En Español

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

rate this answer
3 ratings

Thursday - June 23, 2011

From: Matawan, NJ
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Shade Tolerant
Title: Shady shrubs for an ugly fence in New Jersey.
Answered by: leslie Uppinghouse


What type of tree or shrub can I plant in 07747 NJ to cover an ugly fence that gets little or no sun. Thanks


The best way to find a variety of plants that will work for your situation, is to utilize the recommended species section of our website. Here you can look up native species that are commercially available for your state. Once you have the full list of plants recommended for New Jersey, narrow your search, with the criterias of shade, shrub, and or, tree. With these found lists you can look through the selections and pick out the plants you like best. 

When considering a shrub or tree for an area near a fence you have to be careful to research the maximum size of the plant. You can do this by clicking on the plant name or photo, this will give you the details that you need and photographs of what they will look like fully grown. You want to plant your shrub or tree far enough away from the fence so that when this plant has matured it isn't squashed on one side or pushing too hard against the fence. It is also neighborly to consider what or who is on the other side of that fence. Try to be consciences of how adding a tree especially, might change your neighbors conditions in their yard; blocking light in their vegetable garden, would be a good example.

Ilex opaca (American holly) would be a good choice. This holly does very well in even a deep shade. It is evergreen and can take pruning. In the winter it is especially nice to have for the berries. Berried sprigs from a holly can last a surprisingly long time out of water and make wonderful wreathes during the holidays. Thuja occidentalis (Arborvitae) is an evergreen that does well in crowded spaces so if your area does not have a lot of room, you can plant this tree fairly close to the fence. In doing so, it will actually grow more upright than if you plant it farther away. Kalmia latifolia (Mountain laurel) is another evergreen option, although this plant needs some horizontal room to really look its best. It has lovely flowers which is a plus for plants in the shade. Rhododendron maximum (Great laurel) is an evergreen Rhododendron. This too, looks best if you have some room for it to grow wide as well as tall. It is a dense rhody and if this works for your space, you will never have to see that fence again. 

There are many lovely flowering understory trees and shrubs that would work with your conditions, but many of them are deciduous, meaning they won't have leaves through the winter. You can use these and add other perennial shrubs and flowers in combination to have coverage all year long. So don't discount the idea of grouping some plants together to solve the problem. Play with the search options and see what you come up with.


From the Image Gallery

Mountain laurel
Kalmia latifolia

Great laurel
Rhododendron maximum

American holly
Ilex opaca

More Shade Tolerant Questions

Erosion Control for a Shaded Slope in Aliquippa PA
May 07, 2014 - What plants. shrubs or trees can I plant to retard soil erosion on a steep shaded hillside in PA
view the full question and answer

Native violets under maples from Gettysburg PA
July 06, 2012 - Just for your info (no need to post or reply), I saw an old post of a question of something to grow under maples. In central PA, native violets grow very well under several species of maples in lawns...
view the full question and answer

Grass to grow in the shade of pecan tree
December 10, 2008 - Dear Mr. Smarty Pants, We have an enormous pecan tree in our backyard that had grass underneath the breadth of the branches, but not around the trunk. The grass isn't doing well (though we did fai...
view the full question and answer

Deer-resistant shade shrubs for Lago Vista, TX.
June 24, 2010 - I purchased a home in Lago Vista, Tx. It has a very shady front yard. I want to plant some blooming shrubs that THE DEER WON'T EAT! I would prefer native plants for the area. What should I look f...
view the full question and answer

Stream Bank Erosion Control for Bryan/College Station
August 16, 2012 - I live in the Bryan/College Station area and need a ground cover to abate erosion on the bank of an intermittent stream. The bank is shaded. Do you have any suggestions?
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center