Here’s the scenario: We moved into our home about two years ago. The development and the surrounding houses are around 6-7 years old, but many folks still seem to prefer huge expanses of the 15 Best Places for Nails in Indianapolis to any large trees or bushes.
As a result, there’s not much privacy — except on the back patio, where several crape myrtles have grown big enough to provide some shade and screening in the warmer months. Not so much in winter and early spring when the crapes are bare and leafless. I’d like to plant some large shrubs near the periphery of the property. Typically, I know that gardeners should not be inpatient, but we might move on in a few years and it would be nice if we could get at least a little privacy before then. I could just start with larger plants, but I feel like that plants settle into the landscape much easier if they’re transplanted when they are still young. Evergreen would be ideal, but not necessarily a conifer. And I’m not opposed to having deciduous shrubs in the mix since I spend most time outdoors in warmer weather anyway when the bushes would have leafed out.
Because none of the neighbors have many trees and we’re on top of a hill, the backyard is windy, full sun pretty much from morning until night. These plants have to be able to take the heat and they have to be drought-tolerant — both on general principal and because I don’t know how often I can lug a hose to the edges of the property. Oh and they have to be able to handle clay soil and wet winter conditions. I don’t want to be a jerk and put plants on the perimeter of the property that tower over the neighbors’ yards. I think my ideal shrub would be the 8-10 feet range.
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And of course I’m not going to plant it right on the property line, but well within our property so that the mature plant should not hang over into the neighbors’ space. Several of our neighbors have small children, ergo I would not want to plant anything that’s even mildly toxic. We’re on the cold side of zone 7. We were in the warm part of zone 6 until the latest USDA zone refresh. Temps regularly fall into the high teens in the winter. Summertime highs often hit the 90s and sometimes even climb into triple digits. Average annual rainfall is around 47-inches.
Average annual snowfall is supposedly 10-inches, but in the few years we’ve been here, snow has been exceedingly rare. So, here are the plants I’m considering, along with why they’re on the short list. If you’ve grown any of these and have an opinion as to whether they’ll fit the bill, please chime in. Or if you think I’ve missed something that should be on the short list, please let me know! Raphiolepsis umbellata, Indian Hawthorn, not sure which variety, but definitely a variety that grows too low to provide any privacy screen!
Raphiolepsis umbellata, Indian hawthorn: We have several of these as foundation plants and they have been carefree and bulletproof since we moved in. They’re not terribly flashy, but they do have nice pink flowers for a brief time in the spring. They’re evergreen and supposedly prefer partial or full sun, although again ours seem to be thriving in a mostly shady area underneath a large crape myrtle. Vitex agnus-castus, chaste tree, monk’s pepper – It’s the right height — supposedly grows up to 25-feet tall in zone 8 or 9, but I’ve read that it would probably stay closer to 8-10 feet tall in Tennessee.
Based on my experience so far, it definitely seems able to tolerate heat, rain, wind, full sun and flying bowling balls. Forsythia x intermedia ‘Lynwood Gold’: Yes, they’re also sort of ubiquitous, but they do add a cheery yellow start to spring and supposedly provide a good early nectar source for bees. More importantly, they are reportedly very tough, rugged and drought-tolerant. Magnolia grandiflora, southern magnolia: The species can grow 60-80 feet tall, but there are a number of smaller cultivars. Myrica cerifera, southern waxmyrtle: It’s a native evergreen shrub that reportedly tolerates heat, drought, wind and full sun. Philadelphus lewisii, Lewis’ Mock Orange: A native of the Western U.
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Lewis’ Mock Orange height varies by cultivar, but the Natchez variety carried at a local nursery reportedly grows 6-8 feet tall and wide. It is reportedly wind-tolerant and drought-tolerant. The flowers are supposed to be fragrant. Ternstroemia gymnanthera, Cleyera: An evergreen shrub that can grow 8-25 feet tall. Viburnums: There are many species and hybrids of Viburnum in the gardening trade. Southern Arrowwood, I think this is closely related to V.
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PS – If you’d like to stay abreast of the latest developments at Garden of Aaron, you can now subscribe via email! Totally convenient, totally free – what could be nicer? I read through this entire thing thinking “that’s exactly what I’m looking for! Your post was very informative and helpful though so I’m off to read up on all of your suggestions!
Indian Hawthorn – The ones we had were burned by the winter of 2013-14, so I ripped them out. Obviously I did not purchase new ones for a privacy screen. I understand it’s very overplanted in those areas. Vitex agnus-castus – Still loving it. Only caveat is that it’s both deciduous and late to leaf out.
