Privacy Screen Considerations

Home Grown  by Keith Reed
What can I plant for a fast growing screen? This is a common question asked by residents in Payne County, especially in areas with high levels of new construction activity. Before we talk about specific plant suggestions, it is important to talk about some general concepts related to the idea of using plants as a living screen.

For long term success, avoid large plantings of a singular species! Based on my observations for “problem calls”, this is problem number one as landscape plantings mature. It is a natural tendency to want to plant a row of the same plants for the sake of symmetry and ease of care. Please avoid this temptation. This concept works fine for a while, but eventually it works against us when we start to lose individual plants. All too often, plant loss is caused by disease, insect or catastrophic weather event that affects the entire planting.

By creating a screen with a diverse collection of plants, the odds of failure are greatly reduced and the inevitable need to replace a plant or two is not a problem since the collection is already diverse and the overall design aesthetic isn’t disrupted by changes.

It is also helpful to prune new plantings in such a way that most of the growth is directed towards filling in the gaps of the screen, as opposed to simply getting larger. Think of this as “pruning for the future”. Investing in proper pruning and care the first few years of a plant can pay big long term dividends, not only in appearance, but long term health and reduced maintenance needs.

This process does take some basic understanding of each species. An example is Taylor juniper, a species that does not have dormant buds. Once this plant’s main trunk is exposed by over aggressive pruning, it will always be that way since this species does not have dormant buds to regrow new tissue. In other words, an over-aggressive pruning can render it useless as a visual screen.

Carefully consider the mature size of the plants and how they will affect shade and drainage patterns as they mature. This is hard to do when you’re in a hurry to cover up something, but once again, it will pay dividends in the long run.

Next week we will talk about some specific plants that work well for screening in our area, along with a few that really should not be used.

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

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