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

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Wednesday - June 27, 2012

From: Reading, MA
Region: Northeast
Topic: Privacy Screening, Shrubs, Trees
Title: Privacy Screen for Reading MA
Answered by: Brigid & Larry Larson

QUESTION:

Best tree to grow for a privacy screen - Hello, we recently moved into a new house in Reading and have an open area on the side of our house where we can make a privacy screen from our neighbors. What is the best trees to plant in MA?

ANSWER:

You’ve got a lot of options of very good native trees or shrubs, so the choice of “best” will fall very much to your preferences and to the specific growing conditions at your new house.  Mr. Smarty Plants generally bases his recommendations around the recommended species lists for the area sorted for desired characteristics. Mixed in are a few quoted previous answers for the area.  This should give you some good directions to consider.

The recommended species list for Massachusetts has 19 results when sorted for plants that are 12-36 foot high, so we’ve got lots to work with. 

One of the characteristics often mentioned as a choice is whether the tree is evergreen [all year privacy] or deciduous [do you really care in the winter!].  There were three native evergreens on the recommended list - Ilex opaca (American holly)Pinus virginiana (Virginia pine) and Rhododendron maximum (Great laurel).  This previous Mr Smarty Plants question was from Virginia, but recommends and discusses very similar species. 

I found two earlier questions that discussed evergreen privacy screens in Massachusetts.  Interestingly, one aimed as a relatively low species [arborvitae] while the other discussed quite tall evergreens!

The other direction is deciduous trees, the majority of the recommended list are these, and this gives me an opening to discuss a couple other possible attributes that should be considered.

If you choose a slow-growing tall tree as the major screen, you may want to consider interplanting a lower, faster-growing species to provide an intermediate screen for the first decade or so.  Rhododendron arborescens (Smooth azalea) is specifically mentioned as fast-growing.

Several deciduous trees are noted as ornamental, this can include either good flowers or fall colors.  Ones that caught my eye are Cercis canadensis (Eastern redbud), Cornus florida (Flowering dogwood) or Rhus copallinum (Winged sumac).   Another interesting attribute would be fruit and the bird attention that can bring.   Fruit trees on the Massachusetts list include Malus coronaria (Sweet crabapple),   Prunus serotina (Black cherry), and Prunus virginiana (Chokecherry).  Do pay attention to the warnings about the fruit you may choose!

Hope that this gives you something to think about in planning your privacy screen.  Enjoy your new house!

 

From the Image Gallery


American holly
Ilex opaca

Virginia pine
Pinus virginiana

Great laurel
Rhododendron maximum

Smooth azalea
Rhododendron arborescens

Flowering dogwood
Cornus florida

Flowering dogwood
Cornus florida

Winged sumac
Rhus copallinum

Eastern redbud
Cercis canadensis

Chokecherry
Prunus virginiana

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