Privacy Screen for Calgary

RickB(Calgary AB z3)July 25, 2005

We just moved to Calgary from Houston this month and need a privacy screen, as our back property line is shared with our neighbor. Currently there is a chain link fence, which I obviously want to improve on. I would like to use evergreen trees as opposed to deciduous shrubs. Our space is a bit limited so I want to restrict the height to no more then 15-20 ft. I would prefer an upright evergreen. I was warned off of arborvitae by local nurserymen as not being "Chinook-hardy". I was basically left with the choice of "Moonglow" or "Wichita Blue" Juniper. I would like something fast or at least moderately fast growing, but evergreen and fast growing seem to be a contradiction in terms here. Any suggestions or commenst on the Junipers? I might consider pine, fir, or spruce, but to get one of any size here seems exceptionally expensive.

To complicate matters, I have about 10" of good topsoil, but with poorly draining clay underneath.

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SilverFlower3a(MB CANADA)

Hi Rick, Welcome to Canada. I wish I could help you with your tree decisions, but I can't, being I don't know much about the type of trees you should be planting in Calgary.

I only wanted to welcome you to Canada and the the GARDEN WEB. I am absolutely positive that you will get many, many responses to your questions. The folks on this site are just wonderful. You will enjoy coming on the Garden Web with any questions you may have.


    Bookmark   July 25, 2005 at 3:20AM
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luv2gro(z3a AB)

Hi Rick,

I'll second the "Welcome to Canada" as above. I, also, am not the one to ask about conifers. I'm very partial to deciduous trees. But, I did look up some of the specimens you mentioned. I think most of the advice you have been given is fairly accurate. Arborvitae appear to be susceptible to dieback from the chinook winds. And junipers are rather slow growing. However, I know from many visits to Calgary, that both of those species are successfully grown there. (I'm in Edmonton).

I know you aren't partial to deciduous, but if you change your mind and want something fast-growing and economical, consider Swedish Aspen or Tower Poplar. They grow very quickly and aren't messy trees.

May I also suggest several good series of books available about our prairie habitat:

Lois Hole's series
"(subject - ie. Woody Ornamentals, Annuals, etc.) for the Prairies" - Faculty of Extension, U. of A

Both have quite a bit of valuable information on gardening in our areas.
There are several other well written, informative books about our zones that may help. Chapters or Indigo have most of them in stock. Also, we have many Calgarians on this forum that may be able to help you out a bit more. In the meantime, welcome and jump in anytime.


    Bookmark   July 25, 2005 at 4:52AM
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Hi Rick and Welcome.

Well I really like blue spruce...but they get big and are fairly slow growers.

For a privacy block, I put up a 6 foot solid wooden fence and have a hedge of lilacs in front of that. The lilacs seem to be growning about a foot a year now. Some of them are just about to the top of the fence..others are not because they were planted later. The added bonus to a lilac hedge is the wonderful scent from the flowers in spring.

I'm not in Calgary....hope this helps.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2005 at 11:32AM
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Pudge 2b

I like Shauna's recommendation for Swedish Aspen. A friend of mine in Calgary planted some at her back property line about 4 years ago - the neighbors behind her have a deck about 10' off the ground so they were staring right down at her. The Swedish Aspen provided the height that she needed for privacy quickly.

Although deciduous, there is some amount of screening from the branching of the bare trees. Another thing to consider is in this cold climate there isn't a whole lot of sitting out and enjoying the evening from October to April, LOL.

If you do opt for Juniper, I'd suggest also looking at Medora which is slightly hardier than Wichita Blue. Neither will grow more than about 6" per year.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2005 at 5:45PM
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officewench(Z3 AB)

Hi Rick -

Houston to Calgary. That sounds like an oil company move. I'd suggest speaking to someone at The Saskatoon Farm or some other nursery that sells shelter belt trees. Just Google 'shelter belt trees Alberta' and you should find something. You probably wouldn't get the small number of trees you'll need for the really low bulk prices but you will get some good advice and pay less than at a garden centre or all purpose nursery.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2005 at 5:14PM
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RosesRred(3a AB)

HI Rick,

Another welcome to Calgary! Sorry I can't answer your question... I'll give you some food for thought tho....

Two privacy options I see being used around Calgary are:

Catone Asters (I think that is how you spell it....saw some yesterday that were about 7' tall but you can trim them to any height)

Lilacs....these get big and fill in for privacy too.

Where are you living in Calgary?


