University of Maryland Extension

Plants for Mixed Privacy Screens

screening plants in a landscape
Privacy screen created with a variety of different plants. Photo: Ria Malloy

Key Points

  • Choose a variety of different plants for your privacy screen rather than many plants of a single kind.

  • Screens with a variety of plants are more resilient to diseases, pests, and climate challenges.

  • Prioritize native plants and avoid invasive ones such as bamboo and Japanese barberry. A variety of options are provided in the list below.

Whether your goal is to plant a screen to create privacy, reduce noise, or block an unsightly view, these practices are recommended to help you achieve your project successfully and sustainably.

Choose a Variety of Different Plants for Your Privacy Screen

  • Create a natural screen by using a variety of different plants rather than a row of all the same type. A mixed screen will be more resilient to challenges such as droughts, flooding, pests, and diseases. 

    Climate change is causing more extreme weather fluctuations in Maryland. In an extremely rainy year, for example, plants that are intolerant of wet soil (e.g., yews) may not survive. If you have a screen consisting of just one kind of plant and a problem occurs, you risk losing the investment you made in an entire row of plants. A mixed planting that consists of a variety of different plant species provides some assurance that if one type of plant develops problems, you will not lose the whole row to the same issue.

  • A screen with plant diversity has added benefits. Structural diversity refers to layers of plants of different heights and forms (trees, shrubs, ornamental grasses, groundcovers). Landscapes with more structural diversity a) have greater visual interest and b) support more wildlife such as pollinators and beneficial insects that provide the services of pollination and pest control. Studies have shown that landscapes with more plant species and structural diversity tend to have fewer pest outbreaks.

  • A mixed screen can be designed to have a neat and tidy appearance. Layer larger plants as your backdrop with medium-height plants in front and between them and put ornamental grasses or groundcovers around the perimeter.

evergreen trees dying

Three of the same species of evergreen in decline will leave a significant gap in this screen.
Photo: University of Maryland Extension

mixed-screen-planting
A variety of pines and deciduous trees are used in this privacy screen. Photo: Jonathan Kays

Choose Native Plants for Your Screen

The use of native plants has advantages:

  • Native plants are adapted to local soils and climate conditions and generally require less fertilizing and watering once they are established. (Read What is a Native Plant?)

  • Native plants interact favorably with natural areas beyond your property. Plants in your screen may have berries, seeds, or pollen that will disperse into wild areas by wind, water, and/or wildlife. If you choose native plants, their dispersal and cross-pollination with plants in natural areas will support local ecosystems and wildlife rather than harm them.

  • Native plants support wildlife. Songbirds, butterflies, and other types of wildlife rely on native plants for food and habitat. Populations of birds, insects, and other beneficial wildlife are in decline due to habitat loss. Your plant choices matter and can support animals that provide pollination, pest control, and natural beauty.

  • Our plant list includes species that are native and adapted to the Maryland Coastal Plain (C), Piedmont (P), and Mountain (M) regions. Refer to the Chesapeake Bay Native Plant Center page to find your region

  • Refer to the Maryland Native Plant Society for sources of native plants.

Avoid Invasive Plants

Make sure your plant choices are not invasive in Maryland. Some exotic, non-native plants used for screens in the past (bamboo, European privet, Chinese silvergrass, Chinese wisteria, Japanese barbarry, and burning bush) are now invasive in natural areas.

Invasive plants are problematic because they grow rapidly and displace native plants, change soil chemistry, degrade wildlife habitat, and alter fire frequency. It is costly to the state and residents to mitigate the effects of invasive species.

Refer to the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s list of invasive plants or the Home and Garden Information Center’s (HGIC’s) compilation of invasive species in the mid-Atlantic region.

plants-mixed-screen
A combination of deciduous and evergreen trees make a natural screen between properties. Photo: Jonathan Kays

Make Informed Decisions

Our basic plant list provides a few options to consider for privacy screening. Take time to research these plants in greater detail to become familiar with the growing conditions they require and suitability for your location. Consider:

  • Will your site accommodate the mature height and width of the plants? 

  • Do the plants tolerate existing growing conditions such as dry or wet soil?  

  • What is the natural climate range of the plants?

  • Do you have access to a water source for irrigation?

  • Are utilities located above or below the planting area?

Deer-resistance ratings are provided for general guidance. They are not a guarantee that deer will avoid your plants. Any of the plants on this list may be browsed if deer populations are high and deer are hungry. Deer tend to taste a variety of plants and prefer tender new growth. Deer damage may occur on young plants more so than on older plants. Protect new plants with tree tubes or fencing if deer pressure is high.

Some good resources to use for research on plant characteristics include:

Plant Correctly for Success

It is essential to plant correctly so that your natural screen becomes established successfully in its first one-to-two years.

By investing time in proper planting and plant care, you will be on track to enjoy a beautiful and sustainable natural privacy screen for years to come.

