Seeking advice on shrub or tree to screen out a view

Asked April 6, 2020, 12:38 PM EDT

I'm seeking a recommendation on what fast-growing deer-proof bushes ( or trees) I could plant in my backyard to screen out the view of a parking lot across the road to the north. This spot gets about six hours of direct sunlight a day. As you can see, I've used skip laurels. They've done OK, but not spectacularly because their north side gets only weak sunlight. Last fall I added an elaeagnus, thinking it might make a good screen in time. I have heavy deer traffic and they're gradually thinning out the plantlife in the county-owed area on the far side of my property I would love your advice. Paul

Montgomery County Maryland

1 Response

Hello Paul,

Cherrylaurel (of which Skip Laurel is one kind) has good tolerances for shaded areas, so its less-than-ideal performance may be due to other factors, such as root competition for water or crowding from the vegetation behind them. The drought we experienced late last summer/fall stressed many plants; irrigation during drought will help keep plants healthier and more vigorous. Deer have been known to eat cherrylaurel, but it is not a favorite.

Elaeagnus is an invasive plant and not recommended for planting. While deer do not like to eat it, birds eat its fruit and disperse seedlings into wild areas, where they can take over.

If the sun in that spot is fairly strong for the 6 or so hours it receives, then other options that deer generally dislike (since nothing is deer-proof) include varieties of the following evergreens:

  • Juniper (Juniperus virginiana, J. scopulorum, J. chinensis)
  • Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica); there are dwarf forms if needed
  • the sharper-leaved Hollies such as:
    • Ilex 'Dragon Lady'
    • Ilex opaca, (native American Holly)
    • Ilex aquifolium (English Holly); variegated female forms are the most common on the market, as some solid-green varieties don't overwinter as well here
    • Ilex cornuta 'Rotunda' (a particularly sharp selection of Chinese Holly)
    • Ilex 'Red Beauty'

  • Inkberry Holly (Ilex glabra) is spineless but deer tend to avoid it
  • False-holly (Osmanthus heterophyllus); may rarely self-seed; best with a bit of shade but adaptable enough to tolerate full sun; fragrant autumn flowers
  • Western Arborvitae (Thuja plicata, such as the popular variety 'Green Giant', though there are a couple shorter varieties)
If the site is a bit more shaded (more morning or evening sun and midday shade), then the Osmanthus and Hollies would still do well. Additionally, you could try:
  • Japanese Plum Yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonia variety 'Fastigiata' would eventually get tall enough)
  • Leucothoe (a.k.a. Agarista) populifolia (though it is called Florida Leucothoe, this can grow in our area if the winters don't get too harsh; this is the only Leucothoe that would be taller than a person
  • Anise-shrub (Illicium), another marginally-hardy evergreen that typically survives mild winters and includes some species native to the southeast U.S.
It appears as though English Ivy is climbing one or more of the trees in the background of the photo. If so, it should be removed to protect the health of the tree. English Ivy is an invasive groundcover (and tree climber) that should be eliminated from landscapes where possible; alternatives of native or well-behaved non-native perennials can replace it.