So you’d have to deal with at least 4-5 months when the deciduous nature of the tree would reduce its utility as a privacy screen. I do really like the white ones such as Natchez, which also seem to have the greatest appeal to bees. None of mine have leafed out at all yet this year. Forsythia – Boring, overplanted, minimal wildlife value, but ubiquitous for a reason – tough as nails. So I broke down and planted one last fall. I kind of love the bright green foliage.
Magnolia grandiflora – Haven’t used any yet, but planning on adding three compact ones to the front yard this spring. Myrica cerifera – Tried planting two last autumn. I’ll give them a couple more weeks to see if they leaf out. They certainly look awful right now. Osmanthus americanus — I planted one last autumn. It looks like it’s trying to releaf.
I don’t have high hopes, but I’m trying to keep an open mind and reserving judgment for now. Mock orange – Planted one in autumn 2013. It did great last spring – beautiful bloom! Still, I think it was just getting established. I’d bought it off a sale section and it was looking pretty pitiful at first. I have high hopes this will turn out OK. But again, it’s a deciduous shrub and even if it leafs out a few weeks earlier than plants like vitex and crape myrtle, it’s still probably a poor choice for a year-round privacy screen.
Cleyera – I’m still confused by this one. OK in a sheltered location in colder zones? I like it, but I’d make the same general comment as with the mock orange, vitex, crape myrtle, etc. I do think that arrowwood viburnum might provide a bit more screening than these others since it seems likely to send up so many stems and suckers, and also because the old leaves seem to hang on the shrub a bit longer.
The only other Viburnum I’ve tried from my original list is V. I’ve left the other four for now, but I think their days are probably number. 7, but it doesn’t exactly look pretty over the winter and I just don’t much care for the way it looks aesthetically. Camellia, I have a couple that are established in a protected location that do OK, but a few other little ones that I tried didn’t make it through the winter of 2013-14 and another one that was here when we moved in is looking a little worse each year. Personally I really like the way they look – especially the Burkii, Brodie and Grey Owl cultivars.
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The Clara Indian Hawthorne will withstand drought, freezes, etc. The variety of Indian Hawthorne is key. You get get very sparse, hardly there bushes that perish if you blink. The Clara’s seem to be very hardy. I apologize that I do not have the time right now to look it up for you but please check the different varieties and you will be very happy. No pruning if you just want a beautifully mounding 3 ft bush.
I’ve no doubt that ‘Clara’ is a tough shrub — but I don’t think it’s a good choice for Middle Tennessee or anyplace else at the colder side of Zone 7. San Marcos Growers notes that it is only hardy to 10 F or slightly less, and was killed at an experimental research station in GA by temperatures around -3 F. I am in a similar situation, but have acidic soil. The only plant in your list that I won’t use is the southern magnolia, even the Little Gem. I did plant a magnolia virginius- the native smaller-leaved tree. I’m thinking about adding a few southern magnolias this spring.
I agree that the little ones sometimes don’t look that great, but I’m hoping my landscaper will find me a few bushy, dense specimens. Some varieties might be evergreen, but I suspect they’d have some damage to their leaves in a typical winter here. Also, the foliage generally does not seem especially dense, though often I see them planted along a house where they are in partial shade. Perhaps they’d do better in full sun? I saw some of the star magnolias blooming at our local botanic garden a week or so ago. I know that my neighbor’s saucer magnolia had all its flowers fried a few nights ago.
Hope that my update in response to the previous comment helps you evaluate your options. I live in zone 7 south Carolina, since I live practically on highway, have to find something tough, the only thing I can get to grow is pampas grass, zebra grass etc. I’d encourage you to try to find something native with some wildlife value that can still serve your purpose. It’s my understanding that many of the clumping bamboos cannot tolerate zone 7 cold temperatures.
I believe it’s a runner, not a clumper. If it can be deciduous, well you have a lot more options! I live in Smithfield Va, Supposedly a 8a zone but no go I am thinking now it is a zone 7due to the last 2 hard winters and I do not think the winters, going forward, will be mild again. India Hawthorn is expensive, I planted it over the septic field with full sun and of course it died tried again, same results. Loropetalum: planted those on advice of others in a windy, sunny area and the winter of 2014 burned them and killed many. Yewtopia is a cultivar of Cephalotaxus harringtonia, a Japanese conifer. I’ve had good luck with the groundcover cultivar ‘Prostrata’ in partial shade.
I also have one upright one called Fastigiata that seemed to have a fair amount of cold damage this past winter, despite the fact that it’s in a very protected spot near the house. I wonder if I may have it in too much shade Anyway, at 3 feet tall, Yewtopia would not provide you with much privacy! Although I notice you’re also looking at dwarf ninebark. I have to admit I’m a little confused. Are you looking just for a low-growing hedge? Most people who want privacy screens want something that will grow a bit taller than 3 or 4 feet.
