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Trees for privacy – silver birch

The best trees for privacy

Published: Thursday, 10 February, 2022 at 3:20 pm

We recommend trees for privacy and screening, plus advice on where and how to plant them.

Many of us are looking for more privacy in our gardens so that we can enjoy them without feeling overlooked by our neighbours or nearby houses. Or we want to screen an ugly building, a view of a neighbour's shed, trampoline or climbing frame or even the harsh light from a street lamp. While hedges and screening are very useful, sometimes the height that can be provided by a tree is the only solution.

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A tree, is of course, a wonderful addition to any garden. It changes with the seasons, gives welcome shade in summer, rustles in the breeze and provides habitat and food for wildlife.

The best trees for privacy are generally evergreen trees. However if you only need privacy during the warmer months when you use the garden most, or want a tree to serve as a 'net curtain', giving privacy from the street in a front garden while still allowing light in, you could consider the wide range of deciduous trees. A deciduous tree will lose its leaves in winter, but it will change more dynamically with the seasons, providing spring blossom and beautiful autumn colour. If you have the space, a mix of evergreens and deciduous trees can work really well, giving some permanent cover but also interest throughout the year.

Here are our recommended trees for privacy, plus some factors to consider when choosing.

Where to grow trees for privacy

Himalayan birch (Betula utilis var. jacquemontii) providing a sense of privacy within a garden
Himalayan birch ( Betula utilis var. jacquemontii) planted in the middle of a garden

Your instinct might be to plant trees around the edges of your property for the best sense of seclusion, leaving as much space in the actual garden as possible. However, this may upset your neighbours, and may deprive both your garden and theirs of sunlight. (It's also worth bearing in mind that if the branches of your tree overhang a neighbour's property, they have a right to cut them off and return them to you.) Planting trees around a boundary can also make your garden feel hemmed in and smaller. Often the solution is to plant a smaller tree within the garden, strategically placed so that it screens an ugly view or makes a particular area, such as a seating or dining area or patio, feel more secluded. This way you will also have a beautiful focal point in your garden that you can enjoy year-round.

How to plant trees for privacy

Backfill the planting hole
Planting a tree

Container grown trees can be planted all year round, but spring and autumn are the best times, when the soil is warm and moist. Bare-root trees are dug up from a field and supplied without roots and are planted during the dormant season, from November to March. These are often a cheaper option.

Stake the tree to prevent windrock, which can tear the roots and create a gap around the base of the trunk that can fill with water and encourage rot. The stake should be about a third of the height of the tree, hammered in at a 45° angle. Attach the trunk to the stake using an adjustable tree tie. Leave the stake on for at least a year.

Water the tree thoroughly, then keep it watered during dry spells for at least the first year. After that it should get all the water it needs from rainfall.


Where to buy ornamental trees online

How to care for trees for privacy

Pruning a tree
Pruning a tree

You may need to prune your tree as it grows, to enhance its natural shape. It’s also an opportunity to cut away any dead, diseased or crossing branches to keep the tree healthy. Evergreen trees are usually shaped in summer. The best time to prune deciduous trees is while they are dormant, from November to March. For more advice, check out how to prune an ornamental tree.


Advice on buying trees for privacy

  • Decide whether you want an evergreen or deciduous tree. Evergreen trees are best if you want year-round privacy or screening. If you only need privacy in the warmer months, a deciduous tree may work best
  • Check the maximum height and spread your tree and also the spread of the roots, so that it won't harm walls or buildings nearby
  • Check the growth rate – if you need cover fast, opt for a fast-growing variety or buy as large a tree as you can afford 
  • Check the maintenance requirements
  • Check the shape of the crown and the density of the foliage – some have heavier crowns or foliage than others, which cast more shade or let less light through 
  • Check that your soil type and conditions are suitable 
  • Consider other features such as the shape, spring flowers, autumn colour, berries and wildlife value
  • Consider pleached or stilted trees – specially trained trees that have tall trunks that clear a typical fence height and can be useful in larger gardens
  • Visit a specialist tree retailer for advice
  • Trees are either supplied as container-grown trees throughout the year, or as bare-roots plants in the dormant season. Bare-root trees are often cheaper, and you may find that a wider selection is available

Where to buy trees for privacy online

  • Thompson & Morgan
  • Primrose
  • Crocus
  • Ornamental Trees
  • Barcham Trees
  • Evergreen trees for screening

    Evergreen trees are a good option for privacy and screening all year round.

    Italian cypress

    Cupressus semperivrens. Getty Images
    Cupressus semperivrens. Getty Images

    One of the best trees for screening a tall building is the tall and slender Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens). It has a contemporary, Mediterranean look. Keep watered during dry spells for the first couple of years and trim regularly.