    Bookmark   July 26, 2005 at 6:36PM
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Here's another welcome to Calgary. I live here too. Please don't plant a poplar or cottonwood near your home. They are notorious for damaging property!

I would plant vines myself, especially clematis or sweet peas. I love flowers and wouldn't want to block out too much sun. (Maybe thats because my yard is small and I have too many trees blocking the sun from the previous owner!)


    Bookmark   July 27, 2005 at 12:30AM
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Another welcome to the cowtown. Dittoing tova on the cottonwoods and poplars - the roots of these trees are very problematic for cracking into foundations and pipelines, including sewer pipes. Nasty stuff when that happens. These trees also sucker, and a lot of people are alleric to their fluff in early summer. Cotoneaster is the most common hedge shrub around these parts but is not an evergreen as you were seeking. Your suspicion is correct: "fast growing" and "chinook hardy" appear to be mutually exclusive terms around this country. Your soil condition is also the norm for the region. Your soil will also be rather alkaline - this is also normal for our region. Plants parched up top with 'wet feet' way down below, is a common complaint here, and mulching is on everyone's mind. So is organic matter and drainage - the nurseries sell a lot of sphagnum peat, manures, vermiculites and zeolites, and the mushroom farm north of the city sells spent mushroom compost for dirt cheap, and gives it away the week before Mother's Day, every year. We're at a fairly high altitude here and get clear skies often, so our UV rating is often high, scorching plants and people. The winds coming off the mountains are usually very dry. We're actually considered to be a semi-desert zone, with prickly-pear cactus growing wild =)

Have you wintered here before? If not you'll want to make some preparations. Since you're from Houston, the dry air here in summer is probably a bit of a shock, but it gets even more dry in winter. I strongly suggest investing in a humidifier for your comfort. A small room humidifier will do. Your furnace should have a humidifier of some type; keep that maintained and moist throughout the winter. Your sinuses will thank you and so will your eyes. Static electricity is a problem in winter, so anti-static pads under your computer and electronics are also a good idea. This is a climate of extremes, with a very short, intense growing season. This summer has been a bit cooler than usual and a lot wetter. Usually we're getting up into the +30s by now; we usually have a week or two of >30C temperatures around late July - early August, with a corresponding period of Despite all this, we do like it here =)
Is mise le meas
-==- Katzedecimal

    Bookmark   July 27, 2005 at 3:06PM
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Another Urgent Warning About Calgary's Extreme Climate!

It is so dry here in the winter your funiture can dry out, crack and split. Within one year of moving here from Ontario all my dining room chairs had split and broken beyond repair.


    Bookmark   July 31, 2005 at 2:12AM
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cailinriley(z3 Calgary AB)

Rick, yet another welcome to our city. I hope you feel at home here, soon.

You've already been given some good suggestions for privacy screens (I'll add to the vote for Swedish Columnar Aspen, but there are other hardy columnar trees available). I just wanted to give you information about an up-coming Calgary Horticultural Society workshop being held on Sat. Sept. 24 (if you can wait that long) from 9:30 to 12 noon. It's called "Let's Get Vertical" and the topic is growing tall, slender plants in a tight location for privacy or because of limited space. The presenter will be talking about vines as well as new trees and shrubs that have an upright growth habit. Non-members are charged $40 for the workshop. You can get more information from the CHS website at the link below.

If you're a gardener, and you're getting discouraged about what you think will grow in Calgary, you should check out the Garden Competition Winning Gardens this upcoming weekend. You will be amazed at how lush and beautiful our yards can be in this semi-desert region. There's more information on the same link, but garden passes ($20 for non-members) are available at several garden centres, not on-line, and a limited number are being sold.

This post probably makes me sound like an official representative of the Society, but I'm only one of 5659 members (that's the latest tally given in the newsletter). I'm a great fan of the CHS, however. There are tons of member benefits (including discounts at many garden-related, if you're thinking of buying lots of greenery for privacy, a membership would be worth considering.)

I hope you come to love your new home. And, don't worry about how cold it gets in winter; after all, it's a dry cold. ;-)

Here is a link that might be useful: CHS events and workshops

    Bookmark   July 31, 2005 at 3:00PM
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RickB(Calgary AB z3)

Thanks for all the replies. Its good to see this forum is so active and that there is a place to go with my questions. I think I am opting for the Swedish columnar Aspen. Several people spoke poorly of poplars/aspen, but this one is supposed to be non-invasive and non-suckering, at least based on what I have read. I would prefer something evergreen, but I dont have the patience for them to grow or the $$ to get sizable conifers. Seems to me like trees are a lot more expensive up here then in Texas. Maybe thats because they take a lot longer to grow up here.