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I think you’ll be very happy with the eastern red cedar. If you’re looking for a low-growing cultivar, Grey Owl is my favorite. I added two 1 gallon plants to my garden last autumn. I probably should have planted them in spring, because I think they are only borderline hardy here. I understand it’s supposed to be very fast growing and provide good privacy.
There are other shrubs that have similar behavior. Please write back later and let us know how your efforts work out! I believe is supposed to make them highly flammable. For that reason, some experts advise against planting either of these plants near to your house, especially if you live in an area prone to wildfires. Euonymous “Manhattan” just earned a spot in the NC zone clay in my yard.
Evergreen, 8 ft mature, fairly dense and fast growing. Sorry you had so much trouble posting, hwb. Manhattan euonymus is an interesting idea. I tend to prefer native plants but I’ll keep it in mind. These will all be hardy and I should soon have a 6-8ft screen with a mix of evergreen leaf colour. I think it would be worth giving it a try for privacy.
It can get much larger than 6-8 feet tall without pruning, but I think it’s very amenable to being pruned. I know that at least some species of Elaeagnus are very invasive in the U. I only have one and I believe the plants are dioecious – i. I have three growing in different exposures ranging from full sun to partial shade and they have all done very well for me. Many sweetbay magnolis are only semi-evergreen or tardily deciduous, but there is a variety called ‘australis’ that reportedly acts as an evergreen.
Clearly it’s your decision, but we have lots of exciting native plants in the U. Good luck with the move and please feel free to visit the blog any time to leave comments, ask questions, etc! I am allowed to bring 12 barerooted planted with phytosanitary cert. UK, want winter colour and screening. Down here in TN, I believe English laurels are susceptible to disfiguration from something called shothole fungus. They do need some shade though I think to prevent the foliage from burning. Mountain laurel is a lovely native plant for Maryland.
I would discourage you from planting it. For winter color and screening, perhaps you might consider a conifer. I’m trying to focus on natives – either native to this part of Tennessee or at least native to the Southeastern U. I emphasize natives both because I think they tend to play a more supportive and integrated role in the ecosystem and also because I don’t worry so much about wreaking havoc by unleashing an exotic invasive into the wild.
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And I have read some reports on the Internet of L. I don’t know exactly what kind of Euonymous I was given by a neighbor but it was a favorite flower for wood bees. The evergreen variety I had had clumped strings of hanging little white flowers like lily of the valley. If you check, you’ll find that wood bees are nearly impossible to get rid of and damage every wood except treated. It sounds like you are talking about the insects that I know as ‘carpenter bees’.
I have carpenter bees around my home and have never noticed any major damage. Actually, I’ve never noticed any damage at all, though I do have a brick house, not one with wood siding. But I’ve never noticed carpenter bees tunneling into my wood porch. But I think many wooden decks and porches would need to be replaced in that time frame anyway, especially if they were not regularly stained or painted. I don’t remember my parents EVER staining or painting that back porch. Unlike the bumble bee that typically builds colonies in the ground, the carpenter bee is a solitary bee preferring to live and nest alone in wood tunnels.
Carpenter bees do not consume wood, but their tunneling can be destructive to softwoods and hardwoods alike. To deter this behavior, keep exposed wood surfaces, including nail holes and saw cuts, coated with polyurethane or oil-base paint. Consider using non-wood building materials, such as vinyl siding, to avoid possible damage by carpenter bees. If tunnel entrances are found in buildings, seal tunnel entrances immediately with caulk. In short, I think carpenter bees are great!
Of course, if you have a wood shingle home, YMMV. I seem to remember that they did attract lots of flies and small bees. The main reason I’d discourage people from planting some Euonymous species, is that they might be exotic invasives, depending on where you live and exactly which species you’re considering. The red cedars are a great choice, but you may want to try the Hiwassee cultivar of wax myrtle developed by the University of Tennessee which is hardy to -5 F. Since it’s a nitrogen fixer, it would be good for nearby plants as well. Actually, I planted two wax myrtles in the winter of 2014-15. 6 feet tall in just about a year and a half!
So I added another species wax myrtle nearby. I know I need both male and female myrtles to get berries for the birds. As for Osmanthus, I added Osmanthus heterophyllus to the garden last winter – the Goshiki cultivar. It seems like a beautiful and tough plant, but pretty slow-growing. I’m not really using them for privacy shrubs – one’s a foundation plant, the other is part of a mixed bed on a hillside.
I think they would eventually make great privacy plants, but probably not for 5-10 years. For some reason, I thought O. Do you have experience growing it in zone 6 or 7? It got attacked repeatedly by deer over the past few years and has survived, but hasn’t grown much at all. I’m also experimenting with sweetbay magnolia, which again is one of those trees that I think would be fully evergreen further south, but probably will be tardily deciduous and bare for a few months of the year. I think I could live with that and like the fact it’s native.