Fast Growing Privacy Trees & Tips For Planting Evergreens

Are you looking for fast growing privacy trees for your backyard retreat?When we moved into our builder-grade home 18 years ago, there was no driveway and our yard consisted of nothing but mud. Our back door was a second story drop that was barred-off for safety. The very back of the lot was untouched creek/woodland with several downed trees and a bunch of huge grape vines strung along the healthy ones. I remember thinking how nice it would be to just have a lawn.

Green Giant Western Cedars planted for privacy in a backyard.
Spring 2020
Green Giant Western Cedars planted for privacy in a backyard.
Spring 2014

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We’ve come a long way since those days and made many mistakes. But, our little backyard retreat is finally the way we envisioned it all those years ago. I share all of this because there are many things to consider when planting trees and shrubs. Maybe some of our failures and successes can help you.

THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE YOU PLANT

Some common questions you’ll likely encounter from your local nursery are:

  • How much space do you have?
  • Do you have full shade, partial shade or full sun?
  • Is their good drainage?
  • What position does your lot face?
  • Are you up for watering regularly?
  • What planting zone are you in?
  • What type of soil do you have?
  • Do you need plants and trees that are deer resistant?
  • Do you want your plantings to have year-round interest? (i.e. evergreen, berries, flowers)

These are all important questions to answer before you go to your local nursery and begin purchasing items. If you are planning to buy a large volume of shrubs & trees, many nurseries offer a complimentary one-time consultation. These are usually done by appointment only and you will need to bring in answers to the above questions in order for them to help you.

We took out the blueprints of our house and property topography and made notes on it, including things like north, south, east and west, so we had an idea of the amount sunlight. Next, we watched the sun’s pattern, which changes throughout the seasons. We also took note of the shadows that our house and the houses around us cast in the yard. All of this information will help your local nursery point you in the right direction for plantings.

DIFFERENT TYPES OF PRIVACY TREES AND LESSONS WE’VE LEARNED

The privacy trees we have tried in our yard are Emerald Green Arborvitae, Skyrocket Junipers, Blue Point Junipers, Balsam Firs, Serbian Spruces and Green Giant Western Cedars. I will list our experiences from worst to best.

EMERALD GREEN ARBORVITAE: We had these trees for about five years. We planted three of them as a screening along our driveway and they were growing beautifully. Then we had a really cold, hard winter and the deer adapted to eating them, even though they were considered ‘deer-resistant’. By the end of the winter they had completely eaten the bottom 4 feet of the trees bare.

We now steer clear of most species of Arborvitaes. The popular Thuja Green Giants are a member of the Arborvitae family. Trees are expensive and labor intensive to plant and care for. We just didn’t want to take a chance that the deer would damage them again.

JUNIPERS: We had three Sky-rocket Junipers that grew quickly on the southern side of our house in full sun. They were tall, evergreen, deer resistant, and did well in dry, sunny locations. I was sure these were the perfect privacy tree, until a storm blew the trees down. This surprised us because we planted them along the house for protection. We tried to stake them back up, but with not luck.

In place of the Emerald Green Arborvitae, we planted Blue Point Junipers along our front driveway. They are beautiful evergreen trees, but the snow weighs the branches down in the winter so we have to tie them up during the winter months.

Juniper trees along front driveway planted as privacy hedges.

SERBIAN SPRUCE: We planted four Serbian Spruce trees along our backyard border. The first two years, they were growing well and I thought we had some winners. But the third year they started turning yellow and dropping needles. By the fourth year, three of them died. I still have no idea why. This is the only one left, but it is doing well.

Serbian Spruce tree planted as part of a backyard landscape.

BALSAM FIRS: The balsam firs in our yard are too young for me to comment on. I love their conal shape and the fullness of their branches. I’m hoping for the best, but time will tell.

Picture of a balsam fir used in backyard landscaping.

GREEN GIANT WESTERN CEDARS: Finally, this brings me to the Green Giant Western Cedars. I have to say, I’m in love with these trees. We have had them for six years and they have grown from approximately 7 feet tall to over 17 feet tall in that time. They cover the unsightly underside of our raised deck and also provide privacy while on the deck. The deer don’t seem to like them, although we still fence them from December through March. We just don’t want to take a chance. I’ll share more about these trees further down, as these are the ones that I recommend, with caution.

I share all of these experiences, to let you know there are no guarantees that any tree will survive in your yard. I know all to well that I could be highly recommending an evergreen and find out in the years to come that there is a problem with it. We always use great care when selecting, planting and caring for our trees, but sometimes they are just unpredictable.

GREEN GIANT WESTERN CEDARS: A GOOD CHOICE FOR FAST GROWING PRIVACY TREES

In the six years we’ve had these trees, I have yet to encounter any problems with them. They are fast growing evergreen trees that grow in a conical shape. The foliage is green year round, but in the winter the tips of the branches turn a light bronze tint. They are hardy in zones 5 to 8 and seem to shed snow easily in the winter without damage. They will grow in partial shade to full sun. I have not noticed any bugs or fungus.

Green Giant Western Cedars planted for privacy in a backyard.

The branches are soft. I have an allergy to pine and I love that these branches don’t bother me. I use clippings in the winter to decorate my house and make Christmas wreaths.

Branches on a Green Giant Western Cedar tree.

The tag from the nursery states that these trees grow 20′ tall and spread 6-8′. However, when I did a google search it states that they can grow 40-55′ tall by 14′-16′ wide. I personally think this is in ideal growing conditions, like when they are planted by themselves, out in the middle of a field.

