As autumn settles in and leaves begin to fall and the days shorten, we look out the window and wistfully long for another spring, full of promise and new beginnings and fresh, enticing sights that beckon us into the garden. Winter doesn’t have to be an eyesore or a reason to shun the view out the window, though, and by planning (and planting) now you can ensure that the bleak outdoors isn’t quite so ho-hum. The easiest beginning is to start by adding the most impact with evergreens – any type of leaf is welcome in the winter, isn’t it? – and use them to both give some life to the view and to block unwanted “photo-bombing” of your view by the neighbors mess, busy street, or anything else you don’t want reminding you of the world beyond your private oasis. Screens can be any scale – towering multi-story curtains of green or smaller, human-sized fences just high enough to give privacy or hide a meter or bin. Noise reduction is a benefit anyone near a busy street will appreciate, and their ability to block and re-direct wind can also help protect more sensitive garden plants and keep your home from losing as much heat in harsh winter weather.
For large-scale screening jobs, Arborvitae (like ‘Green Giant’) and Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria) are two reliable standbys that grow quickly and are rarely investigated by deer. Unlike the fast-growing Leyland Cypress, they’re sturdier and seldom succumb to high wind damage, dieback, or poor root development. Arizona Cypress does well here and gives a great silvery-blue punch of color and tolerates drought very well, plus tastes bad to deer and grows fairly rapidly. You can even use Magnolias as screens – the Southern types are hardy here and have large, dark green leaves with fuzzy brown undersides. Dwarf forms exist so you don’t have a 40-foot monster to contend with. Sweetbay Magnolia is similarly small-statured and, while not 100% evergreen, typically enough leaves remain on in winter to interrupt a view. Their leaves are thinner, medium green and have silvery-bluish-white undersides, a nice feature when a breeze is blowing. If you have a shady spot (or shady in summer, at least), good choices include Hollies and Hemlocks. Hemlock needles are fine and soft, and most hollies will offer decorative berries in winter. If you prefer native and wildlife-benefiting, try Eastern Redcedar, our locally native Juniper that grows taller than wide and can offer blue-gray berries for migrating and overwintering birds and rich green foliage that serves as a great backdrop to other winter-interest shrubs.
Smaller-scale screens can serve as a tall hedge, lining a driveway, side yard, sidewalk, or simply used to hide a meter, curbside bin storage, or as filler underneath taller evergreens that have bare bottoms. Cherrylaurels are old standbys for this, as are Red-tip Photinia, which can turn into small trees if you don’t trim them and give them room to fill in. Taller forms of Japanese Holly and Euonymus work well too, especially if you like a manicured look, and the latter grows fairly fast and can be quite colorful all year. Deer like Euonymus, however, so if you’re plagued by those pests and need something durable, try Osmanthus instead. Otherwise known as False-holly (because their leaves look just like holly), they will surprise you with fragrant flowers late in fall, and their leaf spines will ensure that no one will bother them.
To me, the most interesting screen is a varied one. Where possible, mix evergreens so you get a range of leaf types and/or colors, as it adds interest and peace of mind that should something ail one of the plants, it’s not as likely to spread to the others. You can also better tailor each plant to its growing conditions, since often some parts of a row planting will receive more sun or water than others.
When you come out to browse for screening evergreens, it always helps to have photos of the site and rough measurements (how long is the space, how wide can it grow, and how tall can it get?). Fall is great for planting, though evergreens shouldn’t go in too late (Thanksgiving is getting late), so the earlier you can look at your options, the better. Wintering birds will appreciate the added habitat to hide in and roost out of the wind, and you’ll appreciate the feeling of seclusion while having more lively, verdant garden plants to look out at from the cozy window.