mixed evergreen screen recommendations please!

vvesper(7TN)October 5, 2009

I have been trying to figure out for about a year now what evergreens to plant across my back property line to screen our view of the neighbor's house and act as backdrop for small deciduous ornamentals (dogwood, serviceberry, etc.). I realize that anything that provides a quick screen is going to get bigger than I really want in the next 40 years. I'd like a 20-foot screen in a few years to totally hide their house - but at the same time, I'd rather not have the trees get bigger than about 50 feet in my lifetime. (I'm 42.) We have a 0.80 acre lot and a reasonable amount of space, but I don't want to feel totally blocked in on that side, nor do I want to worry about 100-foot trees crashing down on the house I'm trying to screen.

I love the look of hemlocks, but they need higher elevation and partial shade to grow well here (not to mention protection from woolly adelgids). Young leyland cypress are lovely, but I'm not fond of the green corn dog look they eventually seem to get here, and they get too big too fast. Cryptomeria is a possibility, though eventual size is a concern. Same for white pine. Deodar cedar is also lovely. Magnolia is a possibliity, depending on cultivar. Maybe some type of holly, but I think most of them are quite slow growing.

I need about seven trees, if we're planning on 15-foot spacing, which I hope is a happy medium between quick screening and too crowded. What would you suggest? The site is sloped, red clay (former pasture land), full sun.

One thought might be to intersperse with leyland or arborvitae that I will take out when the trees get significantly bigger. Don't know. I know alot more about perennials and bulbs than trees! Advice, anyone? Please?

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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

I'd like a 20-foot screen in a few years to totally hide their house


that is not realistic .... as stock that will grow that fast ... isnt going to magically stop growing 4 to 6 feet per year ... in 10 years they will be 40 to 60 feet tall.. and in 20 years ...80 to 120 feet tall ... conifers are all about the annual growth rate.. not some magical height they stop at ...

so to begin the evolution of your solving your quandary ... lets starts with some info on:



after that.. we will need to know the budget .... in the sense of whether you are starting with one gal one foot plants.. or willing to put up some real money for 4 to 6 footers... i dont really need a number, per se

personally ... i would not go much bigger than that unless you are willing to pay for professional installation ...

now what i would really like to see.. is some pix.. being that you gave your age.. you really dont have the excuse that you dont have the technology.. that some of our older folks claim ...

one trick.. is to get a bottle of wine.. or beer.. or some of each.. grab signif. other if part of the equation.. and stand in every window.. doorway.. and on the patio/deck.. really just sit there.. and contemplate planting things CLOSER to the house.. that will grow and block out the neighbor .... while the plants way out back do the same .. [the adult beverage.. makes me sit there longer than i would if i didnt use a relaxant.. lol]

e.g...... a red bud 10 or 15 feet out from the deck.. will be fairly aggressive.. and shield you while on the deck ... in other words.. dont think lineally along the back property line ONLY ...

do the same in the bedroom/kitchen/family room windows .. and think about a plant planted 6 to 8 feet out.. presuming a window 3 to 5 feet off the ground .... which will grow to 3 to 5 feet in a much shorter time... but will stay relatively smaller in the long run.. placing it that far out.. so you still get ambient light inside the house ...

link below to one of my fave's ... especially for your lot size a grouping of three.. near a window or deck would be cool ....

grows about one foot per year.. will be barely 2 foot wide at ten feet high ... IF YOU MAINTAIN A SINGLE LEADER .... and relatively cheap ....

there are a multitude of options.. once you get your thoughts off that back property line..

come 10 years from now.. when the plants way back get to size .. you can remove some of the closer stuff ... should you wish ...

a bunch of pix would sure help ...


