Improving Your Home Landscape

One of the many projects when improving on the landscape of a home is the desire for visual privacy. Whether the proximity to neighbors is a concern or the desire to block or obstruct other elements of the landscape that are undesirable, visual privacy is just one of many characteristics that plants can help us with.

Many are drawn to evergreen options for visual privacy.  While they can be a nice idea, they often can be difficult to get established in our region. This coupled with the fact that most evergreen options grow at a rate much slower than deciduous choices makes them less desirable options, in my opinion.

I don't spend nearly the amount of time outside during the winter months as I do during the summer. I'm sure I'm not alone in that fact. Even though deciduous shrubs don't maintain their leaves all winter long they still have many attributes that lend interest to the landscape even when there are no leaves.

There are many shrub choices that are good candidates for visual barriers in our landscape, I'm going to go over a few of them in this article.

American Hazelnut: A little harder to come by in the nursery trade and only available on a more infrequent basis the American Hazelnut should not be overlooked. Perhaps the two strongest reasons it makes a good candidate for our climate are its tolerance of clay and heavy soils as well as its tolerance of drought once it is established. It does produce a small nut that IS edible but could be left for wildlife. Stunning fall foliage appears later in the season. Achieving a height of between 8 and 10 feet its growth rate is considered slower. Still an interesting specimen for the landscape.

Buckthorn: There are a couple of options within this group of shrubs that can make attractive hedges or screens. Fine Line Buckthorn is a great and attractive choice for a small visual screen. Stopping at about seven feet, they can be nice around a patio. There are fewer flowers with this selection than the common Glossy Buckthorn, which means less fruit. A great NEW choice. Glossy Buckthorn has been in the horticulture trade for a while. Again though, these buckthorns do flower and produce a berry, the berry is not for consumption and can cause upset stomachs in people. It is still good food for wildlife. The Glossy Buckthorn can achieve a height of up to 10 feet. And in just a few seasons, with good water.  

Buckthorn are extremely cold and hardy; often down to -50°F. This makes them good candidates for our climate. They are often soft-wooded and in strong winds can break. Since these are shrub varieties and not trees the branches should remain small enough that they stay pliable.

Cotoneaster: Perhaps the specimen for a screen or hedge, there is much to appreciate about the Cotoneaster. Its leaves are medium in size making it easy to manicure into a formal hedge if desired. Its dark green leathery foliage stands up to our hot dry summers quite well. Tolerant of drought, once established, the Hedge Cotoneaster has small white inconspicuous flowers in June which give way to dark black fruit in fall. Also in the fall, the Hedge Cotoneaster turns a brilliant orange/red. This plant can achieve a height of up to 10 feet but with pruning and care can be used as a hedge from anywhere between four feet on up. Be advised, should you wish to keep this shrub at a height below six feet you will need to trim more than once a season. 

Dogwood: This group of shrubs boasts a growing number of shorter and more compact specimens which are very attractive as foundation plantings. But the "old favorite", the common Red Twig Dogwood, is a rapidly growing, large shrub that adds excellent interest to the landscape. Extremely cold hardy (-50°F), there are many things to appreciate about Dogwood as a visual screen. It does best in areas of plentiful water and is a great candidate for sloughs or areas where water can stand in the spring. The bright red young stems stand out in the winter landscape and its green foliage turns a brilliant reddish tone in the fall.

Forsythia: A favorite of mine, Forsythia is the slightly rare and elusive Forsythia! An extremely stately shrub, the Forsythia has bright green foliage all summer long. Its light-colored young bark stands out well in the winter landscape, but perhaps its most interesting characteristic is that it flowers before it leafs out! Bright yellow flowers cover this plant in late April in the Dakotas and can even handle freezing temperatures. Tolerant of drought, once established, the Forsythia behaves itself well, keeping a dense habit without much effort. Achieving a height and spread of around eight feet there are many reasons to choose Forsythia for your landscape.

Lilac: Perhaps the most famous of the shrub choices for visual privacy, the Lilac does exceptionally well here in the upper Midwest. It tolerates our drought better than just about any shrub and also achieves a good height. Highly fragrant flowers cover this plant as early as Mother's Day each spring and some later flowering varieties such as Donald Wyman and Miss Kim can continue the show of lilac blooms into early June. If there are any drawbacks to Lilac it is that the Common ("Vulgaris") generally does not respond well to pruning. Trimming its "hair" will usually result in it spreading out to a size that may be undesirable in smaller spaces.

Viburnum: In this group, there are also a few options for visual screens. The Snowball Viburnum has small white puffballs that are around two to three inches in diameter. Viburnum has a height between eight and 10 feet. They respond well to pruning and can make an attractive screen or hedge. The large leathery leaves begin with a red hue that turns bright green. In the fall, the red color returns, in a brilliant display. The "Highbush Cranberry" or "Viburnum trilobum" also has a white cluster flower in late May or early June that ripens to red fruit in mid-summer. Great for wildlife, the Viburnum choices are also exceptionally cold hardy, and tolerant of drought conditions once established.

Closing: There are many more choices for screening and privacy that I did not mention in the article. Keep in mind that your desired height is perhaps the first thing to consider when choosing items for visual privacy. Ask yourself questions like, "How tall do I wish this plant to get?". The spacing or number of plants needed will change depending on the spread of the plant chosen. A good rule for spacing is to determine the spread of a plant in question and consider a spacing of about two-thirds of the spread of the plant. In other words, a plant that would spread up to eight feet could be spaced between five and six feet apart. Also, remember that we generally do not consider a plant "established" in our region until closer to its 5th year in its space.

I certainly hope you've enjoyed the read.  If you're ever in Williston we hope you'll pay us a visit!  We're always willing to help with anything plant related.  Until then, good luck, and happy growing!


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