Anyone have recommendation on spacing for the Swedish aspen? I am thinking 4 ft. Much closer then that and I think it would be more like a wall then a screen. I was planning to fill in next year with vines on trellises in between the trees. Thnaks again for your kind welcome.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2005 at 11:35PM
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abgardeneer(Z3, Calgary)

Actually, they do sucker, but the tendency is much less than with other poplars. We have 4 of them in the yard, planted within the last 3(?) years and I've noticed one has produced its first sucker cluster...possibly due to the fact that I was digging at its base to move some perennials and damaged a root. But, at any rate, it would be best, if you choose them, to plant them in a broad, mulched corridor, from which the grass has been removed, and try to keep in mind not to dig around in there too much (as damaging the roots is said to be one of the things that induces suckering, in species that are prone to it).
Wow, after living here for many years, I still have to chuckle a little about "hot weather" in Calgary! You'll soon realize that the locals consider 70 degrees F to be A HOT DAY! But it seems we get acclimatized after a few I guess I find 70 to be a pretty warm day too, LOL! (Despite that I still have to put on long pants at 8pm every night...and wear a jacket every morning...) And those two, sometimes three blazing days of the year when it hits 30 degrees C...whew!! LOL! Coming from Houston, particularly, I'm sure you'll soon see that all things are relative! ;)

    Bookmark   August 1, 2005 at 12:17AM
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sdowkes(z3 CalgaryAB)

Another suggestion - Graham Auctions ( in the NE often has evergreen trees for bidding on. I've seen them go for as low as $30 for a good 10-15 footer. I've also seen a sign for spruce trees along 69 street between 17 st and 26 ave SW - $25, not sure of the height.

I like the columnar aspens too - SuperStore sells them pretty cheap in the spring, compared to the Greenhouses, but there's no guarantee from them.

Oh, and welcome!

    Bookmark   August 3, 2005 at 1:21PM
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If 70F is considered hot in Calgary, I should have moved to Calgary! I hate this +30C stuff.

As far as adding a humidifier to your home, it depends on how tight your building envelope is. We have the opposite problem of too much moisture and have to move moist air out of the house in winter so we run an air-to-air heat exchanger all winter. If your house is a newer one, just wait to see how moist or dry the conditions are before taking any action.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2005 at 11:30AM
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weepingcrab(z3 Ab Can)

Welcome! Also fast growing are Columnar Carragana...they stay narrow and grow tall. Plant fairly close together and they provide a privacy screen winter and summer.Available in a few places, but for sure at Balzac Nursery

    Bookmark   August 4, 2005 at 5:10PM
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Hey Rick,

I have only gardened in Calgary, as I am born and raised here, but I would steer away from those poplars. Have you ever seen what a Swedish Columnar Aspen can look like in 25 years (you don't even want to know how big it can get in 50 years) - takes over, suckers and all.

Even though it requires more patience, I would stick with a Wichita Blue Juniper or a Blue Spruce hedge - and keep them well manicured. My neighbours have an amazing Blue Spruce hedge - yes it took them years, but it is well worth it - coverage all year and no suckering.

I actually came on to Gardenweb to ask the exact same question - I want an evergreen screen. I'm thinking that the skyrocket juniper will not be hardy enough here, I'm thinking others will concur with me? Guys?

    Bookmark   June 24, 2009 at 11:42AM
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Hi there. I'm not from Calgary, but this applies to anyone new to anywhere, except if you're in a new treeless neighbourhood.

Take a long walk around your neighbourhood. Have a good look at the trees, and you'll soon figure out what grows well, what doesn't, and how big and/or tall things get. When you find what you like, go meet your neighbour and hopefully they can tell you the type of tree(s). An added bonus is you get to know who lives around you =:)

BTW One of the best trees I have is one that before buying it, I watched in my neighour's yard for a year and discovered it looked nice in spring, summer, and fall.

On another note, someone suggested a few books. The problem I have with a number of those books is they don't tell you what diseases and pests the trees are suseptible to. That's really important to know before you plant something. =:)

    Bookmark   June 24, 2009 at 5:48PM
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Did anybody notice this posting is from 2005 ???

How on earth did it get to the top of the list, hee, hee ?? !!

    Bookmark   June 24, 2009 at 6:16PM
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