PS: diversity rules... so dont go hog wild on one type of plant

Here is a link that might be useful: Thuja occidentalis DE GROOT'S SPIRE

    Bookmark   October 5, 2009 at 5:14PM
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As Ken says "diversity rules", I agree. I read somewhere that a mixture of plants will fool the eye. Think about the look of a grouping of leyland cypress or some other tree, lined up like soldiers, it almost always says, HEY, LOOK HERE. Where as plants seeded by nature, along the roadside seldom get noticed.
I also am working on a screen to divide one property from the other, a distance of about 400 ft., from house 1 to house 2. House 1 will some day be a rental, but for now, my husband & I live there. House 2 is under construction, (by hubby & me) & if I didn't keep changing my mind about things, we may have moved in already. It is tough, being wishy- washy.
Some plants that I have that are doing well for me. Cryptomeria japonica "Yoshino", Cupressus arizonica "Blue Ice", Cupressus arizonica "Carolina Sapphire", Juniperus scopulorum "Pathfinder", Juniperus chinensis "Hollywood", Juniperus excelsa "Stricta Variegata", Thuja occidentalis "Nigra", Thuja occidentalis "Yellow Ribbon"
If you like I will email the link to a place in TN where I order some of these plants.
Later, Joyce

    Bookmark   October 6, 2009 at 9:56AM
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Yes, I'm definitely looking for mixed - not a row of soldiers. For both visual interest and biodiversity. Thanks for your responses!

Ken - I will post some pics in the next day or two. I understand what you're saying about planting something closer to the windows to screen the view (or draw the eye from it). However, there are a couple logistical issues with that. First, the back of our lot has quite a slope, so the sills of the first floor windows in the back are already a good 15-17 feet off the ground (with a walk-out basement below). Wouldn't save me much time! Second, much of the area closer to the house is taken up with a septic drain field, so I want to go beyond that with as much of the tree roots as possible.

I do understand also there is a tension between wanting a screen soon and wanting the trees not to get too huge in my lifetime (they will fit on the lot, so I don't care too much about after I'm gone!). When I say a few years - I don't mean 3-4 - I realize it will be more like 8-10 years to begin to get any reasonable screening. But you have to start sometime! :- ) One hope is that having the trees somewhere between us and the other house will draw the eye to them even before they're tall enough to fully screen the view. They will provide a distraction, in other words. Also, I've considered putting in some faster growing trees like leyland cypress between the slower growing ones - with a plan to remove them later as the others grow bigger. Thoughts on that option?

As far as budget goes, I am willing to invest in at least a few larger trees - 4-6 feet, or we might even spring for some professionally installed 10-foot trees on the side of the yard where the other house is the view to be screened. For the side where we're mostly screening their dog that poops every time we eat a meal - well they don't have to be quite so tall to have an effect there! In the next year or so, I will be putting in some deciduous trees and shrubs on our side of the evergreens, which I would expect to position between the evergreens for a thicker low screen (though again, height will take more time). So - a mix of sizes with some larger trees strategically placed.

Joyce, thanks for your suggestions as well. I will take a look at the link. A couple of those are already on my short list!

Oh - soil is the usual Tennessee red clay. But with the slope, it should have pretty good drainage. No standing water.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2009 at 4:36PM
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OK, here are some pictures taken last March. My husband is in them for scale. He's almost exactly 6 feet tall. Nothing wrong with the house we're trying to screen, mind you - but we're looking at the side and back of it. This is down a hill from our back porch. The white on the bottom of the pictures is the porch railing.

This is the left side - the magnolia was planted by our neighbor and is actually almost right on the corner pin. It is a smaller cultivar - not a standard Southern magnolia.

This is the middle.

And this is the right side of where we want to screen. The trees and shrubs would fill in from the magnolia to about where my husband is standing - which is about 100 feet from left to right.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2009 at 8:13PM
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toronado3800 Zone 6 StLouis(6)

Neat property and hill.

Just to throw in something different how about the ol' Ilex Opaca American Holly? Plant a male and a female and the female will get berries for added interest.

Here is a link that might be useful: American Holly at Hort.uconn

    Bookmark   October 8, 2009 at 2:52AM
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Thanks, Toronado - yes I would like to add some hollies for the berries. Of course, they are pretty slow growers, aren't they? But I think I can either use them on the right end, where I don't have to have as much height - or I can tuck them in between and in front of other things for the width.

I'm also thinking that I'm not as concerned with having height sooner on the right half of the area. So maybe it would be ok to use something that will get a tad bigger on the left side. If there are some things that will stay a bit smaller on the right, I won't get that claustrophobic effect from a 100 foot row (though I'm not planning on just a straight row, really - a little variation) of 100-foot tall trees in 40 years.

Other thoughts, anyone?

