GARDEN HOTLINE | Screen with plants to add privacy

GARDEN HOTLINE | Screen with plants to add privacy

GARDEN HOTLINE | Screen with plants to add privacy

As much as we all enjoy connecting with our neighbors, sometimes we want privacy in our homes and yards. Often, the solution to creating a privacy screen in a yard is simply a fence or wall. While these are effective, they’re not always as exciting or interesting as they could be.

Planting a living screen of plants, on the other hand, can add attractive foliage and flowers and maybe even be resistant to deer, provide food and attract pollinators for your vegetable beds.

Other types of screens

We have all seen functional screens of arborvitae, juniper and wax myrtle trees. While these plants do a terrific job of forming the backbone of a screen, you don’t need to limit yourself to trees. A great way to add more visual interest and even habitat is to plant in layers. By selecting trees at the height you need and then filling in space with shrubs and smaller perennial plants, you create a beautiful and functional backdrop. Try to imitate the forest!

Additionally, you can choose plants based on seasonality. By choosing plants that flower at different times, you can have a garden blooming nearly year-round.

While evergreens are common selections for screens because they always have leaves, deciduous trees can be good choices for certain applications. They will provide shade and screening in the summer but let more of the light through in the winter, when sun is very welcome.

Keep in mind that not all these recommendations will be suited to your space. Plants all have different sun, water and soil needs, so it is important to evaluate your yard and choose plants accordingly.

Selecting the plants for your living screen is like solving an exciting puzzle. Drought-tolerant plants are often excellent choices for our area. Since they thrive without lots of water, they are beneficial for both our wallets and the environment. Golden Locust and many junipers are good tree choices in this regard.

Smaller natives like red flowering currant and Oregon grape are drought-tolerant and have a lot to offer in the way of flowers and fruit, too.

If the idea of having fruit growing in your yard is appealing, the native evergreen huckleberry has attractive year-round foliage and tasty berries.

Some great flowering trees and shrubs for screens include southern magnolias, flowering dogwoods, Azara and andromeda.

If you would like a screen resistant to wildlife like deer, consider Oregon grape or one of the barberries.

For visual interest

Trellising is a great technique for creating visual interest and an opportunity to add fruit or flowering vines to your yard. It also takes up less space than a tree, so if you’re not sure you want to add something as large as a tree to your yard, a trellis might be a good alternative. You can make use of an existing fence, or add a trellis in an area you want to screen.

Espaliered fruit trees are an option for adding fruit to your yard, as are grape vines. Great choices for flowering vines with low water needs include the less aggressive honeysuckles, such as our native orange honeysuckle or coral honeysuckle. Clematis is another strong selection that may require some watering.

Finally, growing your living screen in containers offers a few advantages. It can contain plants that would otherwise spread aggressively, such as bamboo. It is also another space-saving option if the area does not have available soil or physical space for a tree or large shrub.

To learn more about living screens and plant recommendations, contact the Garden Hotline at (206) 633-0224 or

JUSTIN MALTRY is an environmental educator for the Garden Hotline at Seattle Tilth (

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