CO-Horts Blog

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Privacy screens for the garden

 By Irene Shonle, CSU Extension El Paso County

Do you have a view from your yard that you’d rather not see?  Would you like to have more privacy from your neighbors?  Privacy screening is frequently on a gardener’s wish list, and can make your yard feel much more like a place where you want to hang out.

Some questions you need to figure before deciding on plants for a privacy screen include:

1.      1.        How much space do you have?  A very narrow space will dramatically limit your options.
2.      What kind of sun exposure does the area you want to screen have? Full sun will give you the most options, and increasing levels of shade will again limit your options.
3.      Do you need the privacy screen year round, or will a deciduous plant (that loses leaves work)?
4.      How tall do you need it to be? Often for sitting areas, plants don’t need to be taller than 4-6 feet.
5.      Does it need to be drought-tolerant, or can you give it extra water?

If you have both a very narrow space and a mostly shaded area, I would suggest that you will be better off with going with a hardscape option such as a fence.  Boring, I know, but sometimes, that is really the best solution. Another option would be to create a trellis and plant a shade-loving vine such as Virginia creeper or English ivy.  Beware that both of these vines can be quite aggressive, and the Virginia Creeper frequently attracts Japanese beetle.

If the space is narrow and sunny, you could grow one of the many honeysuckles (some of which have a sweet fragrance- none of which seem to be invasive in CO), sweet autumn clematis, native Virgin’s bower clematis,  other clematis, or Trumpet vine.  You could also grow a row of tall sunflowers.

If you have a sunny exposure with a bit more room, now you can consider more plants.

For evergreens in not-too-big spaces, consider some of the Rocky Mountain Juniper cultivars such as ‘Medora’, Skyrocket, or ‘Woodward’.  Non-native arborvitae also can work here. If you have more room, a full size evergreen that keeps its branches all the way to the ground such as a Blue Spruce (needs more water) or a Douglas fir (more drought tolerant) becomes an option.

Juniper 'Medora"

Some broad-leafed evergreen options include two native plants: curl-leaf mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius)  and Fremont’s mahonia (Mahonia fremontii).  The latter has fragrant yellow flowers in the spring, and red berries in the fall, but it also comes with sharp spines on the leaves – which can be a bonus or a problem, depending on your circumstances. A hardy boxwood or yew would be good non-native options.

Curl-leaf mountain mahogony-

Non-evergreen sun options can include two near-native plants – the spectacular grass, giant Sacaton (Sporobolus wrightii), which keeps flowering stalks throughout the winter, and the fragrant Cheyenne Mock Orange.  If you want a shrub that suckers to help improve the screen and provides great habitat, consider a chokecherry (Prunus virginiana). Lilacs, Rose-of-Sharon, Elderberry,Siberian Pea shrub and Viburnums, and Nanking cherry can also be good choices. 

Giant sacaton in the winter

Finally, for plants that can tolerate some shade, consider the natives red-twig dogwood (would appreciate some extra water) or Boulder raspberry (Rubus deliciosus), with large white flowers in the spring and reddish bark.

Boulder raspberry

For more information:


Native trees:

Native shrubs:



  1. Very helpful information. Thank you!

  2. Your timing is impeccable! I was just looking into this issue. Thank you for an extremely useful post.

  3. Terrific, timely article that offers a good variety of options. I appreciate your identifying the natives and near-natives. Thank you!

  4. Informative with good links to check out.

  5. I'd add "Straight Talk" columnar privet to the options list. Tolerates just about any kind of soil, loves the sun, and low water needs. I'm also a fan of Fine Line buckthorns. Mine are thriving -- taller than 7-foot max height on the plant tag, and very hardy.

    1. And, both are narrow, so are great for smaller yards.