Favorite Plants for Screens

By Jim Janke | Dec 13, 2012

Do you want to block a less than perfect view? Hide a utility or service area? Reduce noise from a roadway or heat pump? Create some privacy? Block a prevailing wind? Prevent the neighbor’s kids or dogs from using your yard as a thoroughfare?

Chances are you have one or more of these situations on your property. Here are some ideas for using plants to screen these areas.

Assess your site first. For any planting to work, the plants need to be matched with site conditions. Determine how much sunlight the plants will get, whether the soil is dry or moist, and if a microclimate exists which makes growing conditions different from the rest of your property.  Check your plot plan for any underground utilities, and have these locations clearly marked before you dig. Get a soil test from the area to determine fertilizer and amendment needs.

Next decide if you want a year-round screen. When screening a view from inside the house at least some of the plants should be evergreen so that it works all year. But if you’re screening a view from an outside area that is only used in summer, deciduous plants will give you many more options for a screen that blooms.

How high does the screen need to be? Consider the mature height of the plants compared with what you are screening. It doesn’t do any good to use Leyland Cypress that grow to 75-feet tall to screen the underside of a deck 20-feet off the ground. Eventually the Cypress will not only screen the underside of the deck but your view from the deck itself, and will have to be topped (at great risk to the plant and the person doing the topping) or removed at no small expense.

A screen doesn’t have to be tall to create a feeling of privacy. For example, we use trailing petunias in containers hung from our deck railing. These block the view of the deck from the golf course, but allow someone sitting on the deck an unobstructed view of the mountains.

Use thorny plants like roses, hollies, pyracantha, hawthorne, or barberry to create a barrier to traffic. But remember that you will have to deal with the thorns to maintain these plants.

For a quick screen, plant closer together than recommended, but stagger the plants in parallel rows. Then when the plants start to crowd each other you can more easily remove every other plant to allow the remaining ones to grow normally.

Some favorite plants for permanent screens:

Over 10 feet tall: Leyland Cypress is a popular choice in the mountains, but Thuja ‘Green Giant’ is probably better for very tall screens because of fewer disease and insect problems. Hemlocks grow quickly, but be prepared to treat for woolly adelgid. Foster Hollies can form a gorgeous evergreen screen loaded with berries in winter. Climbing vines like clematis, English or Boston Ivy, honeysuckle, and climbing hydrangea can make effective deciduous screens.

6 to 10 feet: Schipka Laurels grow to 8 feet and have glossy green leaves all year. Abelia Grandifloras will form a semi-evergreen screen 6 feet tall, with fragrant blooms from late spring to frost. Kolkwitzias grow into a dense flowering hedge in only a couple seasons. Shasta Viburnums bloom wonderfully in spring, with bird-attracting berries all summer.

Less than 6 feet: Otto Lukens Laurels grow to 4 feet tall and wide, and make a great backdrop for even shorter plantings. Shrub-form Junipers like ‘Grey Owl’ can quickly form a low-maintenance dense screen. KnockOut© Roses establish themselves quickly and bloom profusely all summer. Red-twig Dogwoods don’t have showy blooms, but the colorful stems add plenty of winter interest. Fothergillas bloom profusely in spring and have wonderful fall color.

Jim Janke is an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer in Haywood County. For more information call the Haywood County Extension Center at 456-3575. © 2012 NC State University.

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