17 Privacy Trees and Shrubs for the Midwest
Ready to hide the view of a neighbor's patio, enclose a pool deck or buffer the noise of a nearby street? Midwest tree expert and author of Landscaping with Trees in the Midwest ($27, Amazon) and ABCs of Trees ($20), his newest book for children. Scott Zanon says many trees and shrubs can be planted tightly to form hedges, groves and screens to offer a solution. Many also add multi-season beauty and support wildlife. The key is to select the right tree for the right place whether shady and wet or cold and windy. Here are 17 favorites to try.
Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata):
Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata): These fast-growing evergreens form green walls for instant privacy and require regular pruning to maintain their size and shape. They create lush backdrops for colorful perennial borders. While deer browse can be a problem with some Thujas or arborvitaes, this species is more deer-resistant. Look for the new 'Junior Giant,' a more compact successor (15-20') to the famous hybrid 'Green Giant' (30-40'). Zone 5.
Related: An Ohio Landscape Designer Transformed His Yard into an English Garden with a Midwest Twist
Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)
This graceful evergreen thrives in shade and prefers acidic soil and protection from winds. It's the perfect choice for screening along a north-facing patio. Plus, birds love to nest in its sweeping branches. Mature height: 40-70'; Zone 3.
Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)
This handsome tree with its long soft needles makes an excellent windbreak or screen. It prefers full sun to part shade and moist, well-drained acidic soil. The tree can be pruned especially if it grows too wide. For a narrower upright variety, try 'Fastigiata'. Mature height: 50-70'; Zone 3.
Related: Fast-Growing Trees for Midwest Yards
Dawn Redwoods (Metasequoia glyptostroboides)
For privacy along neighbor lines of larger properties, try planting a grove of dawn redwoods. These deciduous conifers drop their needles in winter soon after they put on a golden fall show. Another similar stately deciduous conifer is common bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) which adapts well to both wet and dry soil conditions. Mature height: 50-70'; Zone 5.
Cornelian Cherry Dogwood (Cornus mas)
This tough and underused dogwood is a harbinger of spring with its early clusters of star-shaped yellow flowers. Birds love its dark red fruits that follow in July and also make a great jam. The tree's dense branching makes it an ideal choice to plant to screen in multiples in a staggered row. Mature height: 20'; Zone 4.
Flowering Crab Apple (Malus)
When planted close together, crab apples can also produce an attractive screen with an abundance of spring flowers and colorful fall fruits. Some have colorful foliage like Showtime (pictured) with its purple leaves that turn orange in fall. Bees love the crabs' flowers, and birds devour their fruits. Mature height: 25'; Zone 4.
For a soft natural look, plant a staggered row of these ornamental trees. They come in both single- and multi-trunk forms, so choose the multi-trunk form for better screening. In spring, the trees bloom in dainty white flowers. Purplish-blue fruits follow in late spring. They're delish in baked goods if the robins don't devour them first. In fall, the dark green leaves turn bright red to orange red. Popular varieties include Autumn Brilliance and Snow Flurry (pictured). Mature height: 15-25'; Zone 3.
European Beech (Fagus sylvatica)
With their straight trunk and dense foliage, these columnar beech varieties (center) make great hedges and can be pruned to keep their size and shape. Try 'Dawyck Gold' or 'Dawyck Purple', both with upright shapes and beautiful fall foliage that lingers long in the season. Mature height: 45'; Zone 5.
European Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus)
When planted close together, these oval-shaped trees make an attractive hedge and can be pruned to maintain their size especially for tighter spaces. Look for columnar varieties like 'Fastigiata' or 'Frans Fontaine' to prune into a dense hedge. Mature height: 40'; Zone 4.
Littleleaf Linden (Tilia cordata)
This linden's uniform shape, dense dark green leaves and fragrant flowers make it a great tree to plant tightly in multiples for privacy. They can also be pruned into a hedge. Bees love their abundant creamy yellow blooms. Mature height: 40-50'; Zone 3.
Persian Ironwood (Parrotia persica)
This small tree is related to witch hazel. Its oblong green leaves turn shades of red, orange, and yellow in the fall, and often hold into the winter months. The mature bark exfoliates to patches of green, tan and white. Select the multi-stem form to use for a privacy screen. Mature height: 20-40'; Zone 5.
Related: How to Layer Textures in a Fall Garden for Maximum Visual Interest
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)
For smaller spaces, gingkos make a great choice with their unique, fan-shaped leaves and golden fall color. They grow upright and can be planted relatively close together for a privacy screen. Be patient as they are slow growers and worth the wait. Try upright varieties like 'Goldspire' and 'Princeton Sentry'. Mature height: 14-16'; Zone 4.
Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua)
'Slender Silhouette' is a sweet gum cultivar that's gaining popularity among landscape designers for its stunning fall foliage, beanstalk growth and slender size for tight spaces. Like other sweet gum trees, these cultivars produce funky, gumball-like seedheads that some find a nuisance for fall and spring cleanup. Luckily, this compact variety drops fewer seedheads and in a smaller space. Mature height: 35-50'; Zone 5.
Common Pawpaw (Asimina triloba)
For a native fruit tree, try a mini orchard of pawpaws. They grow naturally in colonies in lightly shaded woodlands, so create one in your own yard. While native to much of the Eastern United States, the trees appear tropical with their big leaves and banana-like fruits. For other fruit tree options, try columnar forms of pear and apple trees. Mature height: 15-30'; Zone 5.
Northern Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica)
Native to North America, these tough broad-growing shrubs make an attractive hedge with their shiny green leaves and waxy gray berries. Plant in full to part sun. These shrubs can sucker and eventually form dense colonies, perfect for screening. Birds are attracted to the berries. Mature height: 9'; Zone 4.
Viburnums are a large group of shrubs with multi-season interest from spring blooms to summer fruits and fall leaf color. Try planting a hedge of Arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) with its dark green leaves that turn red-purple in fall and offer dark blue berries for birds. Another option is Doublefile viburnum (Viburnum plicatum) featuring tiered horizontal branches with large, white lacecap flower clusters. Mature height: 6-15'; Zone 3.
Red Twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea)
In winter, a mass of red twig dogwoods will definitely distract the eye away from an unsightly shed. Besides red, the shrubs come in yellow, orange and coral twig colors. Leaf colors are typically green but a couple of varieties feature gold or variegated leaves. Unlike tree dogwoods, these shrub dogwoods form dense clumps with their twiggy growth. Plant in full to part sun and prune annually to promote new colorful twig growth. Mature height: 9'; Zone 2.