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The Best Tree for a Privacy Fence

By Ruth de Jauregui
Image of trees around a backyard.

Whether using trees as a privacy screen or to conceal a privacy fence, the right choice also can provide summer shade, shelter from winter winds and/or homegrown fruits. A narrow space between two houses may require a creative gardening solution, but if you have a 12-inch-wide space in your side yard, then you have room for a row of trees.

Always Green Evergreens

Evergreens in a snow covered backyard.

Evergreens are efficient year-round privacy screens and wind blocks. When you want to block the view from a two- or three-story house, consider using tall evergreens such as the 3- to 6-foot-wide Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens), hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7b through 11, or a row of 12- to 20-foot-wide "Green Giant" arborvitae (Thuja standishii x plicata "Green Giant"), hardy in USDA zones 5 through 7. If you prefer a shorter evergreen, then consider "Techny" arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis "Techny"), which is hardy in USDA zones 3 through 8 and grows 12 to 15 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide.

Tropical Paradise

The bamboo palm thrives in shade.

When selecting trees suitable for both privacy and as a backdrop for a tropical garden, a palm tree may not immediately come to mind. A clump-forming species, hardy bamboo palm (Chamaedorea microspadix) grows up to 8 feet tall on multiple stems. It grows best in shade or dappled shade and is hardy in USDA zones 8 through 11. Another clumping plant suitable for tropical gardens is red clumping bamboo (Fargesia nitida "Jiuzhaigou"), which technically is not a tree. Hardy in USDA zones 5 though 9, it thrives in partial shade and full sun, and it grows up to 12 feet tall and 6 feet wide, providing a dense screen of stems and foliage.

Narrow Fruit Trees

An apple tree growing in a backyard.

A sunny but narrow side yard or courtyard can provide a variety of fruits from a row of columnar fruit trees. These small trees also grow well in planters, which can be arranged into a privacy screen or scattered on a patio. Columnar apple and crabapple trees (Malus pumila) and pear trees (Pyrus communis), all hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9, as well as sweet cherry trees (Prunus avium), hardy in USDA zones 5 through 9, are among the columnar fruit trees available to gardeners. Although some varieties naturally grow into a columnar shape, others may require pruning to maintain a 2- to 3-foot width and height of 8 to 10 feet tall.

Living Fence

Closeup of fresh pears hanging from a tree branch.

In extremely narrow spaces, the classic espalier may solve a privacy problem. Trees trained onto a trellis are decorative elements in winter and have foliage that provides privacy during summer. The Belgian fence is used as both a fence and screen; its diagonal wires make a diamond-shaped pattern. Among the trees used for espalier are apples, pears, Chinese redbud (Cercis chinensis), which is hardy in USDA zones 6 through 9, and sweet bay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana), suited for USDA zones 5 through 10. Espalier trees require extra maintenance and pruning to keep them growing in a relatively flat pattern. Always disinfect your pruner's blades between cuts using a solution of equal parts water and rubbing alcohol to prevent the spread of plant diseases.


About the Author


With degrees in fine and commercial art and Spanish, Ruth de Jauregui is an old-school graphic artist, book designer and published author. De Jauregui authored 50 Fabulous Tomatoes for Your Garden, available as an ebook. She enthusiastically pursues creative and community interests, including gardening, home improvement and social issues.