Creating Natural Privacy Screens with Trees & Shrubs

Evergreen hedges are planted for a variety of reasons: privacy, wind block, noise dampener, and even to create “rooms” within a landscape. Regardless of your reasons, we have plenty of options to help create an evergreen hedge to suit your growing conditions and needs. When planning, make sure to take into consideration the following factors:


How much sun does your planting site get? It’s important to install plants that will thrive in the light conditions you have.

  • Full sun = 6+ hours of direct sunlight per day

  • Part sun = 4-6 hours of direct sunlight per day, with some hours being in the afternoon (does not need to be contiguous hrs.)

  • Part shade = 4-6 hours of direct sunlight per day, but most should be coming in the morning when the sun’s rays are less intense

  • Full shade = Between 1.5-4 hours of sunlight, preferably in the morning


How much planting space do you have? Make sure to take measurements of both the length and the width of the planting area to determine how many plants you’ll need. This is especially important if you’re planting along a property boundary – be clear where the line is and how much room for growth you have, so you won't encroach on a neighbor’s property.


Don’t forget to look up! Do you have power lines that run overhead, an existing tree canopy, or an awning/roofline? You’ll need to be conscious of the maximum height you can work with for the site, too.


Too often screening is planted in a straight line using only one species. This planting style can be easy and economical, but it can also be problematic in the future if one tree were to die leaving a seemingly big gap in the screening. Planting in a monoculture can also be problematic if a species-specific disease were to infect the area as it can wipe out the whole stand. If your planting space’s width allows, it can be beneficial to add different plant species in a staggered, zig-zag pattern (see the above diagram). Not only will this planting style allow for improved visual interest with varied textures, but it can also quickly give the appearance of a denser screening. Finally, more diversity of plants means more wildlife benefits. (Note that if your screen doesn't need to be extremely tall, there are a lot of native shrub and tree options that are both beautiful and beneficial, though most aren't evergreen. Click here for a great article listing 15 natives for screening.)

It can be tempting to plant a dense row of plants to add “instant screening”, but it’s important to space your hedge appropriately to allow plants enough space to account for their mature width, which plans for appropriate air circulation for a healthy hedge! If instant screening is a must consider purchasing larger field-grown plants from a field-grown tree nursery. These larger plants can be dug, balled-and-burlapped, and often delivered to your residence. Another option is to install plants densely and plan to remove/cut down every other tree several years later once it’s filled in and to allow for more space as the trees mature. This article focuses on evergreen trees and shrubs, but note that screening can be accomplished in a variety of ways! If screening a small space, consider vines on trellises or large containers filled with tall grasses or flowering perennials.

Hemlock, Chinese Yew, Skip Laurel, Spotted Laurel
Left to right: Eastern Hemlock, Chinese Yew, Skip Laurel, Spotted Laurel


Shade Options

Part Shade/Part Sun Options

Full Sun Options


Eastern Hemlock – Tsuga canadensis

Can be a fast grower but is more often slow-growing. Hemlock is a great option for screening near a shady natural setting and is cold tolerant for those at higher elevations. Place in a location where there is good drainage and no strong, drying winds.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3-7

  • Height: 40-70’

  • Spread: 30-40’

  • Sun Exposure: Full shade, part sun/shade

  • Soil Needs: Cool, moist soil – prefers good drainage

Skip Laurel – Prunus laurocerasus ‘Schipkaensis’

Goblet-shaped form – plan for the height to be twice the width. A great option as a hedge in shadier areas or areas receiving dappled shade/filtered sun. Lower branches are a bit loose, if the desired effect is dense foliage from the top down, be sure to plant lower shrubs in the foreground of the planting bed. White blooms in spring. A very resilient and easy to care for shrub – tolerant of shearing.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 6-9

  • Height: 10-15’ (moderate growing, reaches 6-10’ in 10 years)

  • Spread: 5-7’

  • Sun Exposure: Full shade, part shade, part sun – very versatile with light needs!

  • Soil Needs: Very adaptable – tolerant of dry/poor soils, alkaline or acidic soil. The only requirement is that the soil drains well and the shrub is not in standing water. It may need more water in hot summers.

Spotted Laurel – Aucuba japonica ‘Fructo-albo’

A great option for full shade – white speckling on leaves adds a pop of color in deep shade. Do not plant in sun or dry soils, as the foliage will burn and turn black. There are separate male and female plants needed if pinkish-white berries are desired. Unfortunately, Painters Greenhouse’s Spotted Laurel are unsexed until flowering.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 7-10

  • Height: 6-10’

  • Spread: 4-6’

  • Sun Exposure: Full shade, part sun

  • Soil Needs: Moist, well-drained, high organic matter, pH adaptable

Rhododendron – Rhododendron & Rhododendron catawbiense

A great evergreen option that adds vibrant color in spring! Shorter varieties can be used in the foreground of a staggered privacy hedge, while taller varieties (i.e. Purpureum elegans) can reach up to 10’ in height and can stand on its own as a privacy screen.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4-8

  • Height: 4-10’ (depending on variety)

  • Spread: 4-10’ (depending on variety)

  • Sun Exposure: Prefers dappled shade throughout the day, next best is morning sun and afternoon shade

  • Soil Needs: Moist soil, well-draining soil with an abundance of organic matter. Prefers acidic soil (pH between 4.5-6.0). Rhododendrons have shallow, fine hair-like roots – make sure not to plant too deeply to allow adequate oxygen for healthy root growth (and don't smother the roots with mulch).

