By Nancy Penrose

A privacy tree is typically an evergreen or broadleaf tree that can be planted strategically in one’s yard, creating privacy for outdoor spaces, blocking out neighbors, and screening decks and windows.

Here are nine trees that will dramatically improve the privacy of your property.

Emerald Green Arborvitae

The Emerald Green Arborvitae is one of the most popular and dependable screening trees for the pacific northwest. They are often planted in rows to create a natural fence. The Emerald Green is a dense evergreen that maintains its deep green color all year. Because of its columnar growth habit, and limited spread, the Emerald Green is an appropriate selection for narrow planting spaces or to border property lines. The dense and columnar growth habit of Emerald Greens means they require little maintenance or pruning, eventually forming a low maintenance solid hedge. Emeralds can easily be sheared back to limit their spread and the tops can be trimmed to create uniform heights. If left to their natural growth pattern, Emeralds ultimate height and width is typically 3’ wide by 15-18’ tall, but is slow growing, gaining approximately 6-8” per year.

Excelsa Cedar

A cultivar of our native Western Red Cedar, the Excelsa makes an excellent screening tree. It is known to maintain its density and symmetrical form without reaching such an enormous mature size. It is fast growing, gaining 2-3’ per year, but topping out around 25-30’ in height and 12-15’ in width. Excelsas tolerate hedging and shearing to maintain their growth and overall size.

Leyland Cypress

The Leyland Cypress is an excellent choice for a fast growing, large screening tree. Its growth rate and mature size is often underestimated when it is young as it can be thin in its early stages. Growing up to three to four feet each year the Leyland Cypress fills in quickly. The Leyland requires little maintenance as long as you have adequate space for the tree at maturity. Left to its natural growth habit, these trees can reach 40’ in height and 15-20’ in width. Leyland Cypress can also be used as a hedge as they do tolerate shearing to control growth and overall size but requires long term and regular maintenance.  This is NOT a good choice for small planting spaces.

Green Giant

Green Giant is a vigorously growing, pyramidal evergreen with rich green color. It has no serious pest or disease problems and has been widely grown and tested in commercial nursery production. Green Giant is an excellent substitute for Leyland cypress if you have limited planting space and do not want a high maintenance tree.
They are a good choice if you need screening higher than 15’, but don’t have a lot of width to work with.  It’s a fast growing tree, gaining 1-2’ per year, topping out at 30-35’, and 8-10’ in width.  These trees tend to fill-in and become more dense as they get older/taller and can tolerate shearing as well.

Virescens Cedar

Many Thujas will bronze or brown slightly in winter, but Virescens truly maintains a vibrant green color year-round. The other noteworthy characteristic is the upright growth habit. It grows to be more narrow (20-30’ tall by 10-12’ wide) than the species, which makes it ideal for hedging as it tends to naturally grow into a hedge with minimal pruning. It can also be pruned less intensively for a more casual appearance. Either way, it will form a thick, dense screen that provides privacy and muffles noise. It will tolerate both full sun and partial shade, and has noted deer resistance, which gives it a huge advantage over Thuja occidentalis (a deer favorite).

English Laurel

A large evergreen shrub with dense, erect branches and brilliant green foliage. In spring, it has fragrant white flowers and fruit that attracts birds. A popular choice for formally pruned hedges, group plantings or privacy screens. English Laurel are fast growing, gaining 1-2’ a year in height and can get 20’ tall and 12-15’ wide.  They are great screening choice if your yard has the space for their growth, but are an annual pruning project to keep them sheared. English Laurel tolerates both shade and salt spray.

Compact English Laurel

A slower growing, dense shrub with glossy green leaves and white flower spikes in the spring. It takes full shade to full sun with a moist, well-drained, acidic soil. This is a good plant for hedging and will respond to shearing.  The ultimate height and width is 10’ by 10’.

Schipka Laurel

Similar to the English Laurel, but with a slightly narrower leaf and smaller mature size.  Schipka Laurels are a good alternative to the English for smaller planting spaces or a wish for less maintenance.  Their ultimate height and width is12-15’ by 8-10’. The Schipka tolerates shearing, salt spray and shade.  

Portugal Laurel

Prunus lusitanica is a bushy, evergreen shrub or tree with a dark green leaf. The leaf size is much smaller than that of Prunus laurocerasus. Portugal Laurel has reddish new shoots (stems) that look attractive against the dark green leaves. If left untrimmed, it produces masses of small fragrant white flowers in early summer followed by small red to dark purple fruits. The Portugal Laurel can get 20’ tall by 15’ wide, but will take to shearing.  Another good plant for shady areas.

Nancy Penrose is the owner of Big Trees Inc., located in Snohomish, WA in the Seattle area. The company is one of the largest tree nurseries in the Seattle area with over 120,000 trees available in over 300 varieties. They not only deliver young trees, but also mature trees in a wide range of sizes. Some types of trees available include spring flowering, deciduous, evergreen, and privacy trees. The company also does tree transplanting including large trees. Their blog can be seen at or They can be reached at 360-563-2700.

Big Trees Inc.
10928 Springhetti Rd
Snohomish, WA 98296