Plant Selections for Privacy Screens

Home Grown  by Keith Reed
Last week we talked about some of the factors to consider when choosing plants for screening purposes. Here’s the promised follow-up for some specific plants that should work well for most of Payne County. As in all landscape situations, micro-climates can vary dramatically across our area. There is always a chance some of these will perform better than others on your site.

Broadleaf evergreen selections include:
  • American Holly Ilex opaca. This medium sized tree is slower growing than most people prefer but does well once it becomes established. A beautiful plant.
  • Nellie R. Stevens Holly Ilex x ‘Nellie R. Stevens’. Medium to fast grower. This is usually grown as a large shrub instead of a small tree. This plant has been known to die back to the ground in extremely cold winters so it does best with some protection. (If it does die back, it will quickly regrow)
  • Chinese Holly Ilex cornuta. There are many cultivars of this species in a wide range of sizes. It can also die back in extreme winters.
  • Foster Holly Ilex x attenuata ‘Fosteri’. Very similar to the American holly but not as dense.
  • Southern Magnolia Magnolia grandiflora. The straight species of southern magnolia will get too big for most screen applications. However, there are many cultivars on the market that work well. Look for ‘Little Gem’, ‘D.D. Blanchard’, ‘Alta’, ‘Hasse’ as well as others.
  • Southern Waxmyrtle Myrica cerifera. This very large shrub can get out of control in smaller landscapes but works well with plenty of space. This is another plant that can suffer in our coldest winters so it does best when protected from north winds.
  • Leatherleaf Viburnum. Viburnum rhtidophyllum. This small/medium shrub is not often mentioned for screening but it does well for us. There are many viburnums to choose from, but not all are winter hardy for us, nor are all evergreen. Choose with care.
  • Purposely missing from this list is Red-tipped photinia Photinia x ‘Fraseri’. This large shrub has been terribly overplanted and is being hit very hard with disease issues. It should only be planted knowing it will likely need to be replaced at some point.

Needle-like evergreen selections include:
  • Arizona Cypress Cupressus arizonica. This is a medium sized, fast growing tree with a distinctive blue/ grey color. These plants do better with good air movement, avoid planting them in tightly cramped areas with solid fencing or near buildings.
  • Chinese Juniper Juniperus chinensis. This is a very diverse species with many cultivars. Pay close attention to the plants mature height. Avoid planting this species in areas with poorly drained soils.
  • Green Giant Arborvitae Thuja x ‘Green Giant’. Medium sized fast grower. This plant is easy to get excited about because it offers the promise of very fast dense growth. Unfortunately, it has been plagued with issues for most people who plant it. Like the Red-tipped photinia, consider this a short-term solution to you screening needs.
  • Atlas Cedar Cedrus atlantica. This slow grower will eventually become a large tree. Handles droughty sites better than wet ones.
  • Oriental Arborvitae Platycladus orientalis. This medium to large shrubby tree has been a landscape staple for decades. The species seems to always get wider than its intended spot, leaving a mess when aggressive pruning is attempted. However, there are improved cultivars on the market. Check with a quality lawn and garden center.

The needle-like group is difficult to work with because they tend to be somewhat finicky when it comes to moisture needs (especially winter and poor drainage) and are plagued with a variety of pest issues. Plants in this grouping are also subject to being heavily pruned to appear more desirable in their retail setting. Take the time to read the label carefully to see how big the plants will be when mature. Also, check to make sure the plants are winter-hardy down to zone 7, or lower.

This is far from an inclusive list but it should at least get you started in the right direction. As we talked about last week, think long and hard before committing the time, money and resources into a screen planting of just any single one of this group of plants. Diversity is your friend when it comes to a successful long-term plant screen.

Keith Reed is the Horticulture Educator in the Payne County Extension OSU Extension office. You can contact him via email at keith.reed@okstate.edu, call 405-747-8320, or stop by the Payne County Extension Office at 315 W. 6th in Stillwater.

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