    Best for: Screening a tall building, small garden

    Position: Sun or partial shade, sheltered spot

    Eventual height x spread: 10m x 1m

    How to grow Italian cypress


    Holly

    Ilex aquifolium 'Golden van Tol'

    Holly, Ilex aquifolium, typically has dark green, spiny leaves and bright red berries. However, there are many different varieties of holly with variegated leaves in shades of silver or gold. If you want berries, grow a female plant. Holly can be trimmed into a formal shape if required.

    Best for: Winter interest, clipping into shape, variegated foliage

    Position: Moist, well drained soil in sun or shade

    Eventual height x spread: 15m x 4m (but can be clipped)

    How to grow holly


    Photinia

    Photinia x fraseri 'Red Robin'. Getty Images

    Photinias are mostly evergreen shrubs or small trees that look good all year round. Photinia x fraseri ‘Red Robin’ is a particularly attractive variety, with eye-catching, red young growth. It produces a froth of white flowers in summer if left unpruned. It can be bought as an attractive lollipop tree or pleached tree.

    Best for: Pleaching, urban or small gardens

    Position: Grow in sun or partial shade, in moist, well drained soil

    Eventual height x spread: 4m x 4m


    Holm oak

    Quercus ilex. Getty Images
    Quercus ilex. Getty Images

    The holm oak (Quercus ilex), also known as the holly oak or evergreen oak, is a large, evergreen tree with a rounded crown. The young leaves look similar to holly, while the older leaves have smoother edges.

    Holm oak is tolerant of salt spray and strong winds, so is a good choice for coastal gardens and is often planted as a windbreak. It’s also tolerant of pollution, so can be grown in urban gardens. Holm oak can also be clipped into shapes or grown as a hedge.

    More like this

    How to grow holm oak

    Best for: Urban gardens, coastal or exposed gardens, topiary

    Position: Grow in well-drained soil in sun or partial shade

    Eventual height x spread: 25m x 25m (but can be clipped)


    Cherry laurel

    Prunus laurocerasus. Getty Images

    Cherry laurel, Prunus laurocerasus, is a dense, evergreen shrub with shiny and dark green leaves. In spring it bears upright, white flowers, followed by fruits in autumn that resemble cherries. These turn from red to black as they mature. It is also available in pleached forms.

    Best for: Pleached trees, urban or country gardens

    Position: Moist, well drained soil in sun or partial shade

    Eventual height x spread: 8m x 8m (but can be clipped)


    Tree privet

    Ligustrum japaponicum. Getty Images

    Tree privet, Ligustrum japonicum, is often sold as a standard or stilted tree and is a useful for screening around a boundary without taking up space in the garden. It can also be planted close to walls or buildings. It has long, pointed leaves and white flowers in autumn.

    Best for: Growing as a standard, screening around a boundary

    Position: Most soils, sun or part shade

    Eventual height x spread: 7m x 1m


    Strawberry tree

    Evergreen trees: strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo
    Strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo

    The strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo, is a large, bushy, evergreen shrub or small tree, with rough bark and dark green leathery leaves. Its bell-shaped autumn flowers resemble those of lily of the valley, while its fruits resemble strawberries. Both the flowers and fruit appear at the same time.

    Best for: Small gardens, coastal areas

    Position: Grow in a sheltered spot in moist but well-drained soil in sun or partial shade. It’s tolerant of chalk soils

    Eventual height x spread: 8m x 8m


    Tree fern

    Tree ferns and palms

    The tree fern, Dicksonia antarctica, is not actually a tree, but with its tall ‘trunk’ and dramatic crown of fronds, it does look very tree-like. Its wide, arching fronds can provide privacy and dappled shade and it's well worth considering for making a seating area or patio feel more secluded. In mild areas it remains evergreen; elsewhere, protect the crown by wrapping it with straw or fleece. Canary island date palm is another palm that can provide privacy in a small space.

    Best for: Urban garden, jungle garden, shady garden, small garden

    Position: Partial or full shade

    Eventual height x spread: 4m x 4m

    How to grow tree ferns


    Cotoneaster 'Cornubia'

    Carol Klein's favourite berries - Cotoneaster cornubia
    Cotoneaster 'Cornubia'

    This arching, semi-evergreen shrub or small tree gives interest throughout the year and good for screening. In early summer, clusters of white flowers appear, followed by masses of red fruits in autumn (much loved by birds). The older leaves turn bronze before falling.

    Best for: Urban garden, small garden, wildlife

    Eventual height x spread: 6m x 6m

    How to grow cotoneaster


    Deciduous trees for privacy

    Deciduous trees are a good option if you only really need screening in the warmer months – privacy when you're spending more time in the garden, for example, or a tree to serve as a 'net curtain', giving a degree of privacy from the street without casting too much shade, especially when light levels are lower in winter.

    Hornbeam

    Hornbeam trees (Carpinus betulus 'Fastigiata')
    Hornbeam trees (Carpinus betulus 'Fastigiata')

    Hornbeam, Carpinus betulus, is a native UK tree. The apple green, pleated foliage turns yellow and orange in autumn – this is often held on the tree during winter in sheltered spots. Green catkins appear in spring and winged nuts (called samaras) develop in autumn. Hornbeams are tough trees that can cope with exposed conditions. They have a pyramidal shape that later becomes more rounded. 'Fastigiata' has a naturally columnar habit and 'Frans Fontaine' only reaches 6m x 2m. Hornbeams often hold onto some dead leaves in winter.

