How to Choose the Best Privacy Fence and Barrier Trees

Your yard is a sanctuary — a small piece of heaven that transports you away from the hustle-and-bustle of daily life.

But nirvana can be a tricky mistress. Leave it to your bumbling neighbor next door to coordinate their beer pong game with your outdoor yoga session.

Don’t worry. With a little foresight, ingenuity and the help of some privacy fence trees, we’ll get your outdoor space back to feng shui in no time — regardless of what’s going on at the neighbor’s place. In this blog post, we’ll highlight all of the best trees for screening and walk through the pros and cons of utilizing this beautiful feature to improve your yard.

Qualities of Effective Trees for Privacy and Screening

So, what should you look for in privacy fence trees?

Let’s examine some of the features and qualities that landscapers and outdoor architects look for when browsing fast growing privacy trees.

The first thing you might consider when looking for the perfect barrier trees might be the aesthetic you’re aiming for. Are you looking for a short barrier to run your property line, or are you trying to hide a specific eye sore from your bedroom window? Consider the shape of your yard and size restrictions before making decisions on the type of barrier trees you’re going to plant.

Don’t forget to be a good neighbor.  The back of the screen will be visible by neighboring properties, so take some time to consider how it will look from the backside.

Next, let’s talk about diversity.

Depending on your overall goal, you may want to have a row of tall, uniform trees. But if you take that route, you leave your plants more susceptible to infestations of bagworm caterpillars, fungal infection or any of the myriad other ailments that can affect outdoor plants. Here, having a mix of different plants will prevent your whole patch of privacy fence trees going down in one fell swoop. Adding perennials, hedges and bushes to your assortment will create a natural aesthetic. And spacing them out in groupings of odd numbers — rather than in a straight line — can add texture and promote health among your plants.

That brings us to the next point: They need their space.

When planting barrier trees — especially taller specimens — make sure you leave ample room between plants for them to grow and fill-out over time. This will lead to healthy trees over the lifespan of the plant, which can be hundreds of years in some cases! Remember our list includes fast growing privacy trees, so you’ll need to use your imagination to see the plants grown to full potential in your minds eye before putting roots into the ground.

Consider the site.

Take a moment and look at your yard from a tree’s perspective. What are the most sunny spots, and which areas will be continually covered in shade? Which species are native to the region, and which have been shipped in from other continents? Which plants will promote — or prevent — harboring wildlife? How will the site affect the plants — and how the plants will affect the site?

These types of considerations should be part of your calculus when choosing the best trees for screening your unique outdoor space.

The Best Types of Trees to Plant for Privacy

Now that we’ve discussed some of the features you should consider before choosing your privacy fence trees, let’s check out the talent. Below, we’ve put together our all-star list of the best trees for privacy:

1. Arborvitae

Arborvitae — also known as Thuja — describes a genus of coniferous trees in the cypress family. The Latin term arborvitae means ‘tree of life.’

These conical trees are a favorite for landscapers looking for a uniform solution to privacy fence trees. They are hearty enough to thrive in sun or shade, take well to trimming and can be cut into a hedge if desired.

Two varieties are very popular in the Northeast United States: Green Giant and Emerald Green. These are very common in nurseries across the country. Green Giant can grow to between 30 and 40 feet, while the Emerald Green typically grows to between 12 and 15 feet. They grow at a rate of up to 5 feet per year.

One downside: Deer love to eat these plants. Consider mitigation if you have healthy herds near your property.

2. Holly Trees

A ‘Holly’ name is used to describe over 450 species of the family Aquifoliaceae. These flowering plants can be either evergreen or deciduous — meaning their leaves fall in the winter.

Landscapers love the evergreen varieties because of their beautiful wintertime berries that are the embodiment of holiday spirit. Their densely-packed, prickly, hearty leaves provide privacy and cover for wildlife. Most can withstand various amounts of sun and shade, and they can grow in a variety of soil types along the temperate regions of the Northeast. Their versatility allows for shrub row planting as well as for highlighting as a standalone tree.

Popular fast growing privacy trees include the Nellie Stevens, American, Inkberry, Dragon Lady, Sky Pencil, Emily Bruner and Satyr varieties.

3. Evergreen Trees – Spruce, Cedars and Pine

Evergreen trees offer a wide range of tall trees that help screen your outdoor space from eyes, noise and wind. They provide great cover for wildlife and attract healthy songbird communities. Their seed cones are great for holiday decoration.

Some of these quickly growing trees can grow up to 75 feet, but many can be trimmed. Dwarf varieties are available for those with smaller yards or urban landscapes. Groupings of these trees can provide the illusion of an isolated oasis despite even the most pesky neighbors.

Popular fast growing privacy evergreen trees include: Eastern Red Cedar, White Pine, Eastern White Pine, Lawson Cypress, Japanese False Cypress, Leyland Cypress, Yoshino Japanese Cedar, Fat Albert Spruce, Oriental Spruce, Baby Blue Eyes Spruce.

4. Other Favorites

Luckily, when it comes to fast growing privacy trees, you’ve got plenty of options. Check out some more of our favorite varieties below.

  • Deciduous Trees: Depending on your yard’s specific needs, you might not require four-seasons coverage. Deciduous trees lose their leaves over the winter, but they work very well in a diverse fence screen. The Field Maple tree is a perfect example. It grows up to 16 feet, adapts to both sun and shade, and most types of soils. Plus, it boasts beautiful flowers in the spring but is versatile enough to be trimmed into a hedge. One note: These types of trees often have large root structures, which can grow as quickly as the overground vegetation. The roots can push up nearby cement and fence posts, so consider future growth carefully before planting.
  • Juniper: Like other types of barrier trees on this list, junipers are a beautiful and versatile choice for creating a screen row to block views from neighboring properties. Some varieties can be trimmed into hedgerow cluster configurations, while others can be left in freestanding conical form with no pruning required. Beautiful winter berries are a feature for both decoration and wildlife, and some can even be used for cooking and maceration. Varieties include: Rocket Juniper, Carolina Blue Sapphire Juniper, Blue Point Juniper, Spartan Juniper and Moonglow.
  • Cypress: In many ways varieties of Cypress resemble Arborvitae in their conical shape. These evergreens make for an ideal visual screen. Leyland Cypress can grow in closer proximity than many other types of plants, and provide perfect cover from prying neighbors. They grow quickly and can max out at 50 feet. The Arizona Cypress is another large cone-shaped evergreen that is native to the Southwest.
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