Gardens

Best trees for privacy and screening in a backyard

Create an outdoor sanctuary or hide unsightly views with these best trees for privacy and screening

best trees for privacy and screening in a backyard
(Image credit: Future / Peter Chatterton)

The best trees for privacy and screening not only offer a wonderful feeling of seclusion, whether this is in your front or backyard, but can also provide invaluable structure and year round interest in the garden, and help to separate garden 'rooms'.

While fencing and walls are good for practicality and security, 'natural' barriers, or 'living walls' are undeniably an attractive option, and are among the many backyard ideas that can become focal points in their own right. 

Screening trees with a canopy that starts at a higher level can also be successfully combined with walls or fencing, where you still want to be able to see through at a lower height to an attractive feature wall or other planting.

The best trees for privacy and screen in a backyard

There are no better garden privacy ideas than natural ones. Namely: trees. Whether you are looking to stop neighbors being able to see into your garden or to screen out an ugly building or nearby building, trees do the very best job, while providing color and garden shade

Planting a mixed variety of trees for privacy and screening is also one of the best wildlife garden ideas for providing natural habitats and food for birds and wildlife.

The best trees for privacy – and the best trees for screening – will generally have a bushy, evergreen canopy. 

If space allows, however, consider planting a variety of screening trees, including some of the best trees for autumn color, or others bearing seasonal blossom or fruits, to add color and interest throughout the year. 

Before you start planting trees for privacy and screening in a backyard, do your research. This includes checking:

  • The soil type to make sure it's suitable for your chosen tree;
  • The maximum height the trees might grow to, and also check the spread of roots won't interfere with drainage or the foundations of buildings close by;
  • Growth rate of the variety - if you need screening in place quickly, don't opt for a slow-growing specimen;
  • If the trees for screening will need extra protection from the wind;
  • The maintenance requirements for the chosen tree.

1. English yew, or common yew (Taxus baccata)

yew tree hedge with gateway through to garden

(Image credit: Future / Rowan Isaac)

The English yew – also known as the common yew – 'is probably the classic evergreen tree. It is elegant and long-lived, and rejuvenates itself remarkably well if pruned in the early spring,' explain the experts at Practicality Brown.

One of the best trees for privacy, and planting en masse to create hedging, Taxus baccata can grow to about 40 feet (12 meters) tall. It thrives in free-draining soil and can tolerate sun to shade. Some varieties also produce small red berries – loved by wildlife as a food source.

2. Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens)

Italian Cypress for use as tree for privacy

(Image credit: Getty Images)

One of the best trees for screening tall buildings at the back of your backyard – and for adding a marvellous Mediterranean garden feel to your backyard – is the hardy Italian cypress. 

These tall, slender beauties can add dramatic height to a boundary, driveway or path and, with their dense foliage, are among the best trees for screening if your garden is overlooked by the neighbors. 

Very easy to grow, they just need the occasional clipping to keep them in good shape and can shoot up to three feet each year, reaching a maximum height of up to 70 feet (20 meters).

3. Bamboo (phyllostachys or fargesia)

bamboo used for screening outside a garden room

(Image credit: Future / Claire Lloyd Davies)

Although technically a grass, the larger, woody varieties of evergreen bamboo are more tree-like, and are very effective for screening and privacy.

'Bamboo is tough and easy to grow. For space-strapped gardeners, it also answers the need for tall but thin, which very few other plants can offer without the need for regular trimming,' explains gardening expert Leigh Clapp. 

Providing movement and an oriental feel to your garden, bamboo is fast growing and hardy. 'Choose clump-forming varieties like Fargesia robusta, not one that sends out invasive runners,' Leigh adds.

4. Cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus)

Cherry laurel for use as screening or privacy

(Image credit: Getty Images)

A vigorous spreading evergreen with glossy, dark green leaves, cherry laurel is one of the best trees for screening and privacy due to its upright and bushy form.

It also has some added seasonal interest, producing small white flowers in spring, followed by cherry-like red fruits in fall. 

Preferring slightly acidic soil, this tree can grow up to 26 feet (8 meters) and likes sun to shade.

'The cherry laurel is also available in pleached form, which is excellent for screening in smaller gardens,' advise the experts at Practicality Brown.

5. Holly (Ilex aquifolium)

holly as best trees for privacy

(Image credit: Getty Images/ Danielle D. Hughson)

With its distinctive prickly leaves, holly is a classic evergreen that makes a good tree for privacy as well as security. 

Although it ably keeps intruders out, it welcomes wildlife in, and can provide shelter for many bird visitors to your backyard.