    Bookmark   October 8, 2009 at 8:42AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

i wish you had added one from him back towards you ....

what about some oaks.. halfway between the two of you???

i suspected the walkout basement... and high windows ... just to make the job all that much more problematic.. lol ...

if you could take the same pic .. with him halfway out... you would see how he is already encroaching on the house view ...

at most i would go with a 6 foot oak ... though bigger may be in the budget.. it is my opinion.. that it will get moving faster than a larger one ..

the other problem you might have.. is getting water all the way to the property line to take care of stuff for teh year or two they will need TLC ....

i am not real familiar with your zone ... so i am hesitant to specifically recommend exact trees ... but on my drives down 75 ... i seem to recall that redbuds are an option ... and rather fast growing trees ...

by placing one tree in the suggested location.. you can begin your process [finally].. and have more time to do other things down near the property line .... and do note .... if it were me.. i would be planting.. about 10 feet in from the property line ....

your county/state soil conservation district has plant sales in early spring.. at the appropriate planting time.. wherein they sell small plants at extreme discount ... though it may take years for the things to establish and provide the cover you want... it will be very cheap .. perhaps offsetting the cost of the tree in the middle ...

soil conservation includes windbreaks.. and for all practical purposes.. that is what you are doing down there ....

and they normally offer 'native' things.. which will require much less aftercare ...

thx for the pic.. i had the incline the opposite way [meaning you were in a hole]... this is much easier to work with ...

glorious lot size ... congrats... and good luck


    Bookmark   October 8, 2009 at 8:49AM
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Thanks for the additional comments. Yes, redbuds are wonderful here (native) as are dogwoods and serviceberries. I will be putting a few of those in front of the evergreens. The evergreens will be 10-15 feet off the lot line; the deciduous trees will be spaced closer to us depending on mature size of evergreens chosen.

Had not thought of oak, but there are many native to this area, I believe, and they do make lovely trees. I will also give some thought to bringing the trees farther up the hill right where we want to block the house view. I will have to check the exact location of the drain field, but that might indeed provide a bit faster screening, without going for the faster growing (eventually huge) trees.

Water shouldn't be a huge problem. We will need to get a longer hose, but I have a rain barrel located just behind the house, and we could use either the rain barrel or the outside faucet to feed a soaker hose around the trees. Have to roll up the hose to mow the lawn, but that's good exercise, right?

    Bookmark   October 9, 2009 at 9:27AM
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gardener365(5b Illinois USA)

Some ideas for you as a mixed planting:
Pinus strobus 'Stowe Pillar'
Thuja occidentalis 'Nigra'
Picea abies 'Cupressina'
Chamaecyparis nootkatensis 'Jubilee' 'Green Arrow'
Picea orientalis 'Skylands' (will need shade protection cloth for a few years - you build a circle around the tree and droop cloth over/around the tree).
Thuja occidentalis 'Hetz Wintergreen'
Pinus koraiensis (seedlings or cultivars) 'Anna', 'Silveray', 'Dragon Eye'/'Oculus Draconis'
Juniperus chinensis 'Blue Arrow'

I could think of more, however, that's a start.


    Bookmark   October 9, 2009 at 10:05AM
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Thanks, Dax! I will check into those varieties.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2009 at 1:10PM
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midtn(7a TN)

Wow, with your concerns about size I was expecting far less room.

I would mix it up.

For fast growth - White pine, Norway Spruce, Leylands, Cedrus Deodara, Thuja plicata, Thuja GG, Southern Magnolia, and Hemlock (If you are in Mid or East TN). Not evergreen but well worth it is Dawn Redwood (I think mine put on about about 6ft this year!)

For medium growth - Oriental Spruce, Lacebark Pine, Most larger hollies, Japanese fir, Nordmann fir

Slow - Junipers chinensis, Thuja occidentalis

gardener365 gave you some good suggestions. I have these in my yard. Picea abies 'aurea' (it is still small), Pinus strobus 'nana' and 'Biltmore Blue', Thuja plicata 'Zebrina', Juniperus virginiana 'Grey Owl', Cryptomeria japonica 'Sekkan Sugi', Picea orientalis 'Skylands', Chamaecyparis nootkatensis 'Jubilee', Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Crippsii' and 'Breviramea' and the straight species Tsuga canadensis, Pinus strobus, Picea abies, Picea orientalis, Abies firma, Abies nordmanniana, Pinus bungeana and Picea meyeri.

