The best trees for privacy act like a pair of curtains for your backyard - sure, they're there to look good, but they have the practical job of preventing neighbors or passersby from peering into your private spaces uninvited. There's something unnerving about spending time in an outdoor space that's overlooked, but by choosing the right trees to plant, you'll find you can claw back some of that privacy, even in a densely packed neighborhood.
'Trees are great for screening the zones above a property fence and if there is space, they can be allowed to grow wide as well to provide even more privacy beneath a spreading canopy,' says Megumi Aihara (ASLA, PLA), founding partner and principal of landscape and architecture studio SAW.
When it comes to creating privacy, certain trees will work better as part of your landscaping scheme than others, with factors like how dense their foliage is, whether they drop their leaves in winter and whether they're fast-growing, all playing a factor. These are 11 to consider as part of your backyard planting.
What are the best trees for privacy?
Disclaimer time: not every tree recommended by experts will be right for your backyard. There are myriad factors you also need to take into account, which should be researched before you invest in planting for your backyard. 'When it comes to the best trees for creating privacy in a backyard, it depends largely on the size of the area and climate,' says professional landscaper Tom Monson (opens in new tab), owner of Monson Lawn & Landscaping.
'Some trees are better suited for warmer climates, while others do better in cooler climates,' Tom adds. 'No matter what trees you choose, be sure to research the varieties that work best in your climate and soil conditions, and plant them in the right position to ensure that they have enough space to grow and thrive.'
1. Thuja 'Green Giant'
Thuja or Arborvitae are evergreen trees that are widely regarded as one of the best for privacy. 'These are the classic border trees,' explains Erinn Witz (opens in new tab), gardening expert and co-founder of Seedsandspades.com. 'When planted densely, they form a robust hedge that effectively screens you off from the outside world.'
Thuja Green Giant is a popular choice because it's thick, evergreen, easy to grow and can reach lofty heights and widths, which makes it the perfect choice for an almost wall-like screen. They can grow to more than 40 feet, and grow fast, too - as much as three feet per year.
Thuja is an attractive prospect in terms of creating a low-maintenance garden, too. 'Arborvitae are low-maintenance - as long as they have well-draining soil and plenty of water, you only have to fertilize and trim them once or twice a year,' adds Erinn.
2. Emerald Green Arborvitae
If you're only working with a small backyard, a hulking Green Giant may seem like overkill, and quickly outgrow your space. Instead, consider an Emerald Green Thuja, which grows a much more reasonable 6 inches a year.
'Emerald Green’ arborvitae is an evergreen tree with an upright pyramidal habit suitable for privacy hedging,' explains Janet Loughrey (opens in new tab), gardening expert and writer at Garden Design. 'Plants reach just 10-15 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide at maturity, making this a good alternative for smaller yards.'
3. Cypress trees
According to Jackie Sons (opens in new tab), founder of Native Wildflower Nursery, Leyland cypress trees are the most popular with clients looking to create privacy in their yards. 'They will provide green foliage all year round, and they are fast growing so it does not take long for them to fill in,' Jackie explains.
Chris Patch, founder of gardening site Garden Benchtop (opens in new tab), agrees. 'With their recognizable conical shapes, Leyland cypress are the perfect specimens to grow in a row along a boundary line. Importantly, they can grow at an impressive 24 inches annually, which means you'll have your precious privacy in no time.'
You might think that all of the trees landscapers' have suggested for privacy would be evergreen, but it's worth considering that privacy isn't so much of a concern in the winter months, especially if it's just preventing your backyard from being overlooked.
The trade-off in opting for a deciduous is the potential for more low-lying winter sun, and the choice of some beautiful blooms in springtime, like the flowering Dogwood tree. 'Dogwood creates a spacious shade canopy that screens out unsightly views, adding privacy to a front or back yard,' garden expert Janet Loughry explains. 'This deciduous tree comes in different sizes and produce flowers, fruit and attractive leaves and bark for multi-seasonal appeal.'
Dogwoods can even be grown in large, well-drained containers, meaning you can add privacy to a patio or deck through container gardening.
5. American Holly
Talking of seasonal appeal, the American holly tree is another favored by designers for landscaping. 'The American Holly is an evergreen tree that has a dense, pyramidal shape and can grow up to 50 feet tall,' Robert Silver (opens in new tab), founder of Pro Gardening Blog explains. 'It is known for its attractive red berries that develop an interest in the landscape.'
'American Holly trees are adaptable to different soil types, but they prefer well-draining soil,' Robert advises. 'They need full sun to partial shade exposure and the requirement to be pruned regularly to maintain their structure.'
In many incarnations, Yew trees looks more like a hedge, and after often used as a more formal privacy planting than can be easily shaped to bring structure to patio or deck planting.
