evergreen screen plants

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

Updated: August 11, 2022

Key points about planting privacy screens

  • 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 change.
  • 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.
Arborvitae 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 trees for privacy screen
A variety of evergreen and deciduous trees are used in this privacy screen. Photo: Jonathan Kays, UME

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 barberry, 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.

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 their 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.

  • Test your soil prior to planting and contact Miss Utility before you dig.
  • Read our guidelines on how to plant container trees and shrubs. Be mindful of planting depth and root placement as well as watering. For example, roots circling around the outside of the root ball should be pruned and spread out in the planting hole.
  • Avoid excess mulch. A mulch layer should be no more than 2-3” deep and avoid placing mulch directly against tree trunks.
  • Provide adequate spacing for your plants. Plants that are crowded will compete for water, nutrients, and light, resulting in a decline over time. 

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 name Botanical name Height Width Sun/shade Native to Maryland? Deer resistance?
White Fir Abies concolor 30-50' 15-30' Full Sun No No
Atlantic White Cedar, False Cypress Chamaecyparis thyoides 40-50'+ 10-20' Full Sun Yes (Coastal Plain) No
Deodar (Himalayan) Cedar Cedrus deodara ‘Karl Fuchs' 12-15' 4-6' Full Sun to Part Shade No No
Japanese Cryptomeria Cryptomeria japonica 50-60' 20-30' Full Sun No Yes
Arizona Cypress Cupressus arizonica 40-50' 25-30' Full to Part Shade No Yes
Leyland Cypress xCupressocyparis leylandii 60-70' 15-25' Full Sun No No
Foster’s Holly Ilex x attenuata 'Fosteri' 20-30' 10-20' Full Sun to Part Shade No No data
American Holly Ilex opaca 15-30′ 10-20′ Full Sun to Shade Yes  Yes
Nellie Stevens Holly Ilex x ‘Nellie R. Stevens’ 15-25' 8-12' Full Sun to Part Shade No No
Hollywood Juniper Juniperus chinensis 'Torulosa' (also 'Kaizuka') 20-30' 6-10' Full Sun to Part Shade No Yes
Eastern Red Cedar Juniperus virginiana 40-50' 8-20' Full Sun to Part Shade Yes  Yes
Southern Magnolia Magnolia grandiflora 'Brackens Brown Beauty' 20-30' 15-25' Full Sun No Yes
Sweetbay Magnolia Magnolia virginiana 12-30' 12-30' Full Sun to Part Shade Yes (Piedmont and Coastal Plain)  Yes
Norway Spruce Picea abies 40-60' 25-30' Full Sun No** Yes
Eastern White Pine Pinus strobus 50′-80’+ 20′-40′ Full Sun Yes (Mountains and Piedmont) No
Arborvitae (American) Thuja occidentalis 40-60' 10-15' Full Sun Yes (Mountain Region) No
Arborvitae (Green Giant) Thuja plicata 'Green Giant' 40-50' 12'-18' Full Sun to Part Shade No Yes

