While they are commonly called privacy hedges, they can do more than provide a barrier to neighbors’ prying eyes. A living privacy fence can:

  • Drastically reduce sound pollution from traffic or other noisy neighbors.
  • Shield your house from blowing snow.
  • Act as a windbreak.
  • And just as they act as a privacy screen for you, preventing others from seeing in, hedge plants’ dense foliage can block your view of something unsightly, close by or on the far horizon.

Fences can perform many of the same functions, but manmade barriers aren’t the same as living natural barriers. We asked experts to name some of the best privacy hedges and come up with a list that balances fast growth, hardiness and beauty. Here’s what they said.

1. Leyland Cypress

Leyland cypress is often used as a windbreak.

The popular Leyland Cypress tops the fast-growing wishlist. It is a coniferous, hybrid evergreen tree with a conical shape and a “lighter, lacier” look, says Lisa Mierop, principal of Mierop Design in Montclair, N.J. The same fast growth rate that makes it popular is also the source of its downsides. They can grow so quickly they intrude on neighbors’ yards. In addition, Mierop says, they easily “become top-heavy and can topple in heavy snows. They can, however, be kept sheared into a tight hedge, with maintenance pruning essential.”

Scientific name, other common names: Cupressus × leylandii. More than 30 varieties.
Growth rate: 3-5 feet per year.
Growing notes: Grows best in planting zones 6-10. Low-maintenance, salt-tolerant, grows in a variety of soils. Can be disease-prone.

2. Yew Plum Pine

Scientific name, other common names: Podocarpus macrophyllus, Buddhist pine, fern pine.
Growth rate: Slow; reaches up to 30 feet in height if not trimmed.
Growing notes: Likes full sun. Grows best in planting zones 7-9. For a privacy fence, usually planted in mass. Doesn’t mind shearing.

A slow-growing, evergreen shrub with year-round, dark green foliage. Says Lloyd Singleton, Director of the New Hanover County Agricultural Extension (North Carolina) “Podocarpus macrophyllus, though slower-growing, is well-suited to growing in a narrow space, and is moderately more costly due to growing in the nursery for a longer period of time.”

3. Arborvitae

Arborvitae
Arborvitae. Credit: Oregon State University.

Scientific name, other common names: Thuja occidentalis. Dozens of varieties. Common hedge plants are known as eastern arborvitae and northern whitecedar.
Growth rate: Medium growth rate of 1-2 feet per year. Grows to total height of 20-30 feet as a hedge plant.
Growing notes: Grows best in planting zones 3-7. An excellent choice for windbreaks, requires almost no maintenance. Widely used but it serves many purposes. It is evergreen and comes in many heights, from smaller Emerald Green arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis “Smaragd”) to Green Giants. Smaller varieties widely used as an evergreen hedge. Not bothered by shearing. Not deer resistant and often split under winter snow weight.

4. Euonymus Manhattan

Euonymus Manhattan. Credit: David J. Stang

Scientific name: Euonymus kiautschovicus “Manhattan.”
Growth rate: Fast — about 2 feet per year.
Growing notes: Grows best in planting areas 5-8. Tolerates shearing. Often seen in beautiful hedges in the Hamptons, this broad-leafed evergreen can be maintained as a tight, dense hedge that will achieve some height, though not deer-resistant. Requires a high level of maintenance to keep as a hedge.

5. Chindo Viburnum

Scientific name: Viburnum awabuki “Chindo.”
Growth rate: Medium fast — 12-24 inches per year. Grows to a height of 12 feet.
Growing notes: Grows best in planting zones 7-9. Tolerates a wide variety of soils, but prefers moist and well-drained. Mildly deer resistant. This pyramid-shaped shrub will sprout fragrant white flowers in spring that turn into red berries in early fall.