Oh and I wouldn't get caught up on size that much. Some of these will die, grow slower that normal, whatever. If something gets way to big just cut 'em down. And please add some Japanese maples in front of these evergreens!

    Bookmark   October 9, 2009 at 3:06PM
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toronado3800 Zone 6 StLouis(6)

The Holly will probably be slow to medium judging from how mine grow.

I love the excitement of planning all this. Dawn Redwood and the similar Bald Cypress are some of my favorites if you do have room for them.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2009 at 8:41PM
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gardener365(5b Illinois USA)

midn is exactly correct with species (trees) for you.

Just in case you don't understand that, if you purchase just seedlings, midn has given you all fresh ideas for trees that are not cultivars, which is what I offered to the perennial gardener, heh heh.

You can't go wrong, either way. My suggestions or his/hers. Just in case though that Abies nordmanniana becomes a favorite, it's the least likely on the list to do FAIR. Worth a try though.


    Bookmark   October 10, 2009 at 8:55AM
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midtn(7a TN)


I am surprised about how well the Abies nordmanniana is doing in my yard as well. It does have good drainage and a litte bit of high late afternoon shade. Still it came through the nasty summer we had last year (or the year before my memory is bad). Many days of close to 100F temps and little rainfall. Another one to try is Abies holophylla (it is hard to find). I don't have one but I saw one growing in Central Kentucky that looked great. No supplemental water.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2009 at 1:21PM
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johnstaci(Z5/6 NW MO)

I'll throw out species I've used for a similar mixed screen. I wanted something that would screen year round. 95% of deciduous trees are without leaves nearly 1/2 the year, but there are some such as shingle oak, scarlet oak, and others that hold their leaves throughout the late fall/winter. Here is the mix I used:

Norway spruce, white pine, eastern red cedar, shingle oak.

The shingle oak will be without leaves for about a month or two in early spring, but it adds some variety to the conifers. All are relatively fast growing and resistant to breakage.

Wanting a quick screen with not a lot of future height is a challenge.

Some recent articles I've read show that seedlings will be approx the same height as large b&b trees 10 yrs down the road. The seedlings overcome transplant shock many years quicker than the larger b&b trees which have 90% of their roots chopped during transplanting. You can buy 3-4' seedlings for less than 10 bucks each.


    Bookmark   October 13, 2009 at 1:58AM
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Thanks for the additional suggestions! I think things are starting to take shape in my mind. For one thing, I'm thinking of putting some faster-growing things that will ultimately be taller in between us and the house, with slower growing trees that may remain somewhat smaller toward the right side. There are so many beautiful types of evergreens that it's really hard to choose!

John, I have read similar information about starting with a smaller tree, and I think for the most part, I will be doing exactly that. Might get 2-3 bigger ones for the left end of the area (bed, lot line, whatever - I envision it as being somewhat irregularly shaped eventually - certainly not one row of trees, which looks too artifical IMO).

Midtn, thanks for your additional suggestions as well - especially since your climate is so similar to mine in East TN. I know some conifers don't like the heat and humidity of the SE, so it's good to hear from someone nearby!

As a matter of fact, I was just thinking this weekend that a Japanese maple would be beautiful in with the other deciduous trees in front, for some foliage color. I really want some brilliant fall color, spring/summer bloom, and winter berries to be highlighted against that wonderful green throughout the year.

I appreciate all the input - and I think I'm getting close to making some decisions. Have to get DH prepared to dig the holes for me now and check out what's actually in stock at local nurseries or by mail order. More fun! ;- )

    Bookmark   October 13, 2009 at 2:07PM
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gardener365(5b Illinois USA)

You could use Acer griseum, Acer truncatum for bark and fall color and they aren't weed trees. You won't have maple seedlings popping up everywhere. Both are heat tolerant.

