Gardener Master: Foliage Protection | House and garden

Gardeners often ask about using plants as privacy screens. Foliage screens can provide privacy from traffic, unsightly views, and neighbors. Foliage screens add privacy, visual appeal and ambiance around the pool and patios.

Select foliage screens

Consider the dimensions of the area you want to block (height and width) and whether you want dense coverage or a semi-transparent screen. Other factors to consider include USDA zone, sun exposure, type of soil, and available space.

Select trees and shrubs that, when mature, match the dimensions of the area for the desired privacy screen. A good match eliminates the need for extreme pruning, which often leads to poor results. Proper spacing between plants will make your foliage screen look its best.

Moderate growers are generally better choices than fast-growing trees and shrubs. Starting with established plants is usually more successful than with very young plants. Because this screen is a long-term investment, it helps to know the lifespan of the plants, as well as their resistance to pests and diseases. Finally, choose what pleases the eye.

Some popular choices and methods

Holly are popular screen plants and provide a very large privacy screen when planted in a row. Hollies offer many choices, but few will fit your criteria. Holly can be evergreen or deciduous, of various shapes, heights and distribution, with different preferences for temperature, soil and light. Berries, leaves and branch density vary.

Nellie R. Stevens holly is recommended for most of Texas. It is a vigorous grower with dense branches. It works well and adapts to a variety of soils. This holly reaches a mature height of 20 feet and a width of 10 feet at its base.

Like holly, with its 500 species, numerous other species are often used as privacy screens. Think juniper, privet, also known as privet, yew, myrtle, viburnum, boxwood and magnolia. Each has its own characteristics and growing needs. Research can reveal ideal matches to meet your specifications.

If you have a specific plant in mind but prefer native ones, Lady Bird Johnson’s website,, can help you choose suitable native alternatives.

Evergreen or semi-evergreen vines can make excellent privacy screens. Consider the type of support they need, how well and how long it takes for the vine to cover an area, and how well they are behaving.

Ornamental grasses are good living screens. Blackstocking Napier grass makes a strong, dense screen for a large garden.

The feathery texture of pampas or fountain grass swaying in the breeze, casually mixed with other plants, creates a carefree feel.

Plants potted in large decorative containers make great privacy screens. The containers become part of the screen and increase the height of the plants.

A series of similar containers with the same type of plants make a pretty solid privacy screen. Alternatively, different types of plants can be strategically placed in a variety of containers to offset areas of the garden. Bamboo is suitable for tubs, but must be repotted regularly.

Layering can unobtrusively create a screen. If you have the space, consider adding some depth to your foliage screen by using informal rows of different plants, the tallest in the background, then medium height shrubs, then smaller ones, all blending into a slight layered effect rather than obvious stair treads to build .

Choose a combination of your favorite plants, maybe cherry laurel, bottle brush, Rose of Sharon, Texas sage, golden cestrum, grape vines, ornamental grasses. These plants offer a lot of variety, colors, sizes and textures – everything you could want in a beautiful garden. Your visitors only see the beauty, not the “screen”.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Visit the Victoria Educational Gardens to see how many of these plants do their jobs. Be sure to check out the unique leaf screen at the Officer’s Club entrance.

The Gardeners’ Dirt was written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational initiative of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension – Victoria County. Submit your questions to Advocate, PO Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or, or comment on this column on


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