Trees provide a number of important services and benefits to the local environment, including a reduction in the amount of storm water flowing across the ground, improving biodiversity and lowering the local temperatures. But they also provide benefits to the humans who plant them, such as an increase in property values and improved aesthetics.
But trees can also serve as barriers. Some make great screens for blocking the wind, noise and nosy neighbors, and they are frequently installed specifically to address these issues. But many homeowners and property managers fail to consider what happens in the winter, when deciduous trees shed their leaves and stand bare in the winter winds.
Accordingly, evergreen species are strongly preferred for screening purposes. If you are interested in installing trees to cut the wind or provide more privacy, consider the five species detailed below.
White pines (Pinus strobus) are large pines with scaly bark and beautiful, blue-green needles. White pines grow relatively quickly, and most trees will put on more than 3 feet of growth each year during the time. While they do possess somewhat brittle wood and may shed the occasional branch in stiff winds, their spreading root systems tend to keep the trees upright in all but the strongest gusts.
White pines grow best in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 through 7, and they adapt well to most soils. White pines are susceptible to blister rust and white pine weevils, and whitetail deer are incredibly fond of the tender needles emerging from the distal ends of the tree’s branches.
It is important to note that open-grown white pines will typically retain their lowest branches, producing a very full silhouette. By contrast, white pines planted in hedges or clusters will typically shade each other’s lowest branches, causing the trees to discard them.
Loblolly pines (Pinus taeda) are some of the most widely planted trees across much of the southern United States. The loblolly pine grows best in USDA Hardiness Zones 6B through 9B, and they grow best in full sun.
Loblollies are hardy pines that grow well in most areas and put on a lot of height in a very short amount of time. Most specimens reach heights of 60 to 80 feet, but occasional specimens growing in excellent locations may exceed 150 feet in height. This can actually be a problem for those seeking to use the pines for a ground-level screen – they’ll quickly grow above the desired height, defeating their purpose entirely.
To address this concern, many homeowners opt for the ‘Nana’ cultivar, which only reaches about 20 feet in height, and develops a rounded crown. However, such cultivars fail to grow at the same rate as wild-type loblollies, which offsets their value slightly.
Most loblollies shed their lower branches as they grow, so be sure to install them with an eye toward safety. If your planting area is located near a home (or any place people frequent), select a different evergreen for your screening needs.
Green Giant Arborvitae
The Green Giant arborvitae (Thuja standishii x plicata ‘Green Giant’) is a handsome and hardy tree that grows well in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 through 8. Because of their narrow, pyramidal growth habit, they can be planted 5 to 6 feet apart, which is useful for screening your home or property.
Green Giant arborvitaes are very hardy trees, which are not as susceptible to pests and diseases as many other evergreen trees used in similar applications. Additionally, unlike many other evergreens, Green Giant arborvitae do not exhibit yellowing foliage during the winter – these trees retain their vibrant green color all year long.
Although some gardeners, growers and landscapers dispute the notion, Green Giant arborvitaes are typically considered one of the more deer-resistant trees that are useful for screening purposes. However, there are a number of factors that influence the feeding habits of deer, so your results may vary depending on your home location, climate and local deer population. They are normally sold as a hedge or “bundle”.
Norway spruces (Picea abies) are attractive, hardy evergreens who thrive in most planting conditions. Though they aren’t native to the United States (they originally hail from Europe), they’ve been planted throughout the country’s northern latitudes, and have become a familiar sight.
Norway spruces are the fastest growing member of their genus, but they lack the growth rate of some other evergreens, such as the pines or arborvitaes. If planted on a poor site, they’ll usually average about 1 foot of growth per year, but if planted on a bed of rich, acidic loam and given ample access to water and plenty of direct sun, they’ll often double this rate.
Norway spruces grow to about 50 feet in height when planted in suburban landscapes, although wild-grown individuals occasionally approach 200 feet in height in their native European homelands. and are among the most deer-resistant of the trees commonly used as screens or hedges.
Despite being called Norway spruces, these trees are actually not native to Norway. As has occurred in the United States, Norway spruces were introduced to the country by people.
The Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) is a moderately fast-growing evergreen with a very narrow mature form – while they may reach up to 60 feet in height, they rarely spread more than 3 to 6 feet. These are dense trees, often likened to green utility poles, but they are covered with very fine foliage, making them an attractive and unique addition to most landscapes.
Italian cypresses grow best with full sun exposure, and they do not tolerate cold temperatures well, so they’re best planted in USDA Hardiness Zones 7 through 11. They’re adaptable to most soil types, provided that they are only planted in well-drained areas (they are actually somewhat drought tolerant).
Several cultivars of the Italian cypress are available, including one that produces spreading horizontal branches, rather than the vertically oriented branches that characterize most other cultivars. However, these cultivars do not work as well for screening projects or hedges, so those desiring privacy should opt for the standard Italian cypress.
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