    Best for: Pleaching, dappled shade, medium and large gardens

    Position: Sun or part shade, moist but well drained soil

    Eventual height x spread: 10m x 6m

    How to grow hornbeam trees


    Ornamental pear

    Ornamental pear (left) and Acer griseum (right)

    The ornamental pear, Pyrus calleryana 'Chanticleer' is said to be the first deciduous tree into leaf in the spring and the last to lose its leaves in the autumn. It has a compact, pyramidal shape, beautiful white blossom in spring and attractive autumn foliage. It's tolerant of pollution and is a popular street tree.

    Best for: Small gardens, urban gardens, spring blossom, autumn colour

    Position: Full sun, moist but well drained soil

    Eventual height x spread: 5m x 3m


    Birch

    Silver birch ( Betula pendula)

    Birches (Betula) are beautiful trees, grown for their beautiful pale bark, light canopy of leaves and autumn colour. They can be grouped together in a small grove for stunning effect and look beautiful underplanted with spring bulbs or shade-loving perennials. Read about five of the best birches to grow, including our native Betula pendula.

    Best for: Light shade, attractive bark, autumn colour, medium-sized garden

    Position: Sun or part shade, most soils

    Eventual height x spread: 12m x 8m


    Rowan

    Rowan trees (Sorbus aucuparia) are also known as mountain ash. They bear attractive spring blossom followed by bright red or yellow berries, against a backdrop of fresh green, pinnate leaves. They're slim trees, so suitable for smaller spaces and can cope with exposed conditions.

    Best for: Small gardens, exposed areas, blossom, berries

    Position: Full sun or part shade, most soils

    Eventual height x spread: 15m x 7m

    How to grow and care for a rowan tree


    Field maple

    Field maple, Acer campestre

    The field maple, Acer campestre, is the UK’s only native maple tree. Typically found growing in woods and hedgerows, it’s a medium-sized, deciduous tree with a rounded, bushy crown. It has attractive lobed leaves that turn golden yellow in autumn, and tiny flowers in spring that are followed by papery winged fruits, known as samaras. As a British native, field maple is excellent for wildlife. They're also tolerant of urban pollution.

    Best for: Wildlife, medium to large gardens, urban gardens, autumn colour

    Position: Grow in moist, well drained soil in sun or part shade

    Eventual height x spread: 12m x 8m


    Snowy mespilus

    Amelanchier lamarckii. Getty Images

    Snowy mespilus, Amelanchier lamarckii, is a beautiful, small tree. In March the branches erupt with a froth of star-shaped flowers, just as the coppery pink young leaves unfold. In summer these become yellow-green, but later turn scarlet and crimson before falling. In July the tree is studded with dark red berries which become purple-black as they ripen. It is often sold as a multi-stemmed tree.

    Best for: Small gardens, year-round interest

    Position: Moist but well-drained neutral to acid soil, in full sun to partial shade. Amelanchier trees make good trees for pots.

    Eventual height x spread: 10m x 6m


    Hawthorn

    Crataegus oxyacantha 'Rosea Plena'. Getty Images

    Hawthorns (Crataegus) are synonymous with late spring, when their white and pink blossoms mark the changing season. Their autumn fruits (also known as ‘haws’) are eaten by a number of wildlife species, and their dense thorny habit provides a safe nesting place for birds. Hawthorns are compact, so are suitable for smaller spaces. They are tough trees that can cope with exposed conditions.

    Best for: Small gardens, exposed conditions, wildlife

    Position: Moist, well drained soil in full sun or part shade

    Eventual height x spread: 8m x 8m

    How to grow hawthorn


    Crab apple

    How to grow crab apples
    A crab apple tree with pink blossom.

    Crab apples are among the best ornamental trees, with stunning blossom in spring, attractive and edible fruits and good autumn colour. They're also good trees for wildlife. Malus 'Evereste' and 'Red Sentinel' have narrow, columnar habits, making them good for smaller spaces. Malus sylvestris can also be used in hedging.

    Best for: Spring blossom, winter interest, wildlife, small gardens

    Position: Moist but well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade

    Eventual height x spread: 7m x 6m


    Golden rain tree

    Koelreuteria paniculata

    The golden rain tree or Pride of India (Koelretueria paniculata) has lots to offer – attractive yellow flowers in summer that attract pollinating insects, followed by lantern like seed pods. The pretty foliage is pink-bronze in spring and yellow in autumn. This medium-sized tree has a rounded crown. It does best in a sunny spot and can cope with pollution.

    Best for: Medium gardens, urban gardens, summer flowers

    Position: Full sun, moist but well drained soil

    Eventual height x spread: 6m x 4m

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