Lena Davenport, ISA Certified Arborist, #PN-6217A
Screening trees are becoming more and more necessary as houses are getting closer and closer together. Let’s face it, we like our privacy and fences can only provide so much. This is where trees come into play. Our saying here at Big Trees is “Big Trees Make Great Neighbors.” Whether it’s a solid row of evergreens or a strategically placed deciduous tree, this article will help you determine what options are available and what choices are best for your particular situation.
Best Pick for Small Planting Spaces: Emerald Green Arborvitae
One of the most popular trees for screening is the emerald green arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘emerald green’). The emerald green arborvitae and the pyramidalis are different varieties of the same genus and species of tree. The emerald green has become the more popular choice over the years because it maintains a nicer shape as it matures. However, the pyramidalis are still effective screening trees.
The emerald green is a dense evergreen that maintains its deep green color all year. Because of its columnar growth habit, and limited spread, the emerald green is a great selection for small planting spaces.
If planted correctly, emerald greens will form a low maintenance solid hedge. The dense and columnar growth habit of emerald greens means that they require little maintenance and no pruning. However, emeralds can easily be sheared back to limit their spread and the tops can be trimmed to create uniform heights. Emerald greens are often planted on two to three foot centers. This means that there will be two or three feet between each tree trunk. Selecting a wider spacing means that you save on cost but you will have to wait for the hedge to become solid.
Emerald greens mature to be 15-20’ tall by 3-4’ wide. They thrive in full sun and in moist but well drained soils. When planted in shady areas, emerald greens have a tendency to thin out and develop patchy brown spots. The one down side to the emerald green is that they are slow growing. On average they will grow about 6-8” annually. Attention to irrigation and proper fertilization can help promote growth.
Best Picks for larger Planting Spaces: Leyland Cypress and Excelsa Cedars
Both the leyland cypress and the excelsa cedars make excellent screening trees. They are fast growing trees that can be hedged or maintained at a smaller size if necessary. The leyland cypress can seem less than impressive initially but they get big and full fast. Once established the leyland cypress can grow 3’ per year and the excelsa cedars trail slightly at 2’ per year.
Leyland cypress mature to be 50’ tall by 20’ wide and the excelsa matures to be 40’ tall by 12’ wide. Both are often planted on five to twelve foot centers. Our Big Tree horticulturalists can help you determine the best spacing for your particular situation and your long term landscape goals.
The leyland cypress thrives in full sun whereas the excelsa cedar will thrive in full sun to shade. Other, larger evergreen tree option are; castlewellan cypress, virescens cedar, Douglas fir, western red cedar, pines and incense cedar.
Broadleaf evergreens are leafy trees that maintain their foliage year round. Our most popular types of broadleaf evergreen used for screening are the Portuguese and English laurels. Both mature to be close to 20’ tall by 15’ wide. They can grow one to two feet per year.
Deciduous trees, or trees that drop their leaves in fall, are often overlooked for screening purposes. We suggest them regularly here at Big Trees because they can give you coverage when you are outside in the summer and they let light into your house in the winter. Deciduous trees often are the right shape for screening, wide at the top narrow at the base unlike evergreens which are mostly cone shaped, wide at the base and narrow at the top. Deciduous trees give you coverage when you need it and where you need it and often when they are bare in the winter the branch structure alone can create a good visual block. Some deciduous trees are better screeners than others. Trees like the thundercloud plum or ornamental pears have dense branch structure and they leaf out early and they hold their leaves longer than other deciduous trees making them excellent screening trees.
We hope this helps you narrow down the search for the perfect screening tree. Please contact us if you have any questions. We can help you pick the best trees for your particular situation and budget.