Question: What type of plants could I use as a screen to protect my property from the wind and dust from the adjacent property?
Answer: North Carolina has a variety of adapted plants that could be used to screen off your property. When selecting plants, be sure to consider its maximum size, preferred growing conditions and the conditions of your site.
Years ago people planted Red Tips as a screen; however, they began declining due to being very disease prone. Next, people began replacing Red Tips with Leyland Cypress, which is having its own battle of problems with bagworms, mites, etc. Fall is the perfect time to plant evergreens. When choosing a variety to plant as a screen, consider its mature width and height, growing rate, and preferred growing conditions in order to select the best plants suited for your needs and site conditions.
If you are looking for a quick cover, you may want to select fast growing plants. One of the fastest growing evergreens for screening currently available is ‘Green Giant’ Thuja. This is a variety of arborvitae that will eventually reach 40’-50’ or more in height, and grows 15’-20’ wide. It is a great plant for large landscapes where a tall screen is needed, but may be too large for smaller lots. It grows best in moist, but well-drained soil and full sun. ‘Chindo’ Viburnum is another fast grower, reaching 15’-20’ in height and 8’-10’ in width within several years. This evergreen viburnum has large, shiny, dark green leaves and occasionally produces clusters of red berries in the fall. ‘Chindo’ Viburnum prefers to grow in moist, well-drained soils, but has good drought tolerance once established.
For fast screening in poor sandy soils, consider Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera) or Thorny Eleagnus (Eleagnus pungens). Wax Myrtle is a native evergreen with olive green foliage, growing to 8’-10’ in height and width within a few years of planting. One drawback of this shrub is its tendency to break apart during hurricanes, but it rapidly recovers even when large limbs break out. Thorny Eleagnus is an extremely vigorous shrub with a rather wild growth habit that will easily reach 10’-15’ in height and width. Thorny Eleagnus is a good variety for hedges on coastal properties because of its tolerance of salt spray and dry, sandy soils.
If you are working with a narrow space, there are some suitable upright evergreen varieties because they take up little horizontal space. Two of the narrowest evergreens available are ‘Spartan’ Juniper and ‘Emerald’ Arborvitae, both of which grow to 15’ tall and only 3’-4’ wide. The main difference in these two plants is the conditions in which they prefer to grow. ‘Spartan’ Juniper is great for sandy sites because it is very drought tolerant, whereas ‘Emerald’ Arborvitae prefers moist soils. Both grow best in full sun.
Several varieties of hollies are available that work well for hedges and screening due to their upright to pyramidal growth habits. The varieties ‘Nellie Stevens’, ‘Oakleaf’, ‘Festive’, ‘Robin’, ‘Needlepoint’, and ‘Emily Bruner’ all produce dense, dark green foliage year round and red berries in fall that persist through winter. Each of these varieties grow at a moderate rate to 15’ to 20’ tall and 8’ to 10’ wide, growing best in sun or part shade and well-drained soil, and are drought tolerant once established. Another relatively narrow evergreen with glossy dark green leaves that is great for hedges is Cleyera (Ternstroemia gymnanthera). This tough, adaptable shrub thrives in sun or shade, is drought tolerant, and will grow 10’-15’ tall and 6’-8’ wide.
To find out more about shrubs for North Carolina and how to care for them, visit the Shrub Fact Sheets on the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Urban Horticulture site: http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/factsheets/shrubs/index.html.
Reminder: A growing program this year is the “Sampson County Friends of Horticulture.” This program offers monthly “How To” Horticultural Seminars. Please call the Sampson County Cooperative Extension Center at (910) 592-7161 with your horticultural questions and to register for any upcoming events. Be sure to check out the Ask An Expert Widget at sampson.ces.ncsu.edu for any questions you may have.