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Tuesday - March 11, 2008

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Privacy Screening
Title: Native plants for privacy screen in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I would like some suggestions for plants to form a privacy screen between our backyard and our neighbor's. The site is shady, under old Texas Ash and pecan trees, and is located in North central Austin. I very much desire to plant natives, but my husband and my landscaper are pushing for non-natives such as ligustrum and bamboo. Thank You, Mr. Smarty Pants!


Pleeeease, it's Mr. Smarty Plants. And thank you for resisting the suggestions that you plant non-native ligustrum and bamboo.

Both the suggested plants are natives of the Far East and the Himalayas, hardly appropriate for a Texas garden. Apparently, one of the perceived advantages of both is that they are readily available, fast-growing and cheap. Let's start with the bamboo. Once you get it started, it can be really hard to stop. It is considered invasive in several parts of the United States, and your neighbors probably wouldn't thank you for the shoots that move into their space. Ligustrum sinense, according to this USDA Plant Profile, also can be weedy or invasive. So, allow us to make some suggestions you can use as ammunition when the battle of the privacy screens heats up again.

We went first to the GardenSmart Plantwise page on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website, under "Conservation." We clicked on "View List" under Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants. From the dropdown list we selected Phylostachys aurea (Golden Bamboo), and clicked on "find alternatives." Out of several suggestions we chose two with which we have personal experience and like very much:

Ilex vomitoria (yaupon) - evergreen, female plants have bird-attracting berries

Morella cerifera (wax myrtle) - evergreen, fragrant leaves, also has berries attractive to birds

When we used the same procedure to find alternatives to Ligustrum obtusifolium (Garden privet), we got several suggestions, one of which was, again, Morella cerifera (wax myrtle). But you don't have to confine yourself to just those shrubs. A couple more you might consider are:

Cordia boissieri (anacahuita) - semi-evergreen to evergreen 

Leucophyllum frutescens (Texas barometer bush - evergreen 

Because these shrubs are native and already accustomed to the soils and conditions of this part of the state, they will need less water, less (or no) fertilizer and will not be as susceptible to insects and diseases as the exotic non-natives.

Ilex vomitoria

Morella cerifera

Cordia boissieri

Leucophyllum frutescens




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