Green Screens: Beyond the Arborvitae

Hinoki cypress
Hinoki cypress

There you are on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, time to dig out your outdoor furniture cushions, pour yourself a glass of relaxation, put on some Gregory Porter and get ready to enjoy the season. And then you see it, Old Man Franti’s backyard crap-pile. You have two choices: A) Suck it up for one more summer while complaining to anyone who will listen, then go on Baristanet and try to weave your complaint into a random comment thread hoping someone will care. Or  B) Head to the nursery and pick up some nice screening bushes . Chances are B will prove more effective.

While arborvitae have their place and were the go-to screening bush in the past, there are now more attractive options. Let’s face it, nothing says, ” I would rather look at this cheap shrub than look at you”, like arborvitae. Privet bushes were also a screening option in the past, and when well kept, they can look wonderful but the base of the shrub harbors a perfect place for seedling maples and every other trees to grow. The result? Half shrub screening half weedy tree screening. The look is pretty shanty. If you hate your neighbors and want them to hate you, plant some bamboo. Invasive and super difficult to eradicate.

A row of schipka laurels
A row of schipka laurels

Have an existing group of hedges that are either over-grown or unkempt? You have a few options depending on what is growing. Some over-grown shrubs such a yews just need to be yanked. A weedy privet hedge can be saved by trimming, weeding and some TLC. Prune sad looking arborvitae hedges, replace with other types of hedges to break them up and give your space a more natural look. This also helps if one dies and needs to be replaced –, no need to worry about continuity. Always take a picture of the plant or area in question and bring it in to your local nursery.

Every yard has its own set of challenges from blocking out a rickety fence or a shanty looking shed, then there is that tricky strip of dirt between driveways. Here are some of my favorite evergreen tall shrubs and trees for creating a private backyard, structure for small plots of land and what will grow in that driveway strip.

Leyland cypress (Cupressus x leylandii)– A fast growing inexpensive shrub. They can grow three feet in a year, so unless you have the space keep them under control with pruning. They smell wonderful and look great used in winter arrangements.

Hinoki cypress-  The Crippsii varity has a lovely gold hue that pops when planted among darker green shrubs.

Schipka laurel– A lush glossy leaved beauty that gives wonderful coverage. Most growers say it prefers filtered sun, but I have had luck with this laurel in both shade and sun. The downside is a bit more expensive, about $65-$100 for a 4′- 6′ shrub. Mine have been growing about 1 1/2′ per year. Good for a singular type of screening hedge.

Hornbeam rows at Versailles
Hornbeam rows at Versailles

Skyrocket Juniper– An tall upright juniper that grows tall, straight and thin. Great for smaller, compact areas.

Japanese cedar (cryptomeria radicans)– Lovely and stylish with soft needles. They are still a bit expensive as they gain popularity.

Canadian hemlock- A fast growing soft shrub that  does well in sun and shade. A super hardy plant.

Gold-dust plant (Aucuba japonica ‘variegata’) -A great  dark green glossy leaves shrub with yellow spots. It gives contrast when planted with darker green shrubs.

Ilex (holly): My namesake comes in loads of varieties. Below, a few I like that are sold locally.

Japanese  (crenata)- Steeds holly is great alternative to the traditional prickly leaved holly. With small dark glossy leaves very much like a boxwood that come in different varieties and sizes  both in short bush form and taller narrow pyramidal  form.  Prune to maintain. Although it is a slow grower, it looks great mixed in with other fast growing shrubs. It works nicely for areas like a driveway where bare feet could be subject to dry, thorny leaves as long as you water. Not drought tolerant.

Nellie R Stevens – A lovely broad-leaved holly, this gal  is self pollinating so she does not need a male to produces her berries. Over time She grows tall and wide and work wonderfully for a backdrop in the landscape.

Dragon Lady ( Aquipernyi) – The leaves on this plant are harsh and prickly. The plus to this variety is the lovely red berries it produces. In order to produce berries Dragon lady needs a rooster in the hen house ( male pollinator)

Japanese holly rounded leaves
Japanese holly rounded leaves

MONEY SAVING TIPS: Buying shrubs can be  pricey. Watch for deals, usually nurseries run sales staring in July. Wait until fall when nurseries have all kinds of specials as they are trying to clear their stock offering 50%-75% off. Look for coupons on websites; Ploch’s usually has a $10 off $50 or $20 off $100 coupons on their site.

Deciduous trees of interest:
European columnar hornbeams– I had to include this tree. After planting these trees last spring I  can’t be in my front yard weeding without a stranger stopping to ask me about them. If you love the look of  those trees planted at Versialles that create thin lush rows the you should plant a hornbeam or three. They don’t take up much room and don’t create shade just lush structure . Plant the columnar type if you want coverage to the ground, if not the trees trimmed to have a trunk work well with under-plantings or against a wall.

Ploch’s Garden Center
Cedar Grove Garden Center
Center Ridge Garden Center
Richfield Farms
Fairfield Garden Center
Pleasantdale Nursury

What evergreen scrubs have you planted? What do you love and what are you ready to yank?

Click here to sign up for Baristanet's free daily emails and news alerts.


  1. I highly recommend the Gold Dust plant. I purchased one about 12 years ago at least and when it was small I moved it 3 times and survived. In it’s present spot it blocks my patio from the neighbors and is nice to look at. It can grow pretty big. I got another one 2 years ago and I am pleased to say with similar results. Best of all it keeps it leaves during the winter and it’s about the only thing those pain in the arse deer don’t munch on.

  2. Facebook link for Center Ridge Nursery in Nutley doesn’t work. Center Ridge is always well stocked with plants and shrubs and has a knowledgeable staff.

  3. I have successfully screened my neighbors with Ligustrum, Rose of Sharon, and Bamboo. I like the bamboo but it’s been outlawed locally and you can only purchase clumping bamboo in nurseries.

  4. I planted a screen hedge of Hydrangea Limelight, which is deciduous so doesn’t offer much privacy in winter, when we don’t care, but is covered with lime green – turning pink panicles in mid to late summer, which make great cut flowers. At 3 years old it’s over 6 feet tall, can be pruned hard in early spring with no loss of bloom, and is pretty maintenance free.

Comments are closed.