En EspaŅol

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
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

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


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?


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

Prunus virginiana

More Privacy Screening Questions

Looking for an evergreen vine to grow on trellis as a privacy screen
July 11, 2015 - Hello, I'm looking for an evergreen vine to grow on a free standing trellis. It is used as a screen on our back porch, so ideally we would not like to use anything that flowers due to the insects ...
view the full question and answer

Evergreen Hedge for Austin
November 28, 2010 - Hello, We live in Austin and have a yard that is almost fully shaded. We have a few burford holly bushes there, but would like to add some evergreen interest. We would love a tall hedge (around 8 ft...
view the full question and answer

Alternate native plants for bamboo as a privacy screen in Austin, TX.
July 26, 2011 - Can you recommend a bamboo that I can plant, acting as a privacy screen, reaching at least 10'-12'? We are looking for a bamboo that does not spread, and can take the afternoon sun. It will be pla...
view the full question and answer

Plants for privacy in Round Lake IL
April 14, 2010 - I recently purchased a house in northern Illinois that overlooks a busy walking path. The yard is 80 feet wide and currently has a 4 foot chain link fence, but I would like to add something for priva...
view the full question and answer

Non-poisonous, non-allergenic plants for privacy fence
March 15, 2012 - I'm looking to put in some plants to create a privacy fence against one side of my property. I'd like a mix of plants that grow well together in order to create a diverse look. I need something ever...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center