The Q&A Archives: Fast, full privacy in a skinny place

Question: I recently bought a house in DC and I want to replace a dilapidated fence with fast-growing shrubs. My yard is very skinny so I am looking for something to grow more up than out. It is also very shady, and the soil is full of roots. Since the roots preclude any digging, I plan to create a planter with landscaping blocks, fill it with soil/compost/etc. and place the shrubs in that. I have read that Leyland Cyprus and Arborvitae possibly are options. Do you have any suggestions and would you dissuade me from these two options?

Answer: Your plan sounds like a good one. Arborvitae would be would be my first choice, and there are narrow varieties such as Pyramidalis which remains 2-3' wide and reaches 15-20' tall. Although it is not evergreen, plain old privet might be a faster growing alternative as might forsythia if the hedge does not need to be symmetrical or too narrow. These both hold their leaves late in the fall and have dense twiggy structures. The most immediate effect of course would be a trellis planted with vines: English ivy would be an evergreen, something like fall blooming clematis or Virginia creeper might also work although they are deciduous. Finally, an elegant possibility might be large rhododendrons if your soil and exposure are suitable. For additional suggestions as to varieties which do well in your local area and specific planting conditions you might wish to consult with your County Extension.

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