Border trees for small yards

The best trees for privacy in big and small yards

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Regardless of whether your yard is large or small, privacy is something everyone is looking for. While the old saying “fences make good neighbors” is definitely true, I’d much rather gain some much-needed backyard solitude by using lush, green plants instead of a stiff, boring fence. Thankfully, there are may great privacy trees for yards both big and small. They shield your outdoor space from nosey neighbors, help buffer street noise, and create the sense of seclusion necessary to make your yard a peaceful haven. Today, I’d like to introduce you to some of the best trees for privacy.

The best trees for screening out noise and neighbors are low maintenance evergreens.

Great trees to screen out neighbors and noise have several things in common. They’re evergreen, low maintenance, and easy to find on the market.

What do all good trees for privacy have in common?

Before looking at which specific varieties of trees are best for screening, it’s important to discuss the traits all good privacy trees have in common.

1. Privacy trees are easy to grow.

Fussy trees are not a good fit for creating privacy. If a tree is difficult to grow, or it won’t survive in a broad diversity of soil and sunlight conditions, I don’t bother using it for this purpose. I need something tough that doesn’t have to be coddled.

2. Trees for screening are evergreen.

Since privacy is something most of us want year-round, why use a deciduous tree that drops its leaves every winter? Dense evergreens with thick branches are the best trees for privacy.

3. Trees to create privacy are easy to find on the market.

What’s the use of learning about the best trees for privacy only to discover you can’t find them at your favorite local nursery? All of the trees on this list are common finds at regional garden centers and online nurseries.

4. Privacy trees are pretty.

Most folks who install plantings for privacy want the results of their efforts to be attractive. They want to look at soft green foliage, not ugly plant shapes, needles, or leaves.

5. The best trees to create seclusion can be planted close together.

Most plantings for privacy are spaced fairly tight. Some evergreens need lots of room to grow and don’t do well so close to their neighbors. The best trees for privacy thrive in dense plantings.

Privacy plantings along property lines and streets should be planted thickly.

Privacy plantings along streets and property lines should be thickly planted.

6. Evergreens used to create a backyard retreat are easy to maintain.

Yes, you’ll have to water your privacy trees deeply and regularly, at least for the first year after planting. But the best trees for privacy don’t have to be pruned, deadheaded, fertilized, or otherwise maintained. Plus, they’re pest resistant and tough-as-nails.

7. The best trees for screening grow taller than eye level.

To block the neighbor’s view, you need plants that reach at least 6 to 8 feet in height. Many of the trees on my list grow much taller. If you live in a smaller yard and want a privacy tree that tops out at a particular height, pay extra attention to the mature dimensions of each variety.

8. Privacy trees are moderate to fast growers.

There’s no place for slow-growing trees when it comes to creating a living fence. Since you likely don’t want to wait 10 years for your solitude, you need varieties that grow fairly quickly.

Based on these 8 essential traits, here’s my list of the perfect plants for the job.

The best trees for privacy

Leyland Cypress (x Cupressocyparis leylandii)

This beautiful evergreen has dense, feathery branches in the most lovely shade of green. It’s a quick grower, adding several feet to its height each year. Fully evergreen, Leyland cypress is an all-around winner. Hardy down to -10 degrees F, it has few pests, but it grows very tall. Reaching up to 60 feet in height and about 10 feet wide, this tree for screening can block even the rowdiest neighbor! Makes a great hedge when planted on 8 to 10 foot centers.

Leyland cypress are among the best trees for privacy screening.

Here, a homeowner uses a planting of Leyland cypress to block traffic noise and create privacy along their property line.

Lawson Cypress (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana)

Oh how I love this privacy tree! We have three on the side of our house, blocking our view of the neighbor’s house from our dining room table. Hardy down to -20 degrees F, this low-maintenance tree is one of the best trees for privacy. The evergreen foliage is soft and lush. Lawson’s cypress grows very large. It’s well over 40 feet at maturity with a 20 foot spread (though in the wild it grows much larger). There are a few compact cultivars that stay smaller and are worth seeking out for urban yards.

Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis)

For decades, arborvitae have reigned supreme when it comes to the best trees for privacy and rightfully so. Unbelievably hardy (down to -40 degrees F) with deep green foliage and almost zero maintenance, arborvitae tolerate a vast array of soil conditions. Reaching 20 to 30 feet tall and 10 feet wide, few plants have the power to create solitude the way this one does. There are many cultivars of this privacy tree for small yards and large, including ‘Green Giant’ and ‘Emerald Green’. Arborvitae can be planted close together, about 5 to 6 feet on center.

Tall trees such as arborvitae can be used to create garden rooms and privacy.

Tall, narrow evergreens, such as these arborvitae, make excellent screens while creating intimate spaces in the garden.