Small trees with berries:
Heptacodium miconoides fall color is useless but it blooms in fall with fragrant flowers (look and smell like jasmine) and somewhat interesting bark.
Rhus chinensis


    Bookmark   October 13, 2009 at 6:49PM
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vvesper- All the conifer's mentioned are great choices. You can do what I have done trying to accomplish the same thing. I planted Picea pungens along the neighbor's drive, since they stay more narrow along with a lot of Poplar to create a quick screen, then planted Pinus strobus in front of them. That way I can get very fast and tall growth, with the denseness of the P. pungens behind there blocking the view. Then mixed here and there are some Jack Pine, Norway Spruce, White Spruce, Black Hills Spruce, Douglass Fir, Austrian Pine (Hate Them) etc. to give a "wild" look to it. Then when the Spruce get large enough, and the Pine get too tall, all I have to do is cut them down.

The Acer griseum that Dax mentioned is a paper bark Maple and really cool. The Girard Hybrid I believe will start showing the paper bark at a very young age. I don't know how Betula (Birch) will grow down there, if they do well, they are quick growers, kind of week though, but fill out nicely and the bark again adds a nice dimension. I planted the Heritage (Borer resistant) in March or April of 2007. It was a 6 foot B&B. It is now over 20 feet tall, and probably 6-8 of that from this year. Some great colored Jap. Maples are Acer palmatum 'Ukigumo'. Thrives on bad soil and neglect. Has a white-ish colored leaf, and beautiful reddish yellow in the fall. Another of my faves is the 'Japanese Sunrise.' The Ghost series have some cool variegated ones as is the 'Aekane Ie's' which is a really cool bamboo leaf Jap. Maple.

Awesome Property with SOOO many possibilities. Good Luck, and keep us apprised of the progress!


    Bookmark   October 13, 2009 at 7:58PM
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gardener365(5b Illinois USA)

River birch (Betula nigra) is about the only one I'd recommend. There is a white-barked species that also is very tolerant of heat, I can't remember which.

Good stuff everyone btw.

I would stay away from Pinus bungeana big-time though. It dislikes heat very much and will become very bare and prone to disease and borers (same with most Birch).

Probably same for Tsuga canadensis. Just too hot and dry there.


    Bookmark   October 13, 2009 at 8:34PM
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bernd ny zone5

Since you want to have mixed trees anyway, why not plant two temporary fast growing trees like poplar within the mix. You can always cut them down when the others have caught up. This way you will have instant height and it looks more like landscape and not like a nursery of baby trees. I grew up in an apartment on a 4th floor in zone 7, and the people living in a single family home 150 yrds away screened us out very effectively with poplars for the 25 years I lived there.

    Bookmark   October 14, 2009 at 8:51AM
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Dax is right about the birch - only river birch does well in this area. But it does have beautiful bark. Tsuga grows mostly at high altitudes in east TN, and there is afflicted with wooly adelgids. However, I am toying with the idea of planting one of the very low-growing, shrubby varieties of tsuga once the other trees are big enough to give it some shade. It might do ok then. I really like them, but they are a bit hard to grow here from what I've seen.

I will note the fact that pinus bungeana does not seem to like heat. That would definitely be an issue with our summers! Pinus strobus seems to do well here, if my neighbors' yards are any indication.

I am indeed thinking about filling in along the back with some quicker growers like leyland cypress or something that I could take out when it got too crowded.

So far the candidates I have in mind for the deciduous trees in front are various types of maples, redbud, dogwood, sweetbay magnolia, serviceberry (amelanchier species), witch hazel (hamamelis), washington hawthorn...

Of course, they will be on the north side of the evergreens, so I will need to be careful of placement, putting those that require full sun at the western end of the evergreens or something. I believe most of those species will take some shade, and as the lot line isn't due east-west, I will try to arrange to have all of them get some reasonable sun in summer after the evergreens are mature. They probably won't go in until at least next fall, though, as we will be planting and caring for evergreens this year - I hope soon!

    Bookmark   October 14, 2009 at 8:58AM
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There is a cv of River Birch that is very heat tolerant. Came out of Georgia I believe called Betula nigra 'Dura Heat'. It does have a little smaller leaf. The White Bark Birch that Dax mentioned is Betula papyrifera, the Paper Bark/White/Canoe Birch. They are beautiful trees, and the ones Indians used to make canoes out of, but I'm afraid you will have problems growing them. They are rated to Zone 7, but they DON'T like humidity. Grandpa had a huge one on his farm in western Ohio growing up, I have tried to grow them, but the years I planted them were rough, and they never made it. I think I still have a couple potted up out in the nursery, but I can't remember for sure. I want to grow one in my yard.