Suitable for free-draining normal, clay or chalk soils, Ilex aquifolium produces red or orange winter berries – making it a favorite choice for use in Christmas foliage arrangements – and an ideal choice when planning a winter garden. These are then replaced with small white flowers in spring. 

As well as the common holly with its dark green glossy leaves, there are those with beautiful variegated leaves, such as 'Argentea marginata', with lovely silver edges tinged with pink, or 'Myrtifolia aurea maculataso', that features yellow and green splashes, so you could plant a mixture for contrast and interest.

Holly is, however, a slow grower – only a couple of inches per year – so not one for speedy screening potential.

6. Western red cedar (Thuja plicata)

western red cedar used as screening hedge

(Image credit: Getty Images/ Adél Békefi)

'The evergreen conifer Western red cedar is densely branched, making it a great tree for screening,' say the experts at Practicality Brown.

It's dark, olive green leaves can turn bronze in winter and the foliage has a pleasant, fruity aroma if crushed.

They make popular alternatives to leylandii as best trees for privacy, although have a slightly slower growth rate. They can also afford protection from noise and wind, so make a good choice for screening trees along a garden boundary beside a road.

7. Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus)

Hornbeam used as trees for privacy and screening

(Image credit: Getty Images/ Clive Nichols)

Hornbeam is a popular deciduous tree for screening, with fresh green leaves in spring that turn golden yellow in fall.

'Hornbeam also keeps a proportion of its old leaves on its branches through to the spring, dependent on how exposed to the wind it is, giving a better screening effect,' advise the experts at hedgeplants.com.

This hardy specimen can be planted in sun or shade and is tolerant of most soil types. 

8. Red robin (Photinia x fraseri 'red robin')

Photinia x fraseri 'red robin' tree in a garden

(Image credit: Getty Images / Jacky Parker)

This stunning evergreen boasts red, glossy leaves in the spring and summer, before maturing to lush dark green foliage in fall – perfect for both privacy and screen, but color, too.

It can reach a height of 13 feet (4 meters) and a similar spread, but can be easily kept pruned to a smaller size. 

Fully hardy, red robin prefers sun, but can do just as well in shade, and if left unpruned will produce masses of white flowers in summer.

9. Holm oak (Quercus ilex) 

holm oak in a garden

(Image credit: Getty Images/ La Bicicleta Vermella)

'For evergreen screening or year-round interest, holm oak is a wonderful choice,' say the experts at Ornamental Trees

With its leathery, serrated holly-like leaves, it is also known as the holly oak and is as equally hardy and robust. 

It will withstand exposed positions and as it is also tolerant of salt-spray, 'so it is ideal for using as an evergreen windbreak in coastal gardens,' they add.

10. Colorado blue spruce trees (Picea pungens)

blue spruce tree

(Image credit: Getty Images)

With blue, pine needle-like foliage that becomes densely packed in a pyramid shape, the Colorado blue spruce trees provide year round interest and are particularly suited to small gardens, eventually growing to about 8 feet.

'It is a very hardy small tree that will grow in most soils, excluding dry soils; it is also best to avoid full exposure,' say the experts at Ornamental Trees.

This is a slow grower, but could be included in a mix with other faster growing evergreens, and makes an excellent foil for other plants.

What kind of trees make a good privacy screen?

The type of trees that make a good privacy screen are those that are easy to grow, hardy and will tolerate most soils and conditions. 

You do not want to choose trees that are high maintenance, but rather those that are self-sufficient for much of the year, maybe just requiring the occasional prune to keep them in shape.

As you will seek privacy year round, choose a good variety of evergreen that will not drop their leaves, with dense foliage, and which will thrive when planted close together. You can, however, intersperse these with a few deciduous specimens for seasonal interest and color.

The best trees for privacy and screening need to grow to at least 8 feet, and there are many options that will grow much taller.

Which trees can be planted close to houses?

Many trees can be planted close to houses and this does not cause a problem, but it is difficult to predict which trees will or won't cause issues.

There are a number of factors that could contribute to a tree causing damage to a building or surrounding structures. These include whether the garden has heavy clay soil – as there is an increased risk from trees drying out the soil in periods of drought, causing the soil to shrink and cause structural damage to a property.

Also some trees have a higher water uptake than others. Those with a low water demand include picea and pinus, whereas trees with a high water intake include cupressus and quercus. 

Do your research beforehand and, if in doubt, consult an expert.

Rachel Crow
Rachel Crow

I am Senior Content Editor on homesandgardens.com and write and commission garden content for Homes & Gardens magazine, and its sister titles Period Living Magazine and Country Homes & Interiors