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Monday - October 11, 2010

From: Austin, TX
Region: Select Region
Topic: Privacy Screening
Title: Need evergreen privacy screen for Austin, Texas
Answered by: Marilyn Kircus


I need an evergreen privacy screen. I live in southern Travis County and have a 450 ft property line that has a view to about 10 -12 neighbors back yards. I need something that won't be nibbled by the deer that come through most nights, and drought tolerant or minimal watering would be perfect. Last year I planted a couple dozen Leyland Cypress trees, and only one survived last summer's drought, followed by the cold winter.


I’ll give you a short list of plants that might work for you.  But even though these plants are considered deer resistant, deer are likely to still eat them when they are starving or when the plant is putting on new growth.  I started a new garden this year in Dripping Springs and deer ate most of the things on the deer resistant list.  I had to put circles of 2X2” fencing that was 4 feet high around  all my shrubs and trees, including Texas redbud,  yellow bells, pecan, burr oak,  Monterey oak, Blanco crabapple, Mexican plum, rough leaf dogwood and  rusty blackhaw. They even ate several of my Juniperus ashei (Ashe juniper). The only things not protected that they didn’t eat was agarita, Texas persimmon, beautybush, wax myrtle and  dessert willow.   And  bucks will rub the bark off a tree, often completely girdling  and killing it even if it is on the deer resistant list.

So I suggest you provide protection for whatever you grow.  Read up and choose what you want to use.  I put up a 6’ fence so I could grow some of the plants I love and protected all the rest of my plants with their own individual fences. But you can use an electric fence, baited with peanut butter to get them to leave the area alone, or use the battery operated lures that you operate the same way only to protect one shrub. You can use one of the long-lasting deer repellents, such as Liquid Fence, especially the first year  and each spring while the new growth hardens, until the new growth is above the level of the deer.

And all plants need to be babied the first couple of years.  Fill the planting holes with water a couple of times and let it drain out just before planting.  Water once a week (every week without rain) for the first spring and summer months after you plant and then water deeply at least once a month (or two weeks after a 1-2 inch  rain) for the first year.  The second year, I usually just look at the plants.  If they look a little droopy, I water deeply.  And if we don’t get rain for several weeks, I water as a matter of course.  And always water slowly and deeply.  I always build a little moat around the plantings so I can fill it with water which will soak down around the plant.  I like to use either a soaker hose, or an individual 5 gallon bucket for each tree or shrub.  Put a tiny hole in the bucket and set it next to the tree/shrub and fill.  You could water a few of your trees/shrubs each day with this method.  But a soaker hose along a line of plants works great as well. And be sure and mulch to conserve water and keep the roots cool. Just keep the mulch about 6 inches from the trunk.

For a single species to solve your problem, try:

Ilex vomitoria (yaupon)  It is evergreen, has pretty red berries and makes a good wildlife plant. It is a great plant to use in a hedge because it grows dense and twiggy.  But it grows slowly so you would have to be very patient.  If you have friends in the country in Bastrop County, they probably have enough to let you dig up all you want.  You need male and female plants to have berries.  But you can usually only buy female plants. These are pretty trought tolerant after they get established but like a little more water than some others.

Morella cerifera (wax myrtle)This is a fast growing solution.  They are among the few plants of the shrubs and trees I raised that never had deer damage. They are also a draw for the little myrtle warblers.  My grandson’s school had several of them growing as small trees in Dripping Springs.  But they will also grow as large shrubs if you encourage them.  They are evergreen and require male and female plants to make the fragrant berries. Once established, they are drought and flood tolerant.

Sophora secundiflora (mountain laurel)  – This is another plant deer have never eaten.  It comes up naturally on my daughter’s property and even the smallest seedlings seem safe from the deer. And I like the grape koolaid fragrance of the blooms.  It prefers part sun but I’ve also seen it successfully grown in full sun. However it is quite slow growing and very expensive to buy large plants.

