The first signs of spring bring me to our tree farm in Jackson. Our fields are full of trees for potential green screens to hide your neighbors, a shed, or whatever obstacle you want to block.
Ben Franklin wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors”. We’ve all heard that saying, right? But sometimes, rather than installing a cold fence structure, a better option is to promote neighborly love with a green screen you can all enjoy.
Blue and Green Colorado Spruces used to be very popular choices for green screens to screen a large area. But a fungus called Rhizophaera needle cast has changed all that in SE Wisconsin. It’s very common to see densely spaced rows of Colorado Spruces in a subdivision thinning and dropping their needles as the fungus spreads. It can be treated, but it is expensive and you are better off going with more disease-resistant options.
A great substitute for Colorado Spruce is Black Hills Spruce. This tree gives you a classic, dense Christmas-tree look, making it the perfect visual barrier. Plus they will thrive in partial shade. A faster-growing alternative is Norway Spruce with its dark green needles and elegant, pendulous, mature branches.
If you don’t have the space for a big Norway Spruce, I really like the narrower variety Cupressina or Cypress Norway Spruce for green screens. It creates a dense, vertical accent, whether on its own or in a row.
We can’t talk about green screens without mentioning Arborvitae. Arborvitaes are so popular because they will grow together and create a solid wall of privacy, and if you have limited space there are several varieties that stay 5 ft. wide or less, like Emerald and DeGroot's Spire.
Techny Arborvitae is an excellent variety for screening and very popular, but it can quickly outgrow a landscape if sited incorrectly. And don’t believe garden center labels that tell you they will only get 12 feet tall- I assure you, this guy wants to grow to 25 feet or more!
A better arborvitae for your green screens might be Technito® Arborvitae. Selected from a sport of Techny for its dwarf, slower-growing habit, Johnson’s Nursery co-introduced Technito® Arborvitae with Bailey Nursery in 2004. It maintains this dense appearance without any shearing and is much stronger than its parent under heavy snow. Plant one or plant a bunch! Technito® is pretty Neat-O!
If you have deer that wander through your yard, most varieties of arborvitae are like candy to them. Consider using upright junipers in your green screen instead. Junipers also tolerate salt spray better than arborvitaes so can be situated near a road. Just give upright junipers plenty of sun and avoid areas that hold water.
My favorite upright junipers are anything but ordinary with their wide array of shapes, colors, and textures. Hill Dundee Juniper turns an amazing rich plum color in winter. Skinny Trautman Juniper will easily fit into a tight space, like between a retaining wall and a patio. The blue-green needles of Star Power™ Juniper are not only beautiful but sharp, so the deer are guaranteed to stay away (and any neighbors you want to keep out).
As with any landscape project, I am an advocate of diversity. Going with only one kind of tree in your green screen increases the risk of losing your investment if a disease or pest is introduced – remember the Colorado Spruces. And a green screen doesn’t have to be only conifers.
Golden Glory Corneliancherry Dogwood has beautiful yellow flowers as one of the first signs of spring. But in summer the dense upright branches are full of thick green leaves. A multi-stem or shrub-form tree branched low to the ground gives you even more coverage. Sentinel Crabapple is another favorite of mine to add to a green screen.
The trees mentioned are a small sample of the plants available to create successful green screens. This is why it’s so important that you get the advice of a horticulturist or landscape designer if you are unsure of what will work best in your yard.