We planted our trees about 4.5 feet apart (stem to stem), knowing they would grow together to create a natural screen. I want to note that this is not the recommended method for planting them. So far they haven’t grown wider than 6 feet and we have never pruned them. I’m actually hoping that planting them close together will stunt their growth, but we will have to wait and see.

The good news is you can shear them twice a year to prevent them from spreading too wide. It’s important not to take off all of the greenery, as it may not grow back. We also noticed that the back side of the tree under our deck is partially bare. This part of the tree doesn’t receive any sunlight.

PLANTING GREEN GIANT WESTERN CEDARS ALONG A FENCE

After trying many different evergreen trees in our yard, the western cedars grew fast, created a natural living fence and appear to be deer and bug resistant. So this year, (6 years after testing them out) we decided to plant a row of them along the other side of our property. Our only concern was the width of the trees at maturity. After reading up on them, it is recommended they be planted 6 feet from the property line or fence.

Fast growing privacy trees planted in a row along a backyard fence.

In our small backyard, we don’t have 12 feet to sacrifice for trees. So, we decided to plant them 4.5 feet apart and leave a 3 foot gap between the tree and fence. This probably means we will need to shear them twice a year to keep the width in check, but I’m not sure. Our original trees only grew to a width of 6 feet, yet they are 17 feet tall.

I’m OK with taking on this responsibility for the privacy and beauty the trees provide. I’m hoping to cut them just after Thanksgiving and use the clippings for the holidays.

I will try and update this post as the trees grow to let you know how it worked out. I’ve seen some landscape companies plant these trees in two rows, staggering the trees for privacy. If you have the space in your yard, I think this would be the ideal situation.

HOW TO PLANT EVERGREEN TREES

It’s always best to plant trees and shrubs during early spring or fall.

When planting trees, you want to dig the hole 2-3 times larger than the diameter of the root ball. We like to plant our trees in raised beds. Most of our soil is clay, so we remove it and back fill the hole with a nice bedding soil.

How to dig a hole for evergreen privacy trees in the backyard.

Our trees came with a wire cage around burlap that was tied tightly to the tree trunk. The first step was to bend the cage off of the root ball and remove it. Then we used a utility knife to cut the nylon ties that were holding the burlap to the root ball. This process will take more time than you think, as the ties are wrapped around the trees multiple times. We removed all of the nylon cording and metal cages but kept the burlap on the root ball.

Removing the metal cage, twine and burlap from the root ball of evergreen trees before planting them for a privacy screen.

Then we placed the tree in the hole and positioned it. At this point, one person would tilt the tree while the other person removed the burlap. We tried to take the burlap off before placing the tree in the hole, but the root ball crumbled away.

The top of the root ball (near the stem) should be raised up about 2-3 inches from the surrounding soil, so the soil slopes down away from the stem.

Once the tree is placed and the hole is back-filled about a quarter full, we double check that the tree is strait and then finish filling the hole. Be sure to step the soil in around the tree to remove any air pockets from the soil.

Planting fast growing evergreen trees along a fence for privacy.

Place some Holly-Tone (for evergreen trees) around the drip line of the tree. Follow the instructions on the bag for the proper measurement. Then cover the soil with a good two inches of mulch, leaving a two inch gap around the trunk of the tree without mulch.

You can now go back and cut the tags off of the trees. I keep one of the tags in a folder for reference, so I can remember what kind of trees we planted.

WATERING YOUR NEW TREES

Newly planted trees should be regularly watered for the first two years after planting, especially during hot/dry weather. We found the easiest way to do this was to invest in some ‘soaker’ hoses and a timer.

Soaker hoses are different than regular hoses. They are made from a black soft rubber that has tiny holes throughout it. This allows water to drip from the hose slowly without over-watering the area.

Soaker hose placed along the drip line of an evergreen tree.

Run the hoses around each tree at the drip line of the tree. Connect a timer to your outdoor faucet and then connect the hose to the timer.

Timer attached to outside faucet for a hose to water trees.

The timer we purchased has a manual override to delay the scheduled watering if it rains. We run our soaker hoses in the summer for about 30 minutes a day. If it’s a really hot dry day, we run them a little longer. Soaker hoses keep the job low maintenance, but ensure our trees have the best chance of taking root and growing healthy.

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Fast growing privacy trees for backyard privacy.
Fast growing privacy trees for backyard privacy.
Fast growing privacy trees for backyard privacy.

I hope you found this article helpful as you decide which fast growing privacy trees are right for your backyard retreat.

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4 Comments

  1. Great article!

    Like you, I too purchased Emerald Green Arborvitae, only to learn later they’re essentially “deer food.” I’m being encouraged to plant Thuja Green Giants for privacy screening, but I don’t want to take the chance of investing in more Arborvitaes.

    The Green Giant Western Cedars you have pictured are gorgeous, and just the look I’m going for. Unfortunately when I google the name, the results I get are of nurseries selling “Thuja Green Giants.”

    Can you share where you purchased your Green Giant Western Cedars, and/or the nurseries you’re aware of that carry them?

    Thanks! By the way, I’m in zone 7, Maryland.

    1. Hi Florida. We are in zone 5 and purchased them from our local garden center. I can’t give you a reference for your area. I would suggest you find a local garden center to purchase them. If they don’t carry them, ask for a reference. Be specific about the name as there are many varieties that look the same.

  2. Green Giant Western Cedar is Thuja Green Giant (Arborvitae). Same thing. Cedar is the generic name for Arborvitae.

    1. Hi Bailie. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. I just wanted to include the exact name that was on the tag of the trees we purchased. I’m sure this comment will help others.

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