Several varieties and hybrids of Rhododendron are currently available at Painters Greenhouse:

  • Calsap – White flowers with deep burgundy throat

  • Nova Zembla – Bright red flowers

  • Boursault – Lavender blooms with reddish-brown speckles

  • Roseum Elegans – Rose-lilac colored blooms

  • Purpuerum Elegans – Purple blooms – lightly scented!

Sweet Olive, Camellia, Leatherleaf Viburnum, Rhododendron, Japanese Andromeda
Left to right: Sweet Olive, 'White Perfection' Camellia, Leatherleaf Viburnum, Rhododendron, Japanese Andromeda


Fragrant Tea Olive / Sweet Olive – Osmanthus fragrans

A dense shrub with extremely fragrant flowers in spring, and blooms sporadically again in the fall. Note Sweet Olive is hardy to zone 8 – it may not make it through an especially cold winter if you’re in zone 7 or below.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 8-10

  • Height: 10-20’

  • Spread: 10-20’

  • Sun Exposure: Full sun/part shade (afternoon shade preferred in hot southern climates)

  • Soil Needs: Moist soil with good drainage. Drought tolerant once established. Can tolerate heavy clay soils.

Camellia ‘White Perfection’ – Camellia japonica ‘White Perfection’

Upright, bushy form – leaves are glossy and dark green. Beautiful white flowers in spring. Space camellias appropriately to promote good air circulation. Look at your zone when selecting camellias – some are more tolerant of cold than others. If you are on the cusp, make sure to plant camellias in part shade to allow for less drastic swings in temperatures in the winter.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 7-10

  • Height: 6’

  • Spread: 4’

  • Sun Exposure: part sun/part shade

  • Soil Needs: well-drained, loose, acidic soil

‘Mountain Fire’ Japanese Andromeda – Pieris japonica ‘Mountain Fire’
‘Mountain Fire’ Japanese Andromeda – Pieris japonica ‘Mountain Fire’

‘Mountain Fire’ Japanese Andromeda – Pieris japonica ‘Mountain Fire’

Japanese Andromeda is an early blooming shrub with drooping clusters of white bell-shaped flowers. Bees love this shrub! New growth at stem tips is a scarlet red and contrasts well with existing dark green growth.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5-8

  • Height: reaches 6-10’ (slower growing)

  • Spread: reaches 6-10’ (slower growing)

  • Sun Exposure: Part shade / Part sun

  • Soil Needs: Prefers moist, well-drained acidic soil

Angelica Blue Juniper, Gold Mop, Steeds Japanese Holly, Fernspray False Cypress
Left to right: Angelica Blue Juniper, Gold Mop, Steeds Japanese Holly, Fernspray False Cypress


Chinese Yew – Taxus chinensis

It resembles a small hemlock, but only grows to 10’ in height! Thick, rounded needles are evergreen. This fast-growing yew responds well to pruning. Tolerant to heat, drought, sun, and shade – very versatile!

The purple-brown exfoliating bark adds ornamental value, as does the red fruit. Chinese Yews have become increasingly difficult to find due to population decreases as a result of their newly discovered medicinal qualities for the treatment of cancer. Note that Chinese Yew is highly toxic to humans and pets.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5-7

  • Height: 10’

  • Spread: 10-15’

  • Sun Exposure: Full sun preferred; part sun tolerated

  • Soil Needs: Adaptable to various soil conditions, even heavy clay, but prefers loamy soil with good drainage

Angelica Blue Juniper – Juniperus chinensis ‘Angelica Blue’

An excellent option for low screening, windbreak, or in the front row of a staggered planting. Adds a feathery texture and a pop of silvery blue/green color. Tolerant of drought, heat, winds, and deer do not prefer to browse on it!

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3-9

  • Height: 4-5’

  • Spread: 5-10’

  • Sun Exposure: Full sun preferred; part sun tolerated

  • Soil Needs: Prefers well-drained soil, does not tolerate standing water

King’s Gold False Cypress (Gold Mop) – Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘King’s Gold’

A shorter and slower growing option but adds a spray of bright green and golden color with threadlike texture. Works well in areas with limited overhead height and in the foreground of staggered plantings. Relatively low maintenance, drought tolerant, and deer resistant!

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5-9

  • Height: Eventually reaching 5’

  • Spread: Eventually reaching 7’

  • Sun Exposure: Full sun preferred; part sun tolerated

  • Soil Needs: Prefers well-drained soil, does not tolerate standing water.

Steeds Japanese Holly – Ilex crenata ‘Steeds’

Upright pyramidal shrub with dense, lustrous, dark green foliage. The leaves of Japanese H