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Creating a Green Screen in the Garden

By Katie Sloan
In p. Allen Smith
Nov 30th, 2017


When the colors of the garden start to fade, you may find yourself longing for the days when they were abundant in the garden and green grass seemed to be at every turn. While you may not be able to enjoy that particular view until spring arrives again, evergreen shrubs and trees can provide you with a lush, verdant backdrop that’s as beautiful in November as it is in May.

Aside from the vibrant color, there are a number of other reasons to plant evergreens. Large trees can create a screen to provide privacy that won’t wane with the seasons. Additionally, these trees and shrubs can create a buffer or noise barrier between your garden or home and busy streets or loud neighbors.

Whatever your reasons may be for introducing evergreens to your garden, here are five of my favorite shrubs and trees to plant.

Boxwood – My garden would not be complete without boxwoods. I use them to create living walls, punctuate entries, and serve as focal points. The bright green foliage pops against the gray winter landscape. You’ll want to plant these workhorse shrubs in full sun to partial shade in fertile, well-drained soil. Even though they are shrubs, they can grow up to 5 feet tall and 4 feet wide, depending on variety.

Trust me when I say that you will not be disappointed with the green foliage these timeless classic beauties bring to your lawn. Keep in mind some boxwoods will “brown out” in the winter, so choose a variety that retains its green color. At Moss Mountain Farm, we plant the Green Velvet boxwoods.

Arborvitae – These green beauties have a natural conical shape and are often grown as a tree or tall shrub. Planting arborvitae in a row close together is a great way to create a natural fence. The plants grow best in full sun to partial shade and need well-drained, slightly acidic soil. I like to use arborvitae as a background so that flowers and shrubs “pop” against them.

Arborvitae can withstand the weight of ice and snow. I recommend the ‘Emerald Green’ variety, which holds its color through winter. The foliage of the ‘Green Giant’ tends to bronze when the temperatures drop.

Yew – Similar in style to boxwoods, yew trees are also a staple in English gardens. They are particularly beautiful when used to create the walls of a garden room. However, you should know that all parts of the yew are poisonous. Therefore, you should not bring them in from the garden or ingest any part of them. Plant them in full to partial shade in well-drained soil. Yews prefer a drier soil rather than wet, so water carefully.

Holly – Hollies grow quickly, making them a great choice when creating screens or hedges. Most hollies require full sun and well-drained soil with some acidity. They are low-maintenance and pest-free, for the most part.

There are plenty of varieties to choose from. If you want to grow hollies for their berries, you’ll need to make sure you have some male plants around for pollination, since only the female plants produce berries. Keep in mind that those pretty berries are poisonous for dogs and humans, so be careful! I like to use cuttings from my hollies in holiday decor around the farm.

Leyland Cypress – Perhaps one of the most popular and often-seen plantings, the Leyland Cypress will grow quickly wherever you plant it if you continue to water. They make excellent privacy screens; however, be aware that over time they often grow 50 feet high (or taller in many cases), meaning you’ll need plenty of space in order to plant them and watch them continue to mature through the years. Plan for 5 to 7 feet between each cypress tree and assume they will be 10 to 15 feet in height after 5 years of maturation.