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

Friday - March 08, 2013

From: Brooklyn, NY
Region: Northeast
Topic: Privacy Screening, Shrubs, Trees
Title: Screening Suggestions in Brooklyn, NY
Answered by: Anne Van Nest


My neighbor directly in back of me has shrubs that are growing all over my fence. Also his 9-foot-tall shed facing me is rusted. What can I do to improve my view so that I can enjoy my backyard more?


It seems that you are looking for some tall and perhaps narrow plants that will block out the view of your neighbor’s overgrowing shrubs and rusty shed.  There are some pre-planning exercises that need to be done before you start to look at plant choices. Take a look at the soil condition (well-drained, soggy, sloped, etc.), sun exposure (morning sun, afternoon sun) and optimum height (to block the bad views to the backyard and house windows). This will give you a set of criteria that will narrow down your plant choices. You can select several different plants that will give you attractive flowering, foliage or fruiting features during different times of the year.

The first place to go to find a list of potential plants is our Native Plant Database. Use the Combination Search feature instead of Recommended Species. This will provide a bigger selection with much more choice to narrow down. The volunteers and staff at the Wildflower Center who maintain the database have partners in different regions to help with these recommended species lists based on what is easy to access in local nurseries.

Under Combination Search, select the following categories: New York, Habit (shrub or tree), and Duration – Perennial. You can narrow down this search further by indicating light requirement (sun, part shade or shade), blooming time, soil moisture (dry, moist or wet) and height specifics (6-12 or 12-36 ft.). Follow each plant link to our webpage for that plant to learn its growing conditions, bloom time, etc. At the bottom of each plant webpage, under Additional Resources, there is a link to the USDA webpage for that plant. Take a look there for more specific details about suitability before you put them on your final planting list. Think about including plants that have interest during a variety of seasons and that have more than one attractive feature (flower, fruit, foliage, bark, etc.) so you can get more benefits out of fewer plants.  

The width of plant choices is something that you will have to look at individually. Look closely at how much space your plants will have to see if the plants you select will be appropriate. It is quite difficult to make a plant fit into a space that is not right for the plant. I would hate to see a lot of money spent to plant a privacy screen and then not have the plants thrive because they weren't a good fit for the site. Time taken to research a good plant fit is well spent.

Some of the 6-12 ft tall shrubs to consider are:

Amorpha fruticosa (false indigo bush)

Amelanchier sanguinea (roundleaf serviceberry)

Corylus americana (American hazelnut)

Hydrangea arborescens (wild hydrangea)

Ilex glabra (inkberry) – evergreen.

Leucothoe fontanesiana (drooping leucothoe) - evergreen.

Lindera benzoin (spicebush)

Morella pensylvanica (northern bayberry)

Philadelphus inordus (scentless mock orange)

Physocarpus opulifolius (common ninebark)

Photinia pyrifolia (red chokeberry)

Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis (common elderberry)

Viburnum nudum (witherod) 

And here are a few selections from the 12-36 ft. category:

Cornus alternifolia (alternateleaf dogwood)

Salix discolor (pussy willow)

Shepherdia argentea (silver buffaloberry)


From the Image Gallery

Indigo bush
Amorpha fruticosa

Roundleaf serviceberry
Amelanchier sanguinea

American hazelnut
Corylus americana

Ilex glabra

Highland doghobble
Leucothoe fontanesiana

Northern spicebush
Lindera benzoin

Northern bayberry
Morella pensylvanica

Scentless mock orange
Philadelphus inodorus

Atlantic ninebark
Physocarpus opulifolius

Red chokeberry
Photinia pyrifolia

Common elderberry
Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis

Possumhaw viburnum
Viburnum nudum

More Trees Questions

Tree protection during construction
February 18, 2008 - What measures can/should be taken to ensure the health, future of live oaks while building a new home? There are many small to medium oaks on this property, some very close to the house site and the o...
view the full question and answer

Problems with Live Oak in Boerne TX
April 24, 2011 - I had my large Live Oak trimmed last year. This spring there seems to be a problem with leaf growth. Most leaves are small in nature and appear to have been attacked possibly by bugs. Many of the bran...
view the full question and answer

Can a Quaking aspen grow in central Texas?
August 11, 2015 - I live in Austin and like the idea of a Quaking Aspen tree. I live on a creek and the tree(s) would get good sun and water. Am I crazy?
view the full question and answer

A tap-rooted tree for Munroe Falls, OH?
August 16, 2012 - Hello.. We need to find a fast growing shade tree which has a tap root or a heart root system. No surface roots please. We live in Munroe Falls, Ohio which I believe is Zone 5. Let us know your though...
view the full question and answer

Poolside plants for East Texas
June 18, 2015 - What are the best plants, shrubs, ornamental trees, etc. for poolside planting in East Texas?
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