Leucaena retusa (Goldenball Leadtree)  This is a gorgous evergreen tree  with blooms that look like fluffy yellow balls. It grows in sun or part shade – blooms April to October.  Deer will eat the leaves.

 Cupressus arizonica (Arizona cypress) is a beautiful, fast-growing evergreen that is used for windbreaks.  It grows 30-40 feet tall and 15 -20 feet wide.  You will have to protect it from deer for several years or they will make it have a trunk as tall as a deer can reach, rather than growing to the ground.

Juniperus virginiana (Eastern red cedar) This tree can be used as a screen.  In the formal garden at the Wildflower Center, one is kept sheared and has the shape of an Arizona cypress. And here is an article that tells you how to transplant it from the wild.  Just be sure you have permission from the landowner. Deer never seem to eat it.

If you have a depth   of twenty forty feet along the back of your house, instead of an hedge line, (or double hedge line for better coverage) ,  you could  plant a mix of trees and shrubs and use both deciduous and evergreen.  If you think about sight lines from your house  to those of your various neighbors, you can plant your trees and largest evergreen shrubs so they are in the sight lines between your windows and neighboring houses. Use deciduous understory trees and shrubs , where you don’t have sight lines to other windows or have a couple of them in the same sight line and the branches will give you privacy.   But don’t put anything on a straight line, but rather zig and zag with your plantings within a defined area.  In this way, you could have a much more natural area and bring in many more plants which, in turn, will provide food and shelter for many more birds.  But you may have two or three plants on the same sight line. You could use all the plants used for the hedge and add cedar ash trees which are very tough and have beautiful yellow fall foliage. You could also use Ilex decidua (Possumhaw)  which stays covered with red berries all winter.  So, although it is deciduous, the berries themselves would provide privacy.

A wonderful little tree is Chilopsis linearis (Desert willow).  My pair, along with  wax myrtle and Texas mountain laurel, are the only trees outside my fence that the deer have left totally alone. They grow moderately fast and bloom most of the summer and early fall.  Some varieties are denser and some more airy. And the flowers are white, pink or almost purple. They will be deciduous here.  But you might like to have them as part of  the mix.  They would look great close to the house with a background of  evergreen shrubs.

For fastest privacy, use a trellis of stock wire and posts and grow Campsis radicans (Trumpet vine)Bignonia capreolata (Crossvine), and/or Passiflora incarnata (Purple passionflower).  You can build flat or three dimensional trellises and put them where you need the most privacy.  You might want them closer to your house windows but still part of your line of sight to your neighbors.  I’ve see stock fencing cut into 1-3 foot widths X 6+ feet high.  Three pieces are wired together to make a three dimensional trellis. Drive lengths of rebar inside the trellis and wire it to it to stabalize it as your plants grow. You could also plant the plants inside the trellis and they will help stabalize it.  Trumpet vine,  passion vine, cross vine are all pretty fast growers and will cover the trellis within 2 years.  Trumpet vine is very aggressive and will send out runners, so don’t plant it where you can’t contain it by mowing. Passion  vine is also a very aggressive grower but you may have to protect it from the gulf fritillary butterfly, for which this is a host plant, at first.  Then hopefully you’ll get the butterflies naturally and they’ll keep your passionflower in check.

Finally, I used the Wildflower Center’s plant suggestions for your area.  This information is under the Explore Plants tab, Recommended Species, then go to the Central Texas area on the map. Then I narrowed my search to trees that would get full sun and grow in dry soils and got this list.

I did it again for shrubs that grow in the sun or part shade in dry soils and get six feet or taller and  got this list

Gardening in Deer Country  was written by Skip Richter, former Travis County Extension Horticulturist so its advice should be useful.

Here is another article on deer resistant plants.

Ilex vomitoria

Morella cerifera

Sophora secundiflora

Cupressus arizonica

Juniperus virginiana


Leucaena retusa












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