Concolor Fir (Abies concolor)

This evergreen tree for privacy is noteworthy for several reasons. Its gray-blue needles are chubby and soft. And its natural conical shape requires no pruning. Toping out at 40 feet high and 20 feed wide, concolor firs are hardy to -40 degrees F and offer a great amount of winter interest. Skip this selection if your soil is poorly drained or if you live in the heat and humidity of the south. A tree with few insect and disease problems, you’ll find it to have a moderate growth rate. It’s a perfect choice for large properties.

Concolor fir's dense growth makes a good living fence.

Dense evergreens such as concolor fir make great living fences.

Red Cedar (Juniperus virginana)

Another great tree for blocking out the neighbors or the street, red cedars survive winters down to -50 degrees and are native across much of Eastern North America. Deer dislike them, and they shrug off drought and city pollution like a champ. Plus, the prickly foliage keeps wayward neighborhood kids in bounds. With dense growth and a mature height around 30 feet, red cedars are a great fit for tall hedgerows when planted 8 feet apart.

Dragon Lady holly (Ilex x aquipernyi ‘Meschick’ DRAGON LADY)

The only broad-leaved evergreen tree for privacy on this list, dragon lady holly offers many benefits. First, the prickly leaves deter deer and other animals (including humans). Next, dragon lady is an excellent hedge plant for small yards. It grows just 10 feet tall and 4 feet wide at maturity. The leaves are a very dark green. Since hollies are dioecious (meaning plants are either male or female) and dragon lady is a female, you’ll need a male plant nearby to pollinate if you want to see beautiful red berries. Good varieties for the job are ‘Blue Prince’ and ‘Blue Stallion’. Hardy to -10 degrees F, this hybrid holly is columnar in form which makes it great for narrow yards.

Broad-leaved evergreens like Dragon Lady holly are great plants for property borders.

Dragon Lady holly is dark green and lush, perfect for property lines.

Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)

If you’re looking for a massive plant to block out a massive view, white pine is it. Long-needled and soft, white pines survive winters down to -40 degrees F. They max out at 60 feet tall and 30 feet wide. Stately trees that are tolerant of city pollution, white pines are quick growing and bear elongated cones. This is not a good plant for the humid south. While it has more pest issues than other plants on this list (including weevils, shoot borers, and sawflies), it’s still a privacy tree worth considering for large areas.

Japanese false cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera)

One of the best trees for privacy, false cypress is feathery and soft. Shorter cultivars, such as Soft Serve®, top out at just 6 feet tall, while the straight species grows to 60 feet in the wilds of Japan. The pyramidal form of this tree requires no pruning to maintain. Look for cultivars with blue-, silver-, and yellow-colored foliage, too. Some of my favorites include the Squarrosa types and the Plumosa types. The Mop types are too short for privacy plantings. ‘Filifera’ tops out at 6 feet tall and “weeps”. Most varieties are hardy to -30 degrees F. This is an excellent plant for screening.

I hope you’ve found the perfect privacy tree for your yard on this list. Remember to keep new plantings well-watered for the first year, and mulch them well – but never pile mulch up against the trunk. With time and care, your yard is sure to become your own personal “fortress of solitude” before you know it (minus Superman, of course).

The best compact plants for small gardens.

For more on the best trees and shrubs for your yard:

What have you done to create a privacy screen in your yard? Tell us about it in the comment section below.

Pin it! Evergreen trees for privacy: 8 low-maintenance choices

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3 Responses to The best trees for privacy in big and small yards

  1. Cecelia says:

    I planted a privet hedge on the west sie of my yard. The problem is it has to be trimmed each year. Started to plant Arborvitae ( four ) on the northside to block watching neighbors dogs go! One died but three have reached 8 feet. Nice to block some view. We planted those Arborvitae in a raised bed due to a small standing water problem. Fast forward 39 years. All the neighbors demand they use every inch of their property. Now have water 15 feet up in the yard during summer rains. In the spring area stays wet until late June. I would love to plant more screening items but have concerns that everything will rot because of the deep, long standing water. Yes, I could have expensive trenching done. No one seems to understand natural swalles or water runs downhill! So the easement ?? is now congested with sheds, wood piles and I have no idea whatelse. I am at the end days of gardening in big digging, heavy planting and all of that. I would love to have privacy in my yard but cannot do it without help. Any ideas what I could have planted (evergreen top out at 8 to 10 feet) to screen neighbors and plants live when the yard floods each July rain?

    • Unfortunately, there are very few evergreens that are tolerant of saturated soils like yours. Atlantic white cedar, inkberries, and American hollies are three of just a handful of evergreens that would survive there. You may opt for semi-evergreens such as bayberry shrubs, Virginia magnolias, or swamp azaleas, too.

    • Chantal Preuninger says:

      I used to have flooding inside my garden at the bottom of a hill until I built tranches between the hill and the garden. Those tranches go around the garden and direct rain water that way. It has worked so far.

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