Evergreen Shrubs for Blocking Views

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Unwanted Views

A family recently moved into a beautiful house on a wooded lot here in Henderson County. They moved into the home during the spring of this year when all the forest surrounding the home was green and lush with new leaves. All summer long they enjoyed their seclusion behind the trees. Many evenings they would sit on their front porch and not see another person.


Hollies make great screening hedges.


Hollies make great screening hedges.

That all changed with the coming of the fall season. The veritable wall of leaves went away and suddenly the family was not secluded anymore. The problem is that there are very few evergreen trees in their surrounding forest save the occasional native rhododendron and mountain laurel. They need more evergreen plants planted throughout the forested area surrounding the home to provide winter screening.

There are many evergreen trees and shrubs that will provide privacy. It is best to utilize trees and shrubs of varying sizes, textures, and colors to provide interest as well as functionality. One must consider sun exposure versus shade as well.

Broadleaf Evergreens as Screening Plants

Some of the best are the broadleaf evergreen trees. A few of these tall, full sun, evergreen trees are hollies, magnolias, camellias, and tea olives. Some of the best hollies (Ilex sp.) are the hybrids ‘Mary Nell’, ‘Nellie R. Stevens’ and ‘Emily Bruner’.  These 25-30’ tall trees are great for full sun areas and can be planted as close as 8’ apart to form dense hedges. Let’s not forget our native American Holly (Ilex opaca). This tree makes a great screen.

Magnolia Little Gem

Magnolia ‘Little Gem’ is a small magnolia form.

The Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) is unique with its thick dark green leaves that are pubescent on the backside of the leaf. The hairy covering on the backside of the leaf is cinnamon-colored. Traditionally we think of the Southern Magnolia as being a huge tree but there have been refinements made to the plant through selection of superior cultivars. One of the best cultivars is ‘Little Gem’, a small dense tree that is perfect for screening unwanted views. For a larger magnolia try the selection ‘D.D. Blanchard’.

evergreen shrub

Camellia has winter flowers.

There are many camellia cultivars (Camellia sasanqua) to choose from. There are so many in fact that one needs a reference book to keep up with them all. Most fall-blooming, cold-hardy camellias have the name winter in the name. Some of these include ‘Winter Star,’ ‘Winter Rose,’ and ‘Winter Snow.’ Based on research at Asheville, NC, the following cultivars are also recommended for cold hardiness: ‘Spring’s Promise,’ ‘Winter Interlude,’ ‘Pink Icicle,’ ‘April Blush,’ ‘April Remembered,’ and ‘Snow Man’. Camellias are great for the shade but can take a little sun if you mulch them heavily to keep the roots cool.


Rhododendron are native plants that make a great hedge.

The final tree-sized broadleaf evergreen is Tea Olive (Osmanthus sp.). The Tea Olive is an extremely dense tree that does well in both shade and partial sun. The fragrant Tea Olive emits a delicious vanilla-like smell in the winter that can be detected from a hundred yards away.

Let’s not discount our own native rhododendron and mountain laurel.

These 10-12 foot tall shrubs make terrific screens. They both have great spring flowers. Try to buy these as locally seed-grown plants.

Conifers as Screening Plants

Conifers are also popular for screening plants. Arborvitae sp., Hemlock sp., Pines (Pinus sp.) and Cypresses are commonly available. ‘Green Giant’, ‘Emerald’ and ‘Degroots Spire’ arborvitae all make great screens. Leyland cypress (Cupressocyparis x Leylandii) is often used as a hedge. However, the plants grow 4 feet per year both in height and width. Their ultimate height is 100 feet tall and 60 feet wide! No matter what conifer you choose, make sure not to plant the trees too close together. Space larger conifers at least 15 feet apart. Smaller conifers can be spaced closer.

white pine hedge overgrown

The ‘Christmas tree’ shape of conifers is a juvenility feature. Eventually conifers become trees, losing their lower limbs. 40 years ago, this was a hedge of white pines. Today the trees are overcrowded and are dying.

To avoid planting plant too close together then having having the plants die early, a good idea is to purchase several of each of the aforementioned large evergreen


Viburnums make great hedges.

trees and shrubs and plant them in mixed plantings in strategic locations to provide privacy. To locate the areas to plant, look out of the windows and off the porch to determine where the screening plants are needed. When you use mixed plantings, utilizing various types and sizes of plants, you get a more natural look.

Interspersed in the spaces between the larger evergreen plantings plant some smaller evergreen trees or shrubs to add some seasonal interest, texture, and variety. A few of the best native evergreen shrubs are Mountain Laurel, Rhododendron, Pieris, Leucothoe and Pink Shell Azalea

overgrown arborvitae hedge

This overgrown arborvitae hedge eventually will not be the screen it was intended to be.

old overgrown pine hedge

This old overgrown pine hedge is now a liability and will cost lots of money to remove.


These Arborvitae have been managed well having the dying overcrowded lower limbs removed.