Screening plants

Today I’m taking off my gardening gloves, and putting on my Meadows Farms landscapers’ hat. None of the photos below are from my garden, but from displays in our nursery and from clients’ landscapes.

No doubt screening is a priority for most homeowners in developing their landscapes. Whether the goal is to give a backyard garden a sense of enclosure, or to hide an ugly or obtrusive view, there are a number of plants well suited to the task.

Consideration is needed to determine the correct plant for the area. Hedge type screens can range from chest high to well over fifty feet tall. A plant too short will never realize its intended purpose, and a plant too tall will overwhelm the gardener’s property.

Low screens – Hedgesdsc005941

The photo above is Schip laurel, Prunus laurocerasus “Schipkaensis”. Schip laurel grows fairly rapidly to about ten feet in height, and nearly as wide. It can be maintained as a hedge at almost any height. It has white flowers, but they are hardly of consequence. It is evergreen, hardy to below zero degrees, and adapts well to full sun or shady areas.

Schip laurel is not particular about soil type, but the area must not stay damp. Cherry laurels will not tolerate wet soils. They are untroubled by insects, but can suffer occasionally from a fungus called “shothole”, often resulting from overhead watering. This problem is most evident in the nursery, but can occur with less frequency in landscapes with automatic irrigation systems.

There are multiple selections of Schip laurel found in nurseries, one with a more spreading habit. In the trade we refer to the upright type most often used for screening as “West Coast” Schip laurel because it most commonly grown by Oregon growers. It is a vigorous grower and well suited as a low screen. It is susceptible to deer injury when severe infestations are present, but is not a favorite. The best way to gauge whether Schip laurel will work in your neighborhood is to see if there are existing hedges nearby.

Late Fall planting of Schip laurel is not recommended as they are slow to establish roots and will experience foliage burn or death from dry Winter cold.dsc005951

Another common low screen is the Common boxwood, Buxus sempervirens, which is often referred to as American boxwood. The naming game, particuarly with common names, can get quite confusing as this plant is called English boxwood on the west coast.

Common or American boxwood can grow to twenty feet tall and about the same spread. There are numerous selections with the one grown by Oregon growers having a more upright and faster growing habit.

Boxwood are tough plants in sun or part shade, with outstanding resistance to drought, but can be intolerant of damp soils. Boxwood are extremely resistant to deer.

Proper pruning technique is important to avoid routine shearing that can create a dense outer shell of foliage that invites disease. A boxwood hedge can easily be maintained at any height.dsc005931

Another popular hedging plant for full sun is the yew. This photos show Hicks yew, Taxus media “Hicksii’, which is a relatively narrow upright growing variety. There are a number of yews that  will work well as hedges. All are extremely drought and pest tolerant, although deer seem to cherish them.  

Medium screens

dsc005961‘Emerald Green’ arborvitae are quite useful as a narrow medium height screen in full sun. They can be planted close to a property line fence to preserve yard space, and will grow to fifteen feet. Deer problems almost require that they be planted within a fenced enclosure.holly-nellie-steve1

‘Nellie Stevens’ holly is one of the stalwarts of the landscape industry in sun or shade. It is an exceptional, dependable plant that can wear many hats, but is outstanding as a medium height screen. This evergreen grows to nearly twenty feet in height, and roughly half as wide, and features bright red Fall berries that stand out against its dark green leaves.

Nellie Stevens are quite tolerant of pests, but can occasionally be troubled by deer.  


Tall screens

cypress-leyland-new1Leyland cypress are well known for their extremely rapid growth habit in sunny landscapes, and can reach over sixty feet tall, though it is rare to find plants approaching that height in the mid Atlantic region. Homeowners need to be aware that a tall screen can tower two or three times taller than their house. Leyland cypress need plenty of room to grow, so are most appropriate for property lines well away from the house.

Leylands are fairly easy to grow, though they are slow to establish roots and often experience problems with late Fall planting. Bagworms can be a problem, as well as occasional deer injury. arb-gr-giant1 

Green Giant arborvitae have become a more popular choice for tall screens because they are much more resistant to deer damage, and have a fast growth rate nearly comparable to Leyland Cypress. They are also more tolerant of dry or slightly damp doil conditions.

Why be limited to evergreens? There are many trees and shrubs that create effective screens, even when their leaves drop in the Fall. Oftentimes we do not use the decks and patios in Winter that require screening from neighbors, and many deciduous plants can add flowers and still provide an adequate visual buffer. I have found that a plant that inteferes with an unwanted view can be as effective a blocking it completely. In many cases a shade or flowering tree can be a desirable screen from a neighbor, and can give more value in height per dollar.

11 Comments Add yours

  1. Sue says:

    What is the name of the plant you have featured on your header (Verigated Green and Pink/red leaves)? It is great!

    1. Dave says:

      The plant in the header is ‘Flaming Silver’ pieris. The red and pink foliage fades as the leaves mature to green with a white edge, but new growth through the spring and summer are red when the leaves emerge. Flaming Silver is more susceptible to lacebug than other pieris varieties in my experience, but it is a wonderful plant.

  2. Dan Bucsa says:

    Love the schip laurels from Meadows Farms but the don’t specify if they are the Oregon/tall growing type or not. Will your schip laurels approach the ten foot height? Also, what is consired late fall and bad planting time for our area in Maryland? Thanks!

    1. Dave says:

      The schip laurels are the upright growing west coast variety that will grow to around ten feet tall. I prefer to plant schip laurels prior to the start of November, though recent warm winters have allowed later planting without any problems.

  3. Kimberly Conner says:

    Hello. We purchased a new home last June. Our first priority was perimeter fencing. With that accomplished, we are now planning to place schip laurels around the fencing, however, deer are quite abundant in our area. Will the schip laurels survive? Thank you.

    1. Dave says:

      Schip laurel is not completely deer resistant, but I’ve seen many hundreds planted without a report of problems. For evergreens that are not on the list of plants preferred by deer, the most likely time for them to be eaten is in winter when there is less foliage around. As an additional safeguard you could spray a deer repellent in November that would further protect against damage through the winter, but unless your home is in an area with extreme problems, this is probably not necessary.

  4. CharlysGardenPlace says:

    In Pacific Northwest Washington, Cherry Laurels can be bothered by tent caterpillars, but hand-picking the nests as they become visible helps a great deal in keeping the hedge looking nicer. Great, tough plants!

  5. DanielsMack says:

    You have done difficult work by gathering important information about making privacy in your garden. I read all the characteristics of all privacy plants. But I liked the most Skip laurel plant.

  6. Christopher Oksanen says:

    I am having trouble getting consistent information about how tall a schipkaensis cherry laurel will grow. I planted some that were grown in Oregon, and I’ve read that they grow to 6 feet, and other sources sat they grow to up to 14. That is a huge range.

    1. Dave says:

      My go to source for plant information is the Missouri Botanical Garden. They list a range of 10-16 feet tall. Typically, taller heights within a range are in the warmer extremes of hardiness zones and shorter in cold areas.

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