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 – Hedges
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
‘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.
Leyland 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.
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.