Great Evergreens for Screens and Hedges

— Written By
'Nellie Stevens' Holly

‘Nellie Stevens’ Holly

Need some privacy? Want to screen out the view into your neighbor’s yard? Consider planting a living fence of evergreen shrubs, but look beyond the common disease plagued Leyland Cypress! Local garden centers carry many different evergreens suitable for screening and fall and winter are the perfect time to plant them.

Hollies Are Best

Hollies are my personal favorite for a long lived, attractive, low maintenance living fence. Several varieties are available that work well for hedges and screening because of their upright growth habit. The varieties ‘Nellie Stevens’, ‘Oakleaf’, ‘Festive’, ‘Robin’, ‘Needlepoint’, and ‘Emily Bruner’ all produce dense, dark green foliage year round and red berries in fall that persist through winter. Each of these varieties grows at a moderate rate to 15’ to 20’ tall and 8’ to 10’ wide. Hollies grow best in sun to part shade with well drained soil, are drought tolerant once established, and are not often damaged by deer.

Upright Shrubs for Narrow Spaces

Upright evergreens work well as screens in narrow spaces because they take up little horizontal space. Two of the narrowest evergreens available are ‘Spartan’ Juniper and ‘Emerald’ Arborvitae, both of which grow 15’ tall and only 3’-4’ wide. The main difference in these two plants is the conditions in which they prefer to grow. ‘Spartan’ Juniper is great for sandy sites because it is very drought tolerant, whereas ‘Emerald’ Arborvitae prefers moist soils. Both grow best in full sun.

Another relatively narrow evergreen with glossy dark green leaves that is great for hedges is cleyera (Ternstroemia gymnanthera). This tough, adaptable shrub thrives in sun or shade, is drought tolerant and extremely deer resistant, and will grow 10’-15’ tall and 6’-8’ wide.

Flowering Evergreens for Screening

Camellia sasanqua blossom.

Sasanqua camellias bloom in fall.

Evergreens with showy blooms provide a bonus feature for landscapes, giving both seasonal color as well as year round screening. Large evergreens with attractive flowers that can be used for screens in partly shaded sites include camellias  and Viburnum tinus. Though slow growing, camellias make spectacular hedges, especially the fall blooming Sasanqua varieties like ‘Kanjiro’ and ‘Setsugekka’, each of which will grow to 10’ tall. For best results plant camellias in moist, well drained soil. Viburnum tinus is another shade tolerant evergreen for well drained sites, reaching 10’ or more in height. Its pink flower buds open in winter to reveal flat clusters of white blossoms amid dark green leaves.

Flowering evergreens that thrive in sandy soils and sunny sites include the 8’-10’ tall and wide pineapple guava, with silver green leaves and pink flowers in spring; ‘Recurve’ Ligustrum, an 8’-10’ tall variety of privet with large glossy dark green leaves and white flowers in early summer; and ‘Majestic Beauty’ Indian Hawthorn, a vigorous Indian Hawthorn variety with pink flowers in late spring. Like all Indian Hawthorns, ‘Majestic Beauty’ is very tolerant of drought and salt spray but is unfortunately a favorite of deer and should not be planted in areas where deer frequently forage.

Fast Growers for Quick Cover

Fast growers are not always the best choice. Fast growing trees and shrubs are typically weak wooded and short lived. They may provide cover within a few years, but then fall apart in the first hurricane they encounter or succumb to canker or other untreatable diseases.

To promote quick growth with any tree or shrub the most important things you can do are:

  • Remove grass from the planting area since turf is extremely competitive with tree and shrub roots for water and nutrients.
  • Water plants once a week from April through November if it does not rain – drip systems or soaker hoses work best.
  • Prepare the soil well before planting. This includes incorporating compost into the soil, tilling in any lime or nutrients recommended by soil test results, and cultivating the soil to a depth of 6” to 8”. Apply a slow release fertilizer (example, Osmocote) or an organic fertilizer (example, Plant-tone) in March following the rate listed on the directions.

Some fast growers are better than others for our region. One of the fastest growing evergreens for screening available is ‘Green Giant’ Thuja, a variety of arborvitae that will eventually reach 40’ or more in height, and grows 15’-20’ wide. ‘Green Giant’ is great for large landscapes where a tall screen is needed, but may be too large for smaller lots. It grows best in moist but well drained soil and full sun. One disadvantage of this shrub is the lower foliage may be browsed by deer.

‘Chindo’Viburnum is another fast grower, reaching 15’-20’ in height and 8’-10’ in width within several years. This evergreen viburnum has large, shiny, dark green leaves and occasionally produces clusters of red berries in the fall. ‘Chindo’ Viburnum prefers to grow in moist, well drained soils, but has good drought tolerance once established.

For fast screening in poor sandy soils, consider wax myrtle or glossy abelia. Wax myrtle is a native evergreen with olive green foliage, growing to 8’-10’ in height and width within a few years of planting. One drawback of this shrub is its tendency to break apart during hurricanes, but it rapidly recovers even when large limbs break. Glossy abelia can easily reach 8’ tall by 8’ wide and grows best in sunny areas and acid soil. Its small glossy green leaves turn reddish purple in winter.

Learn More!

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Visit your local Cooperative Extension office to learn more about gardening and landscape care. Go to https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/local-county-center/ to find your county Extension center or post your questions to be answered online via Extension’s ‘Ask an Expert’ widget.

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