Choosing plants for screening
Many of our customers specifically want to plant trees to give them privacy. Not surprising, in a country where we tend to build houses very close together, and where new loft extensions suddenly make once secluded gardens overlooked. Another common story we hear is where very large trees or hedges have been taken out, revealing undesired views.
When choosing your trees, shrubs or hedging for screening, important things to consider are:
- Eventual height and spread required
- Rate of growth
- Ease of maintenance
- Other desired features e.g. shape, colour, berries
There are many different options for screening - a few fail-safes are given below. We've divided it into deciduous and evergreen categories.
Deciduous plants lose their leaves in winter, but can still provide a good visual barrier, while offering seasonal interest.
Evergreens maintain leaf cover all year round, although they still drop some leaves to make way for new ones, mostly in late winter.
You will also see mention of semi-evergreens, which are just that - they lose some of their leaves when it gets very cold, but usually hang on to some.
Deciduous - light foliage
Silver birch (Betula pendula) - where space allows, the branches of silver birch paint a fine tracery in front of unwanted views, obscuring them but letting light through. Fast growing. H: 20m
Cut leaved alder (Alnus glutinosa 'Imperialis') - fast-growing with ferny foliage, this alder will cope with wet ground. Leaves turn yellow in autumn. H: 6m
Rowan 'Cardinal Royal' (Sorbus aucuparia 'Cardinal Royal') - a neat form of rowan tree bearing bright red berries in autumn. H: 10m
Deciduous - dense foliage
Ornamental pear (Pyrus calleryana 'Chanticleer') - a useful tree that comes into leaf very early and loses them very late, offering coverage in most months. Spring blossom and lovely autumn colour are bonuses. Fast growing with an upright habit. H: 12m
Frosted thorn (Crataegus prunifolia 'Splendens') - a densely branched thorn tree bearing cream flowers in spring and shiny red berries from autumn. H: 7m
Field maple (Acer campestre) - a native tree, very at home in rural settings, with foliage that turns butter yellow in autumn. H: 15m (often smaller)
Deciduous - small garden trees
Snowy mespil (Amelanchier lamarckii) - a fantastic all-rounder with spring blossom, summer berries and lovely autumn colour, snowy mespil is also useful for screening. H: 8m
Crimson hawthorn (Crataegus 'Crimson Cloud') - a beautiful variety of hawthorn, with pinky-red blossom in spring and colourful berries in autumn. H: 7m
Evereste crab apple (Malus 'Evereste') - a small, conical tree with pretty white blossom in spring and delicious-looking fruits from autumn. H: 6m
Also consider flowering cherries
Evergreen - dense foliage
Portuguese laurel (Prunus lusitanica) - the densely packed, deep green leaves of this laurel offer an impenetrable screen that can be clipped or left to grow into a bushy lollipop. Available as a standard (tree with a clear stem) or shrub. H: 15m
Cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) - a fast-growing garden staple, cherry laurel offers large, glossy, mid-green leaves that quickly block out unwanted views. Usually available in shrub form, sometimes as a standard. Very useful as it also copes with shade. H: 15m
Bay laurel (Laurus nobilis) - a classic for clipping, bay laurel is also drought tolerant and offers scented leaves. H: 12m
Chestnut leaf holly (Ilex x koehneana) - not your average holly, this version has large (up to 15cm long), spiny leaves, which form a deep green wall of foliage as either a hedge or standard. Abundant winter berries add to its attractiveness. H: 8m
Evergreen - colourful foliage
Photinia Red Robin (Photinia x fraseri 'Red Robin') - this well known shrub with decorative red leaves can also be trained into a tree form. When young, foliage cover can be light, but with regular clipping grows into a dense screen. This is a deservedly popular choice for its ornamental qualities and is also easy to grow. H: 6m
Variegated Chinese privet (Ligustrum lucidum 'Excelsum Superbum') - a wonderful choice for bright leaves, this variegated tree is semi-evergreen, so loses some leaves in cold winters, but maintains a bushy domed crown of branches. Sprays of cream flowers in summer are a bonus. H: 6m
Evergreen - berries
Holly Nellie R. Stevens - (Ilex 'Nellie R. Stevens') - a pretty form of holly with abundant berries in winter, we love this for being not quite a spiny as native holly, and for its versatility (can be grown as a shrub, hedge or tree). You will always have material for Christmas wreaths, too! H: 6m
Red berried Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster 'Cornubia') - Strictly speaking semi-evergreen, this handsome tree-sized Cotoneaster grows quickly and makes up for losing some leaves in mid-winter by being festooned with cheery berries. Growth is upright at first, spreading with age. H: 8m
Yellow-berried Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster 'Rothschildianus') - a yellow-berried form, similar to cornubia. H: 8m
Conifers - green
Leylandii (X Cupressocyparis leylandii) - the infamous Leylandii has often been planted to quickly form a barrier. Usefully, it gives coverage from the ground up, but grows much taller than a hedging shrub. How tall is just a matter of time! Needs regular maintenance to keep it in check. H: 40m+
Western red cedar (Thuja plicata) - similar to leylandii but not quite so fast growing. H: 30m
Conifers - colourful
Blue Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica 'Fastigiata') - a beautiful and elegant conifer with glaucous (blue-grey) foliage, dusted with tiny yellow cones in summer. Upright habit. Needs well-drained soil. H: 20m
Golden Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa 'Goldcrest') - dense sprays of bright yellow foliage make the golden Monterey cypress stand out. Can be clipped into a hedge or allowed to grow to its full height. H: 12m
Golden leyland cypress (X Cupressocyparis leylandii 'Castlewellan Gold' and similar varieties) - a version of leylandii brushed with yellow tints. Slightly slower growing than standard green leylandii. H: 40m
Japanese red cedar (Cryptomeria japonica 'Elegans') - a pretty, bushy conifer with feathery foliage which turns red in autumn-winter. H: 6m
Other tall shrubs and hedging
Many shrubs and trees can provide leafy coverage from the ground upwards, to a height of more than 2m.
Beech (Fagus sylvatica) - makes the most fantastic hedging plant as young leaves turn a copper colour in autumn and remain on the branches, maintaining its screening properties while adding gorgeous seasonal interest.
Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) - hornbeam is very similar to beech, but copes better on wetter soils where beech may struggle to establish. The winter foliage is a more chocolatey colour.
Hazel (Corylus avellana) - early into leaf and late to lose them, fast-growing hazel can provide a quick screen
Cotoneaster franchetii - a pretty shrub with silvery-green leaves and orangey-red berries
Osmanthus x burkwoodii - a slow-growing evergreen with scented white flowers in spring
See also our separate guide to choosing evergreen hedging.