The Q&A Archives: Screening Trees

Question: I am looking to replace some cypress trees that have acted as screening for the sliding glass door in the front of my townhouse. The 3 cypress have grown tall enough that the bare trunks no long provide the screening that the evergreen branches used to provide. I have a bed of 2-3" Mexican river stones that is nine feet deep by about 12 feet wide in front of the sliding glass door. Then the garden in front of that is about 18 feet deep by approx. 14 feet wide at the sidewalk. The cypress trees are located at the front-most part of the garden next to the sidewalk. What would you recommend for screening. I realize that this is a difficult location for most plants. Thanks for your help.

Answer: It is always difficult to make a planting recommendation based on a description rather than an on site inspection or even using a scale drawing. Soil type, wind exposure, and the amount of light hitting the area are all important considerations as well as the square footage. You would probably want to verify any neighborhood rules or covenants governing planting (eg required distance from street or property line) prior to starting as well.

Some plants to consider might include relatively smaller hollies such as Nellie Stevens or the blue hollies, a variety of arborvitae cultivars running about four feet in diameter, a narrow Japanese holly such as Skypencil and then upright junipers such as Skyrocket. These are all relatively narrow evergreen plants capable of providing some height. You could also consider privet since it grows quickly, is nearly evergreen in your area, and is clippable to a variety of heights and shapes. It is also relatively inexpensive. Depending on the planting conditions and style you envision you might also consider larger rhododendrons or perhaps a mixture of plants in an island grouping that could provide a focal point or multi-season interest to your yard.

Another possibility for quick screening is to install a trellis panel or fencing panel to complement your house exterior and then cover that with a vine. English ivy, fall blooming clematis, and semi vine/semi shrub Euonymous fortunei cultivars could be considered for softening the look of the fence. If you place the fence fairly close to the building you can create an intimate seating area or a secret viewing garden in the protected space.

By the same token, placing the shrubs closer to your house will block your view of the street faster than shrubs of the same size planted out along the property line. The principle is similar to the amount of vision blocked by a hand in front of your face as opposed to when your arm is outstretched.

I hope this gives you some ideas, but I would also suggest you consult with your county extension as well as professionally trained nursery staff for recommendations based on a more detailed knowledge of the planting site. Winter is a good time to ask their advice before the busy spring season starts up. Good luck with your project!

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