Green Screens: Living Privacy Fence with Evergreens
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.
Below we list and discuss a few options. It's not all-inclusive, and there are plenty of other options to choose from. You can also browse all Plant Profiles for Conifers.
Green Screens With Spruce
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.
Norway Spruce grows quickly, up to 3 feet a year when young, and is ideal for spaces that need a fast-growing screen. This is a broad pyramidal evergreen with pendulous branches. Be sure to give plantings plenty of space for future growth.
Mature Height: 50-70 feet
Mature Spread: 25-30 feet
Black Hills Spruce
Picea glauca var. densata
Dense, conical form with short bluish-green needles. Black Hills is Excellent for screening or as a specimen. A naturally occurring variety endemic to the Black Hills of South Dakota. Slow-growing.
Mature Height: 20-40 feet
Mature Spread: 15-25 feet
Privacy Screening With Arborvitae
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!
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!
A Johnson’s Nursery origination, the dense, dark green foliage of Technito Arborvitae makes it ideal for a screening hedge, especially where space is limited. It also requires no shearing to maintain its shape and holds up quite well under heavy snow.
Mature Height: 15-20 feet
Mature Spread: 7-9 feet
An iconic, versatile plant in the landscape with its compact, narrow-to-pyramidal form. Flat sprays of lustrous green foliage retain their color in colder winter months. A cultivar of Northern White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis), a Wisconsin native conifer.
Mature Height: 20-25 feet
Mature Spread: 3-5 feet
Degroot’s Spire Arborvitae
Thuja occidentalis 'Degroot's Spire'
Degroot’s Spire Arborvitae makes an attractive mid-size screen, as well as a nice border or hedge, especially in sites with limited space as they stay rather narrow. As a compact, columnar arborvitae with rich green, twisted foliage this would also make a fine specimen tree.
Mature Height: 15-20 feet
Mature Spread: 3 feet
Green Giant is a fast-growing evergreen with a naturally pyramidal to conical form. A hybrid of the North American native Thuja plicata and the Thuja standishii (native to Southern Japan), taking the best features of each to create a more disease-resistant, narrow, and pyramidal Arborvitae.
Mature Height: 40-60 feet
Mature Spread: 12-20 feet
Green Screens With Juniper
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 sunlight 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.
Juniperus chinensis 'Ames'
Ames Juniper is broadly pyramidal with blue-green, needle-like leaves that make it somewhat deer resistant. Large fruits add to its beauty and attract wildlife. A mature height of 8-10 feet makes it a nice size for a hedge, or a site underneath power lines.
Mature Height: 8-10 feet
Mature Spread: 8-10 feet
Juniperus chinensis 'Mountbatten'
Mountbatten Juniper has grey-green foliage with large fruits that give it the beauty of an ornamental. Tolerance to deer, drought, and wind also make this tree a fine choice for a green screen. The mature height of Mountbatten is a safe choice for a site with power lines or other locations with a vertical limit.
Mature Height: 12-15 feet
Mature Spread: 6-8 feet
A great option for tough sites and small spaces. It does well in any pH and both dry and moist sites as long as the soil is well-drained. Blue, berry-like cones add winter interest and attract wildlife. As with many junipers, it is somewhat deer resistant.
Mature Height: 10-12 feet
Mature Spread: 3-4 feet
Juniperus virginiana 'Canaertii'
Canaert Juniper produces abundant, bluish berry-like cones, attracting birds and other wildlife. Drought tolerance and deer resistance add to its hardiness. Its mature height and spread make it a nice choice for a green screen as well as a windbreak.
Mature Height: 20-25 feet
Mature Spread: 10-15 feet
Juniperus virginiana 'Taylor'
Taylor Juniper is a great choice for a narrow space, clocking in at 2 to 3 feet wide. At a mature height of 25 feet, this is a nice option where height is desired but the site does not allow for a wider spread. Excellent for use as a windbreak or a border.
Mature Height: 25 feet
Mature Spread: 2-3 feet
A fast-growing upright juniper that is as hardy as it is pleasing to the eye. Deer resistant and pollution resistant, this would be a nice choice for a screen along a road. At a mature height of 17 feet, Star Power Juniper would not interfere with power lines.
Mature Height: 17 feet
Mature Spread: 7-9 feet