Evergreen Shrubs

Common name Botanical name Height Width Sun/shade Native to Maryland? Deer resistant?
Japanese Plum Yew Cephalotaxus harringtonia 'Fastigiata' 10-12' 6-8' Full Sun to Shade No Yes
Japanese False Cypress Chamaecyparis pisifera cultivars 10-40' 10-20' Full Sun  No Yes
Dragon Lady Holly Ilex x aquipernyi Dragon Lady® 10-20' 4-6' Full Sun to Part Shade No Yes
Inkberry Holly Ilex glabra 5-8' 5-8' Full Sun to Part Shade Yes (Coastal Plain) Yes
Chinese Juniper Juniperus chinensis 'Hetzii' 15' 15' Full Sun to Part Shade No Yes
Rocky Mountain Juniper Juniperus scopulorum 'Blue Arrow', 'Skyrocket' 12-20' 2-3' Full Sun No No
Wax Myrtle, Southern Bayberry Morella cerifera 6-15' 10-15' Full Sun to Part Shade Yes (Coastal Plain) Yes
False Holly Osmanthus heterophyllus 8-10' 6-8' Full Sun to Part Shade No No
Variegated False Holly Osmathus heterophyllus 'Goshiki' 5' 4' Full Sun Shade No Yes
Japanese Pieris Pieris japonica 9-12' 6-8' Full Sun to Part Shade No Yes
Skip Laurel Prunus laurocerasus 'Schipkaensis' 10' 7' Full Sun to Shade No Yes
Hick's Yew Taxus x media 'Hicksii' 10-12' 3-4' Full to Part Shade No No
Arborvitae (Emerald) Thuja occidentalis 'Emerald' or 'Smaragd' 10-15' 3-4' Full Sun No No
Prague Viburnum Viburnum 'Pragense' 10-12' 10-12' Full Sun to Part Shade No Yes
Leatherleaf Viburnum Viburnum rhytidophyllum 10-15' 10-15' Full Sun to Part Shade No Yes

Deciduous Shrubs

Common name Botanical name Height Width Sun/shade Native to Maryland? Deer resistant?
Glossy Abelia Abelia × grandiflora 8' 8' Full Sun No Yes
Red Chokeberry Aronia arbutifolia 2-10' 3-5' Full Sun to Part Shade Yes  No data
Japanese Beautyberry Callicarpa japonica 4-6' 4-6' Full Sun to Part Shade No Yes
Carolina Allspice Calycanthus floridus 6-10' 6'-12' Full Sun to Part Shade Yes (Mountain Region) Yes
Buttonbush Cephalanthus occidentalis 5-12' 8' Full Sun to Part Shade Yes  No data
Sweet Pepperbush Clethra alnifolia 3-10' 4-6' Full Sun to Part Shade Yes (Coastal Plain) Yes
Large Fothergilla Fothergilla major 6-10' 5-9' Full Sun to Part Shade No No
Winterberry Holly Ilex verticillata 6-12' 10' Full Sun to Part Shade Yes  Yes
Common Elderberry Sambucus canadensis 6-12' 6-12' Full Sun to Shade Yes Yes
Lilac (powdery mildew resistant varieties) Syringa spp. 5-15' 6-12' Full Sun No Yes

Ornamental grasses

Common name Botanical name Height Width Sun/shade Native to Maryland? Deer resistant?
Big Bluestem Andropogn gerardii 2-6.6'   Full Sun to Part Shade Yes (Mountains and Piedmont) Yes
Switchgrass Panicum virgatum 3-6'   Full Sun to Part Shade Yes  Yes
Yellow Indiangrass Sorghastrum nutans 4-8'   Full Sun Yes  Yes

Vines

Common name Botanical name Height Width Sun/shade Native to Maryland? Deer resistant?
Virgin's Bower Clematis virginiana 20' 20' Full Sun to Part Shade Yes  Yes
Carolina Jessamine Gelsemium sempervirens 10-20'+ 10-20' Full Sun to Shade No Yes
Winter Jasmine Jasminum nudiflorum 3-15' 4-7' Full Sun to Shade No Yes
Coral Honeysuckle Lonicera sempervirens 10-20' 10-20' Full Sun to Part Shade Yes  Yes
American Wisteria Wisteria frutescens 20-30' 20-30' Full Sun to Part Shade Yes (Coastal Plain) Yes

References & additional resources

Biodiversity and Insect Pests: Key Issues for Sustainable Management, Paula M. Shrewsbury and Simon R. Leather

Mixed Screens, Clemson Cooperative Extension

Native Birds Need Native Plants, Maryland Department of Natural Resources

Native Hedges and Hedgerows: Beauty and Diversity, Ecological Landscape Alliance

By Christa K. Carignan, 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.

Still have a question? Contact us at Ask Extension.