6. Korean Boxwood

Scientific name: Buxus sinica insularis
Growth rate: Moderately slow — about 12 inches per year.
Growing notes: Grows best in hardiness zones 5-9. This broadleaf evergreen shrub’s dark green leaves produce dense cover. Korean boxwood can be trimmed to fit smaller spaces. Low drought tolerance.

7. Yellow-Twig Dogwoods

Scientific name: Cornus sericea “Flaviramea”
Growth rate: Fast — about 24 inches per year. Reaches a height and width of about 8 feet.
Growing notes: Grows best in hardiness zones 3-8. Yellow-twig dogwood’s unique yellow stems give a flash of eye-catching color to your winter garden. The spring flower clusters on this deciduous shrub attract butterflies.

8. Hollies

Scientific name, other common names: The United States Department of Agriculture’s plants database lists 97 varieties of holly, with an array of scientific and common names. People like to use Ilex opaca Aiton — American holly — as an ornamental or privacy hedge.
Growth rate: Medium-slow, 12-24 inches per year. American holly grows 6-10 feet high.
Growth notes: The majority of hollies grow best in hardiness zones 5-9. Some varieties, however, have adapted to freezing weather, while others can thrive in withering Texas summer heat. Glossy green leaves and red berries make this a popular choice. Dense, evergreen foliage, easy to maintain and forgivably requires infrequent pruning. Beautiful red berries are attractive to birds. The attractive Yaupon holly is the only caffeine-containing plant native to North America and was used in purging rites by Native Americans (hence its scientific name, Ilex vomitoria).

9. Privet

Scientific name, other common names: There are about two dozen types of privet; Ligustrum x ibolium (north privet) is widely used as a privacy hedge.
Growth rate: Very fast — about 3 feet per year.
Growth notes: Privet (pictured at top of page) Grows in hardiness zones 4-8. Inexpensive, easily sheared to shape, deer-resistant, can be maintained at narrow widths, tolerates a fair bit of shade. Other varieties used as a privacy hedge include the waxleaf privet. And the north privet, though it grows 4-6 feet wide in the wild, it can be trimmed to a more-compact width.

10. Schipka Cherry Laurel

Skip laurel
Schipka cherry laurel. Credit: David Stang

Scientific name, other common names: Prunus laurocerasus “Schipkaensis,” skip cherry laurel, shipka laurel.
Growth rate: Fast — about 2 feet per year.
Growth notes: Grows best in hardiness zones 6-9. This broadleaf evergreen likes dappled sun, grows fast flowers in spring. It doesn’t mind if you shear it into shape. Deer don’t like it much. Can burn in severe winters but will normally re-foliate.

11. Southern Red Cedar

Scientific name: Juniperus virginiana var. cilicicola.
Growth rate: Medium — 1-2 feet per year.
Growth notes: Grows best in zones 7-10. Its slightly northern cousin, the eastern cedar, is good in zones 4-9. Singleton says that in addition to repelling deer and insects, the Southern red cedar is “tough, totally adapted to regional conditions, and it’s really pretty with great berries that birds love, and flowers that attract bees and butterflies … with a nice aroma to boot.” In its native Florida, it is even used as a Christmas tree.

Consider Soil Type

Before you run to the garden shop, dig a toe into your turf and put a finger to the wind. In other words, take stock of your soil and local climate, which will go a long way in deciding what type of plant will work for your hedge.

One important evaluation, says Richard Weidman, Agricultural Program Associate Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County, N.J., is a soil test. “Acquiring a soil test kit from your local county Extension office, having it processed by the lab for pH levels and other concentrations such as potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, etc., really gives you that accurate reading.”

Having that information in hand helps provide the basis for “appropriate soil amendments,” says Matthew Kiefer CLM, principal of Kiefer Landscapes. “It’s really an excellent and inexpensive investment.”

Freelance writer Randall Kirkpatrick contributed to this report.

Join our newsletter for more cool stuff like this

Join our newsletter for more cool stuff like this

Thanks! We'll be in touch.