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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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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

QUESTION:

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?

ANSWER:

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

Inkberry
Ilex glabra

Highland doghobble
Leucothoe fontanesiana

Northern spicebush
Lindera benzoin

Northern bayberry
Morella pensylvanica

Scentless mock orange
Philadelphus inodorus

Common ninebark
Physocarpus opulifolius

Red chokeberry
Aronia arbutifolia

Common elderberry
Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis

Possumhaw viburnum
Viburnum nudum

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