Georgia Gardener Newsletter Design Tip: November 29, 2007

Plants for Screening

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Cryptomeria screening a sitting area

With landscapes getting smaller and often being located near busy areas, it's no wonder there's a high demand for screening plants. Without a doubt, a natural buffer of forest will block both ugly sights and sounds, but the buffer usually needs to be fairly wide. Once fall arrives and the leaves drop, things previously hidden from view become visible. Add to that the fact that a large natural buffer is becoming rare in many locations and you're left with evergreens which provide year round protection in a minimum amount of space.

If you need a screen, don't go to the nursery and buy the first plant you think will fit the bill (leyland cypress). Saving yourself a future headache and the cost of an expensive mistake only takes a few moments. Get a tape measurer, especially if the area in question is narrow. Measure the area both in width and height keeping in mind access, utilities (including overhead lines), fences, etc. So often people buy a plant that quickly outgrows its location. Examine the location for sun exposure. Is the soil dry, poorly draining, damp or wet? A plant that wants full sun and well-drained soil is going to fail in a poorly-drained, shady location. How fast will the plant grow? If it's a slow grower, buy a large plant or choose something different. Finally, I recommend only buying plants that can withstand drought.

Large Evergreen Screens (30-50+ feet)

Name Size (HxW) Growth Rate Drought Tolerance; Comments
Leyland Cypress
Cupressus × leylandii
50x10-20 Very Rapid Fair;
Green Giant Arborvitae
Thuja 'Green Giant'
30-40x15-20 Rapid Good;
Nice texture
Eastern Red Cedar
Juniperus virginiana
30-40x10-20 Mod/Rapid Excellent;
Southern Magnolia
Magnolia grandiflora
30-40x10-20 Slow/Mod Fair;
Messy leaves
Japanese Cedar
Cryptomeria japonica
50-60x20-30 Moderate Good;
Nice texture
Deodar Cedar
Cedrus deodara
40-70x30-40 Moderate Good;
Nice texture, open
Arizona Cypress
Cupressus arizonica
30-40x15-20 Rapid Excellent;
Gray/blue color
Blue Atlas Cedar
Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca'
60-100x40 Rapid Excellent;
Blue color
Chinese Evergreen Oak
Quercus myrsinifolia
20-40x20-30 Slow Good;
Uncommon tree
American Holly
Ilex opaca
30-60x15-30 Slow Good;
Nellie Stevens Holly
Ilex x 'Nellie R. Stevens'
30-40x10-15 Rapid Excellent;
Dense foliage

Avoid using leyland cypresses. Yes, they are cheap and grow quickly, but they have problems with drought and diseases - you get what you pay for.

Medium Evergreen Screens (15-30 feet)

Name Size (HxW) Growth Rate Drought Tolerance; Comments
Emerald Arborvitae
Thuja occidentalis 'Smaragd'
15-20x3-5 Mod/Rapid Good;
Columnar shape
Foster Holly
Ilex x attenuata 'Fosteri'
20-30x10 Rapid Good;
Attractive bark
Chinese Holly
Ilex cornuta
15-25x10-15 Moderate Excellent;
Easily pruned
Emily Burner Holly
Ilex x ‘Emily Bruner’
15-20x8 Moderate Good
Pyramidal shape
Savannah Holly
Ilex x 'Savannah'
25-30x10-15 Rapid Good;
Light green leaves
Yaupon Holly
Ilex vomitoria
15-20x10-20 Mod/Rapid Excellent;
Coastal native
Hinoki False Cypress
Chamaecyparis obtusa
Varies by cultivar Moderate Good;
Multiple cultivars
Japanese False Cypress
Chamaecyparis pisifera
Varies by cultivar Moderate Good;
Multiple cultivars
Little Gem Magnolia
M. grandiflora 'Little Gem'
15-20x8-10 Slow Fair;
Dwarf magnolia
Osmanthus americanus
15-25x10-15 Moderate Good;
Native tea olive
Fragrant Tea Olive
Osmanthus fragrans
10-20x10-15 Moderate Good;
Fragrant fall flowers

There are many more varieties of holly that can be classified as medium screening plants. There are also dwarf varieties of many hollies that fit nicely into the small screen category. Make sure you read the tag to ensure the plant you choose will fit in the desired location.

Small Evergreen Screens (Up to 15 feet)

Name Size (HxW) Growth Rate Drought Tolerance; Comments
Bright n Tight Laurel
Prunus caroliniana 'Monus'
8-10x6-8 Mod/Rapid Good;
Shade tolerant
Florida Leucothoe
Agarista populifolia
10-12x10-12 Mod/Rapid Good;
For shade
Aucuba japonica
6-10x6-8 Slow/Mod Excellent;
Sun or shade
Japanese Cleyera
Cleyera japonica
8-12x6-10 Moderate Good;
Sun or shade
Buxus spp.
Varies by cultivar Slow Good;
Tolerates part shade
Japanese Camellia
Camellia japonica
8-15x8-10 Slow Good;
Partial shade
Sasanqua Camellia
Camellia sasanqua
6-10x5-8 Mod/rapid Good;
Partial shade
Japanese Plum Yew
Cephalotaxus harringtonia
Varies by cultivar Slow Excellent;
Prefers some shade
Gardenia spp.
Varies by cultivar Moderate Good;
Fragrant flowers
Yellow Anise
Illicium parviflorum
8-10x8-10 Moderate Good;
Prefers part shade
Juniperus spp.
Varies by cultivar Mod/rapid Excellent;
Variety of cultivars
Southern Wax Myrtle
Morella cerifera
10-15x8-10 Very rapid Excellent;
Handles tight pruning
Loropetalum chinense
Varies by cultivar Rapid Excellent;
Purple-ish leaves

Invasive Plants

Some plants are absent from these tables: Privet (Ligustrum spp.) and exotic species of Eleagnus (Elaeagnus spp.). They are not on the list because of their invasiveness. These shrubs do not belong in any North American garden, period.

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