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Alternatives to Leyland Cypress

Having been in the nursery business for many years now, we have received many requests for Leyland Cypress. Because of its fast growth rate and thick evergreen needles, Leyland Cypress is commonly planted close together in long rows as a privacy screen. It does make a good screen and very quickly too. However, most homeowners plant them way too close together. Because a mature Leyland Cypress Tree can be 12 to 20 feet wide, it is best to plant them at least 6 feet apart. I have seen local homeowners plant them 2 or 3 feet apart. The trees will grow quickly and just fine until they are wide enough to begin touching each other. Crowding leads to disease and ultimate death, resulting in a large brown dead tree right in the middle of the privacy screen. The University of Georgia has an excellent publication available for free detailing common Diseases of Leyland Cypress.


Rather than offer Leyland Cypress at our nursery and try to educate all on the proper planting techniques, I prefer to offer some more beautiful alternatives to the Leyland Cypress.

While it is true that Leyland Cypress offers excellent screening year round, why plant a tree that is simply evergreen, when you can plant an evergreen that offers additional benefits? Your options are limitless. You can choose from evergreens with berries, evergreens with showy blooms, evergreens with fragrant flowers, or even evergreens with edible fruit. But what I suggest to you is this: why choose at all? I recommend a mixed border. With my plan, you can have privacy, flowers, fragrance, and fruit all, by planting your property line with a variety of evergreen shrubs and trees.

Holly can't be beat for a privacy screen.
Just make sure you choose one that will grow large enough, as there are many dwarf, low-growing, or compact varieties available. Additionally, not all hollies are evergreen. American Holly is the traditional Christmas Holly with spiny leaves and bright red decorative berries. A native American tree, American Holly is a very dense evergreen tree growing up to 50 feet tall. Chinese Hollies grow large also, and the heavy fruit-set attracts all kinds of birds to the garden. I like Lusterleaf Holly, for its large leaves and voluptuous clusters of red berries. Nellie R. Stevens is a cross between Chinese and English Holly. This fast-growing large shrub will provide privacy in no time, while also displaying large red berries against dark green foliage.


Camellias are a favorite for Southern gardens.
Sasanqua Camellias can grow quite fast if soil is rich and water is readily available. Blooms can be had in many colors and if you plant several different varieties, you can have blooms from September all the way to March. Japanese Camellias provide additional bloom types and colors, and with them you can extend your blooms all the way in to April or possibly even early May. Japonica blooms also make a good flower for taking indoors.

Rosa mutabilis Shady Gardens Nursery
Some varieties of shrub roses can get shockingly large, making them another ideal blooming plant for privacy screenings. Roses are mostly evergreen here in Georgia and Alabama. Knockout Roses are available everywhere now, even at the grocery store. Contrary to what is on the growing tag, they will grow up to 10 feet tall here in just 1 year's time. Another shrub rose for privacy would be Mutabilis, an old China rose known as the Butterfly Rose. This rose grows very wide, so if you have a neighbor who wants you off her property, plant this one several feet from the property line. Rugosa Rose is one we haven't got around to planting, but it is on our wishlist. Very thorny, so it will provide a barrier to keep out unwanted individuals. In addition to beautiful fragrant flowers, you and wild birds will be able to enjoy large orange or red rose hips in the Fall.

One of my favorite shrubs of all is Tea Olive. Osmanthus fragrans is so well-loved here that we have planted 6 of them already. When in bloom, our whole garden smells like fresh apricots. Flowers are very inconspicuous, but fragrance is oh so sweet! Osmanthus fragrans blooms heavily in Fall and again in Spring, with sporadic bloom all in between so that you can have fragrance in your garden almost year round. Osmanthus fortunei, also known as False Holly, has prickly holly-like leaves and flowers just as fragrant but that come only in Fall. Osmanthus Orange Blossom has masses of tiny orange flowers that, yet again, are just as fragrant as Osmanthus fragrans.
Orange Blossom Tea Olive also blooms just once a year in Fall, but all 3 of these large growing shrubs provide year round privacy with their dense evergreen foliage that is not usually bothered by any pests or diseases.

Edible plants are gaining in popularity for home-gardeners, probably due to the high cost of produce with the additional threat of food borne illnesses and pesticide contamination on store bought fruits and vegetables. Fruit-bearing evergreens are perfect for a privacy screen. Blueberry shrubs can develop into a nice dense bush when planted in full sun and given plenty of water. While not completely evergreen, blueberries are mostly evergreen in warmer areas of Georgia and Alabama. If citrus is hardy in your climate, Meyer Lemon and Loquat are excellent as an ornamental privacy screen. Fragrant blooms in summer develop into tasty and attractive fruit in winter.

These are just a few of my favorites, but you might also consider Gardenia for fragrant blooms. Evergreen viburnums provide both fragrant blooms and often showy berries too. Loropetalum has deep purple foliage and bright pink blooms in several months out of the year. Actually, I could go on and on. So I will stop here. Go ahead and get started on your beautiful privacy screen and check back soon for some additional recommendations for plants you can add as you're ready.


This last photo is not my own, and the shrubs are not all evergreen. But isn't this a spectacular hedge? Actually, the only time this border would not provide a privacy screen is in the dead of winter. And who's sitting outside then anyway? Not me.