurel (Prunus lusitanica) – are fast growing tree-sized shrubs that must be chopped regularly to maintain size and density.  Russian Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus ‘Schipkaensis’) and Compact English Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus ‘Compacta’) are slower growing, but easier to maintain.  Some pest and disease issues. Tolerate sun and quite a bit of shade.

Photinia – The bright red new growth of Photinia fraseri is much showier than most screening plants.  Like English Laurel, Photinia is fast growing and quite large.  Significant disease risk has reduced its use locally, but the diseases are manageable with good maintenance and some spraying.  Best in sunny locations.

Arborvitae – Emerald Green Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’) is a tight dense conifer, popular because of its very narrow habit.  Over time can become quite tall if not kept pruned.  Rather slow growing, if you are in a hurry you might need to buy bigger specimens to start out.  Summer watering is important.  Some pest and disease issues.  Requires full sun.

Privet – In colder climates the deciduous privets are used, but here we are mild enough to grow the evergreen types. Texas Privet (Ligustrum japonicum ‘Texanum’) grows fast, but stops at a much smaller mature size then many other options – around 10 ft. or so – with a somewhat narrow vase shape.  Often produces white flowers with a musky scent in early summer.  Few disease or insect issues, but some risk of damage on our coldest winters.  Tolerates sun or a fair amount of shade, and drought tolerant.

Yew – There are many types of yews, and they make some of the most attractive hedges and screens.  Unfortunately none are very fast growing, so some patience is required.  Though Irish Yew (Taxus baccata ‘Stricta’) is widely known and used, its slow growth and narrow habit limit its effectiveness.  For quicker growing and filling-in yews, consider the broadly columnar Upright Japanese Yew (Taxus cuspidata ‘Capitata’) or the faster growing Hicks Yew (Taxus x media ‘Hicksii’).  Few insect or disease issues.  Widely used in shade, but tolerate all but the hottest sun locations.

Boxwood – English boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) makes a lush and easily shaped hedge.  The small leaves and dense branching habit give an elegant effect, and prune well. It will require some patience though, as it grows relatively slowly (particularly when young).  Boxwood has a distinct fragrance to its foliage – not strong, but some people do not find it pleasant.  Some insect and disease issues.  Grows well in sun or in shade.

Less Common Alternatives:

Bay – True or Culinary Bay (Laurus nobilis) makes a solid screening option.  Though a bit slow to start, established plants grow with good vigor, and the olive green leaves with purplish petioles are noticeably different from other screening plants.  If not pruned too hard or too often, may produce chartreuse flowers in spring and black fruit (non-toxic).  Few insect or disease issues, but may take some damage in our coldest winters.  Prefers full sun.

Leyland Cypress – Perhaps the fastest evergreen screening plant available, Leyland Cypress (x. Cupressocyparis leylandii) has surged in popularity.  Though relatively narrow, this tree has quite a large mature size, so consider your available space carefully.  Few insect or disease problems.  Needs good drainage. Prefers full sun.

Pacific Wax Myrtle – The only native on this list, Pacific Wax Myrtle (Myrica californica) combines moderate size and growth with excellent durability.  The long narrow leaves give a softer visual texture than many other options. Few insect or disease issues. Likes sun but reasonably shade tolerant.

Escallonia – Pink Princess Escallonia (Escallonia x fradesii) is the most widely used screening shrub on the Oregon coast, tolerating the abusive salt and wind conditions of the shore.  Fast growing and attractive with bright pink flowers over a long summer season.  Smaller inland (though still respectable), it is at some risk of freeze damage during cold snaps.  Few insect or disease issues. Prefers full sun and likes good drainage.

Camellia – All of our ornamental Camellias (Camellia japonica, Camellia sasanqua, and others) provide dense evergreen foliage and attractive flowers – some in the middle of winter!  Not very fast, but good moderate growth and size.  Some care is required in pruning to keep the bloom.  They prefer shadier environments, though some will tolerate more sun and heat.  Few insect and disease problems.

Distylium – Slower and smaller than the big laurels, Linebacker Distylium (Distylium x ‘Linebacker’) has a more refined appearance, with multi-season interest.  Very early spring flowers are red, though so small you’ll only notice them up close. New growth, though not as bright as Photinia, has a pleasing coppery tint.  Few insect or disease issues. Tolerant of sun and of some shade.

Vines for Screening

Vines can be a very space conscious way to provide some privacy also.  You will need to provide some structure for the vines to grow on, and there are only a few evergreen varieties to choose from.

Evergreen Clematis – There are a few evergreen varieties of the ever popular clematis vine.  These do not have the long bloom and large flowers of their deciduous cousins, though their white flowers are attractive.  Snowdrift Clematis (Clematis armandii ‘Snowdrift’) has bold strappy leaves and is a very large vine.  Early Sensation (Clematis x cartmanii ‘Early Sensation’) is of smaller stature, with more intricate thready leaves.  These vines grow fine in sun, or will tolerate some shade.

China Blue Vine – The China Blue Vine (Holboelia coriacea) resembles the Snowdrift Clematis, though neither so coarse nor so large.  Flowers are much smaller, often passing without much notice.  China Blue Vine is at home in shady sites, but will also tolerate quite a bit of sun.

Star Jasmine – Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) produces loads of very fragrant small flowers in the summer.  Often pruned back to a loose shrub, it is rather slow to develop height as a vine, though it has better density than many.  While it will tolerate some shade, it performs best in full sun.