Leyland cypress is the most commonly used screen plant (a plant used to block a view) in our area. Unfortunately, these trees are highly susceptible to a number of diseases and do not cope well with environmental stress. As these trees die out, it’s a good idea to replace them with plants other than Leyland cypress. Fortunately, there are lots of options.
A fast growth rate is often what people are looking for when they go shopping for screen plants. ‘Green Giant’ arborvitae (Thuja plicata ‘Green Giant’) satisfies that criteria. At maturity, ‘Green Giant’ will reach 30 to 40’ in height and 8’ in width.
If space is limited, choose a narrow, upright plant. ‘Spartan’ juniper and ‘Emerald’ arborvitae both reach 15’ in height and only 3 to 4’ in width at maturity.
There are also many hollies that work well as screen plants. The cultivar ‘Nellie Stevens’ produces dense foliage and red berries, which provide an excellent food source and habitat for birds. Holly plants are either male or female, and both are required to produce berries, so be sure to plant accordingly.
Cryptomeria (Cryptomeria japonica), also known as Japanese cedar, is one of my favorite plants to use for screening. If you’re not a fan of the sharp foliage of large-leaved hollies, then cryptomeria, with its soft foliage, may be for you. There are many cultivars of cryptomeria available that vary in size from 20 to 60’ in height.
If you’re looking for a showier screen plant, select a flowering shrub like a camellia or viburnum.
Camellias do best in areas where there is some shade. Choose Japanese camellia (Camellia japonica) for spring blooms or sasanqua camellia (Camellia sasanqua) for fall blooms. Camellias have glossy foliage and there are many cultivars with varying sizes and flower colors. Camellias are slow-growing and can be pricey, compared to other screen plants, but they are worth it.
Fortune’s osmanthus (Osmanthus fortunei) is another option for a flowering evergreen screen plant. This plant is unique, because their extremely fragrant, little white flowers open in October. It can reach 15 to 20’ tall and wide, so only use it if you have space to accommodate it. If you like Fortune’s osmanthus but don’t have the room, variegated false holly (Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Variegatus’) is an option. Reaching 6 to 8’ tall, ‘Variegatus’ has dark green leaves with creamy white margins.
Viburnums are great screen plants but, in my opinion, are underused in landscapes. Good options for screens are ‘Chindo’ viburnum (Viburnum awabuki ‘Chindo’), leatherleaf viburnum (Viburnum rhytidophyllum), and Laurustinus viburnum (Viburnum tinus). All have clusters of small flowers and berry-like fruit.
Other plants to consider for screens are magnolias, cleyera, Florida anise, ‘Recurve’ ligustrum, and ornamental grasses. There are many other plants that can be used as screens as well.
To increase the chance that your screening will not only survive but live long enough to provide the screen you desire, use more than one type of plant in the screen. That is, avoid monocultures. By increasing the diversity of the planting, it is less likely that once a disease or insect begins, it will sweep through the entire planting.
A mistake that is often made when planting plants for screening is that they are installed too close to one another. Providing adequate space (identified on the tag) results in healthier landscapes than if the plants are installed closer than recommended.