I used the Hybrid Poplar behind the Spruce and inline with Thuja to get height and block the neighbors house. I planted them all as 6-12" tall sticks in the middle of a blazing HOT July of 07 with a terrible drought. I watered them through August and then forgot about them. The ones that have been left to mother nature are about 6-10 feet tall, and there are a few on the back of a planting bed that are nicely mulched and very occasionally watered (not intentionally, just catch the sprinkler when watering the bed) and are pushing 20 feet or better with a lush full canopy and a trunk caliper of 8-10". I'm contemplating cutting those two down already b/c I'm not sure I like them there and are starting to put off a lot of shade.

That gives you an idea of how well they will fill in and grow to block the view, but they are still small enough to cut down easily. Not to mention that I paid about $2 a piece for them. Def. got my money's worth.


    Bookmark   October 14, 2009 at 10:44AM
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midtn(7a TN)

I have to say I am surprised to hear that Pinus bungeana does not like heat. Pleanty of that here around Nashville and there are some large and beautiful specimens at the Cheekwood Botanical Gardens. That was the reason I recommended them. I'll post some pictures later if I can find any. Most sites rate them suitable for zone 8.

Due to heat and humidity in TN I would stay away from:

Colorado Blue Spruce - try one at most not a group to see how it does or subsitute Atlas Cedar or one of the hardiest Deodar Cedars (Cedrus are much nicer IMO anyway)
Jack Pine (maybe pinus echinata or virginiana would be similiar?? Japanese black or white pines are nice!)
White Spruce (stick with Picea abies, omorika or orientalis there are thousand of cultivars to chose from. Most are grafted to abies which does fine here)
Black Hills Spruce (same as white)
Douglass Fir (Probably will look sickly, maybe Pseudotsuga japonica or sinensis??)

Don't look past some of the juniperus virginiana cultivars. Some are very nice.

    Bookmark   October 14, 2009 at 10:51AM
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Eliot, thanks for the info on growth of your poplars. Berndnyz5 also mentioned poplars, and I know some folks around here use them for effective screening. I'll consider those, too, as something to fill in with (along with perhaps the leylands -- which I can get small plants of pretty cheap, too). Not sure how thick the branches would be for winter screening, but certainly in summer they would be effective, and it sounds like they grow very fast!

I've got to sit down with DH and diagram out what we want where and see what we can get for reasonable prices at the local nurseries. I think for the most part we will start quite small, but might get a couple bigger trees to put right between us and the house for a more immediate screening effect (even if they won't totally block everything yet). We are getting close to time of first frost here, though it will be relatively mild most of the time another month or two in all likelihood. So I want to get these trees into the ground as soon as I can make some final decisions!

Great feedback from everyone - I really appreciate all the help!

    Bookmark   October 14, 2009 at 11:00AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

a great way to learn about what will grow near you.. is to visit an arboretum ....

a new post... here and in the tree forum.. most likely will get you recommendations within a nice drive of your location ...

look for a labeled collection ...


    Bookmark   October 14, 2009 at 12:33PM
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    Bookmark   February 3, 2010 at 4:27AM
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Not sure what that last post was all about...


I'm in TN and looking at your pics I noticed the heavy clay soil in your neighborhood. Only Oaks, Hickories, and Cedars thrive in this stuff, so don't waste your time thinking about soil ammendments. I have the same problem soil on my property, and just wanted to recommend to you that whatever you do, you plant in raised beds. I would recommend them to be substantial berms - a couple of feet tall and quite wide. There are several advantages to this. First, you're bringing in good top soil so the plants will love it. Second, it will instantly add height to your privacy "screen" without waiting for plants to grow. Third, I think maintenance is easier in raised beds, and lastly, I think they look darn good!

As far as species, I have a number of varieties of Pines, Spruce (including Blue spruce), Arizona Cypress, Cedar (deodar and atlantica), Boxwood, Holly, Yew, Juniper, Thuja, etc. that are all doing well here in Tennessee. Mix it all up and throw in some deciduous ornamentals and perennials, and you'll have a fantastic screen that's beautiful from both sides.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2010 at 11:35PM
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