Evergreen Trees

Common NameBotanical NameHeightWidthFull Sun/ShadeNative to Maryland*Deer-resistant
White FirAbies concolor30-50'15-30'FSNoNo
Atlantic White Cedar, False CypressChamaecyparis thyoides40-50'+10-20'FSYes / CNo
Deodar (Himalayan) CedarCedrus deodara ‘Karl Fuchs'12-15'4-6'FS to Part ShadeNoNo
Japanese CryptomeriaCryptomeria japonica50-60'20-30'FSNoYes
Arizona CypressCupressus arizonica40-50'25-30'Full to Part ShadeNoYes
Leyland CypressxCupressocyparis leylandii60-70'15-25'FSNoNo
Foster’s HollyIlex x attenuata 'Fosteri'20-30'10-20'FS to Part ShadeNoNo data
American HollyIlex opaca15-30′10-20′FS to ShadeYes / M, P, CYes
Nellie Stevens HollyIlex x ‘Nellie R. Stevens’15-25'8-12'FS to Part ShadeNoNo
Hollywood JuniperJuniperus chinensis 'Torulosa' (also 'Kaizuka')20-30'6-10'FS to Part ShadeNoYes
Eastern Red CedarJuniperus virginiana40-50'8-20'FS to Part ShadeYes / M, P, CYes
Southern MagnoliaMagnolia grandiflora 'Brackens Brown Beauty'20-30'15-25'FSNoYes
Sweetbay MagnoliaMagnolia virginiana12-30'12-30'FS to Part ShadeYes / P, CYes
Norway SprucePicea abies40-60'25-30'FSNo**Yes
Eastern White PinePinus strobus50′-80’+20′-40′FSYes / M, P No
Arborvitae (American)Thuja occidentalis40-60'10-15'FS Yes / MNo
Arborvitae (Green Giant)Thuja plicata 'Green Giant'40-50'12'-18'FS to Part ShadeNoYes

Evergreen Shrubs

Common NameBotanical NameHeightWidthFull Sun/ShadeNative to Maryland?Deer Resistant?
Japanese Plum YewCephalotaxus harringtonia 'Fastigiata'10-12'6-8'FS to ShadeNoYes
Japanese False CypressChamaecyparis pisifera cultivars10-40'10-20'FSNoYes
Dragon Lady Holly Ilex x aquipernyi Dragon Lady®10-20'4-6'FS to Part ShadeNoYes
Inkberry HollyIlex glabra5-8'5-8'FS to Part ShadeYes / CYes
Chinese JuniperJuniperus chinensis 'Hetzii'15'15'FS to Part ShadeNoYes
Rocky Mountain JuniperJuniperus scopulorum 'Blue Arrow', 'Skyrocket' 12-20'2-3'FSNoNo
Wax Myrtle, Southern BayberryMorella cerifera6-15'10-15'FS to Part ShadeYes / CYes
False HollyOsmanthus heterophyllus8-10'6-8'FS to Part ShadeNoNo
Variegated False HollyOsmathus heterophyllus 'Goshiki'5'4'FS ShadeNoYes
Japanese PierisPieris japonica9-12'6-8'FS to Part ShadeNoYes
Skip LaurelPrunus laurocerasus 'Schipkaensis'10'7'FS to ShadeNoYes
Hick's YewTaxus x media 'Hicksii'10-12'3-4'Full to Part ShadeNoNo
Arborvitae (Emerald)Thuja occidentalis 'Emerald' or 'Smaragd'10-15'3-4'FSNoNo
Prague Viburnum Viburnum 'Pragense'10-12'10-12'FS to Part ShadeNoYes
Leatherleaf ViburnumViburnum rhytidophyllum10-15'10-15'FS to Part ShadeNoYes

Deciduous Shrubs

Common NameBotanical NameHeightWidthFull Sun/ShadeNative to Maryland?Deer Resistant?
Glossy AbeliaAbelia × grandiflora8'8'FSNoYes
Red ChokeberryAronia arbutifolia2-10'3-5'FS to Part ShadeYes / M, P, CNo data
Japanese BeautyberryCallicarpa japonica4-6'4-6'FS to Part ShadeNoYes
Carolina AllspiceCalycanthus floridus6-10'6'-12'FS to Part ShadeYes / MYes
ButtonbushCephalanthus occidentalis5-12'8'FS to Part ShadeYes / M, P, CNo data
Sweet PepperbushClethra alnifolia3-10'4-6'FS to Part ShadeYes / CYes
Large FothergillaFothergilla major6-10'5-9'FS to Part ShadeNoNo
Winterberry HollyIlex verticillata6-12'10'FS to Part ShadeYes / M, P, CYes
Common Elderberry Sambucus canadensis6-12'6-12'FS to ShadeYes / M, P, CYes
Lilac (powdery mildew resistant varieties)Syringa spp.5-15'6-12'FSNoYes

Ornamental Grasses

Common NameBotanical NameHeightWidthFull Sun/ShadeNative to Maryland?Deer Resistant?
Big BluestemAndropogn gerardii2-6.6'FS to Part ShadeYes / M, PYes
SwitchgrassPanicum virgatum3-6'FS to Part ShadeYes / M, P, CYes
Yellow IndiangrassSorghastrum nutans4-8'FSYes / M, P, CYes

Vines

Common NameBotanical NameHeightWidthFull Sun/ShadeNative to Maryland?Deer Resistant?
Virgin's BowerClematis virginiana20'20'FS to Part ShadeYes / M, P, CYes
Carolina JessamineGelsemium sempervirens10-20'+10-20'FS to ShadeNoYes
Winter JasmineJasminum nudiflorum3-15'4-7'FS to ShadeNoYes
Coral HoneysuckleLonicera sempervirens10-20'10-20'FS to Part ShadeYes / M, P, CYes
American WisteriaWisteria frutescens20-30'20-30'FS to Part ShadeYes / CYes

* M=Mountain, P=Piedmont, C=Coast (Learn what region you are in: http://www.nativeplantcenter.net/glossary/)
** Not for use in MD Mountain Region

References & Additional Resources

By Christa K. Carignan, Maryland Certified Professional Horticulturist, Coordinator, University of Maryland Extension, Home & Garden Information Center.

Reviewed by Mikaela Boley, Senior Agent Associate and Master Gardener Coordinator; and Debra Ricigliano, Lead Horticulturist, University of Maryland Extension, December 2019.

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