'Yew is amenable to regular pruning,' Janet tells us. 'This evergreen tree comes in different shapes and sizes, is hardy in most regions, and is tolerant of a range of growing conditions.'
Maple trees are deciduous, so they're not the best choice where you require privacy year around, but where evergreen screening isn't so necessary, maples are great for their dense leaf coverage, and a seasonal show of color when the leaves turn fiery red before they drop.
Red maples are widely regarded as the best for creating screening and outdoor shade, but a Japanese maple can work in the right conditions, too.
8. Magnolia Grandiflora
Magnolia is another flowering tree that can bring seasonal interest to your yard, but that is also great for screening. The most popular for creating privacy? The Magnolia Grandiflora, which is an evergreen with broad leaves. 'The Magnolia Grandiflora has large, glossy leaves that provide excellent privacy screening,' Robert explains.
Magnolia trees prefer well-draining soil and can tolerate partial shade to full sun exposure, however, they require a little more TLC than some of the other suggestions for creating privacy in a backyard. 'They need some maintenance, such as pruning and pest control to keep them healthy,' Ryan says.
9. Spartan Juniper
If you're looking for another alternative to Thuja or cypress trees to create privacy in your backyard, spartan juniper is an attractive option for its robust characteristics.
'Spartan junipers are hardy against heat, cold and drought, so they can happily grow almost anywhere,' garden expert Erinn from Seeds and Spades tells us. 'The trees reach a maximum height of about 20 feet, or you can keep them pruned into a shorter conical shape.'
This type of juniper is one of the best trees for small gardens for one key reason. 'Another plus of the spartan juniper is that the foliage grows close to the trunk, so there aren’t a lot of unruly branches to deal with,' Erinn explains.
10. Wax myrtle
If you're looking for a fast-growing privacy tree, wax myrtle is hard to beat. It can grow between three and five feet a year in the right conditions, but despite this, its maximum growth isn't enough to overwhelm a more compact backyard.
'For smaller spaces, wax myrtle trees produce a dense wall of privacy while also staying at a more compact size,' Erinn explains. 'You can shape them into the traditional hedgerow shape if you plant several trees in a line, or you can use just one or two wax myrtles to screen off a front porch or sitting area.'
If we're talking fast growing, we can't ignore bamboo - though it's not, technically, a tree. Bamboo can make for an effective screen for your backyard, and looks particularly good if you're trying to channel a Japanese garden through your design.
'It's hard to look past one of the fastest-growing plants in the world, the humble bamboo,' agrees Chris Patch from Garden Bench. 'Not only can it grow over a foot in a day to quickly establish a green privacy screen, but bamboo is also low maintenance and creates a beautiful, dense natural wall.'
If you're nervous about planting bamboo, just remember to plant a type that's far less likely to spread. 'I suggest looking at the clumping variety that doesn't send out runners,' Chris says.
What characteristics should I look for in privacy trees?
There are plenty of other trees out there that are great for creating privacy in a yard, if you only know what to look for. 'Choose trees based on attributes such as hardiness, low maintenance and multi-seasonal attributes,' garden expert Janet Loughrey tells us.
Here are some of the key considerations when choosing the best trees for privacy.
Speed of growth: Privacy is something you won't want to have to wait for your garden to grow into, and mature trees can be a huge expense. Fast growing varieties are an option, but tread carefully. They can often be invasive, as well as being weaker and more susceptible to disease and rot, which may limit their lifespan.
Size: With fast growing trees comes the potential for your planting to quickly become too big for your backyard. 'For smaller yards, select dwarf varieties that won’t outgrow their space,' says Janet.
Maintenance: While you want privacy trees to grow and screen your backyard, if you choose a tree that's too fast-growing, that simply means more maintenance to keep it under control. Think about the garden clear up required with deciduous and flowering trees, too.
Seasonal attributes: Choosing between deciduous and evergreen trees is even more important when it comes to privacy - after all, that luscious deciduous trees that provides a screen from neighbors in spring and summer can leave your space completely on show during the winter. Consider also that the sun may be lower in the sky in winter, so large privacy trees may block more light from reaching your backyard and even into your home.
Hugh is the Deputy Editor of Livingetc.com. From working on a number of home, design and property publications and websites, including Grand Designs, ICON and specialist kitchen and bathroom magazines, Hugh has developed a passion for modern architecture, impactful interiors and green homes. Whether moonlighting as an interior decorator for private clients or renovating the Victorian terrace in Essex where he lives (DIYing as much of the work as possible), you’ll find that Hugh has an overarching fondness for luxurious minimalism, abstract shapes and all things beige. He’s just finished a kitchen and garden renovation, and has eyes set on a bathroom makeover for 2022.
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