Privacy Screens for Narrow Spaces

Planting in narrow spaces for privacy, screening or other reasons can be challenging. As the space gets narrower there are fewer plants that will meet the requirements of growing tall but remaining narrow. For example, few if any trees or shrubs will grow 8-10' tall and remain less than 6' wide. For very narrow spaces you may have to resort  to more creative solutions. Following are suggestions starting with very narrow spaces and ending up with good plant choices for somewhat wider areas as well as screening. Solutions discussed include fencing with annual and perennial vines; espalier; and hedges using annuals, as well as evergreen and decideous plants. Some plants to avoid are also included.

Fencing

For very narrow areas your only choice may be to use a fence. The fence could be solid and provide screening or it may be more open and covered with vining plants.

Fencing with Annual Vines
Annual vines can provide summer screening. 

Basella alba
Ceylon or Malabar spinach

This fast growing vine is also edible.  It is a vigorous, climbing, tropical vine that may be grown in St. Louis as an annual leafy vegetable for cultivation of its edible spinach-like stems and leaves or as an ornamental foliage vine. Leaves taste like spinach and, unlike spinach, the plants thrive in hot summer weather. Grow in rich, fertile, moisture-retentive soils in full sun. Tolerates light shade. Easily grown from seed.

Ipomoea alba
Moonflower

Moonflower is a tender perennial vine that is winter hardy to USDA Zones 10-12. In St.Louis, it is grown as an annual in moist, well-drained soils in full sun. It is easily grown from seed and plants flower all summer. It is noted for its fragrant nocturnal white blooms (moonflowers) and its deep green foliage. Although it will grow to 70’ or more in tropical climates, it typically reaches 10-15’ in a single season as an annual. Since it flowers at night, site it where it can be enjoyed in the evening. Flowers "pop" open at dusk and remain open all night, eventually closing before noon the following day.

Lablab purpureus
Hyacinth bean

Fast growing with very handsome purple-tinged leaves and pink flowers this vine makes a fast, beautiful annual screen. It can rapidly grow to 20' and will easily cover a trellis in a single season. The spikes of fragrant pea-like bright rose-purple flowers (sometimes white or pink) are followed in late summer by flat, glossy, ruby-purple seed pods (to 6” long). Given a sunny location, it will bloom continuously throughout the summer.

Lagenaria siceraria
Hardshell gourds

Gourds are fast growing annual vines that can also provide attractive fall ornaments, bowls or dippers. They need full sun.  Best production is obtained from well watered plants but they will tolerate dry periods. Direct seed outdoors or start transplants indoor for faster growth and best production. Flowers bloom at night. Hand pollination often improves fruit set. Plants have good tolerance for hot and humid summers.

 
'Cherokee Trail of Tears'

 
Scarlet runner bean

Phaseolus vulgaris
Pole beans

Why not make your privacy screen productive and edible! Pole beans are fast growing and you can harvest tender, tasty beans all summer long. Plant in full sun for best production and water as needed during dry periods. ‘Blue Lake’ pole bean does very well but you could also try the yard-long or asparagus bean or the scarlet runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus). Harvest the beans when they are still young and tender for best eating quality.

  Fencing with Perennial Deciduous Vines

Actinidia kolomikta
Variegated kiwi vine

This vine is a relatively fast-growing, deciduous, woody vine which typically grows 15-20' and features tiny, slightly fragrant, greenish-white flowers in early summer and attractive, heart-shaped (to 5" long), green foliage variegated with white and/or pink. Grow in average, medium moisture, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade.


Aristolochia tomentosa
Dutchman's pipe

This rapidly growing deciduous woody vine can provide dense cover for sun porches, verandas, pillars, posts, trellises, arbors, fences or walls. It has been popularly used for many years to screen front porches and is an excellent selection for a butterfly garden. It features large, heart-shaped leaves and unusual, 2" long, curved flowers superficially resembling Dutch smoking pipes. Although the flowers make interesting conversation pieces, they are usually hidden by the dense foliage and are somewhat inconspicuous. This is a larval host plant for the beautiful pipe vine swallowtail butterfly. Foliage cover quickly regrows following any larval feeding.
Berchemia scandens
Supple-jack

This drought-tolerant woody vine is a good choice for woodland gardens, open woodland areas or native plant gardens. It features tough stems, greenish-white flowers in mid to late spring and blue fruits in autumn. The fruits are inedible (mildly toxic) for humans. Supple-jack is the name for a strong pliant walking stick made from a plant such as this vine. The stems can also be used to make wicker products, hence the additional common name of rattan vine.

Bignonia capeolata 'Atrosanguinea'
Bignonia capreolata
Cross vine

Used to cover fences, arbors, walls, pillars or large trellises, this vigorous, woody vine is grown primarily for its attractive flowers and its ability to rapidly cover structures with attractive foliage.  The foliage remains evergreen in the South, but in the colder winter areas of its range, it turns reddish-purple in fall with subsequent leaf drop. The fragrant, trumpet-shaped, orange-red flowers appear in spring and are attractive to hummingbirds.

Celastrus scandens
American bittersweet

American bittersweet is a deciduous twining woody vine that is best known for its showy red berries (female plants) that brighten up fall and winter landscapes. Berry-laden branches are prized for use as indoor decorations, but collection of the branches in the wild has significantly reduced the wild populations in some areas. It rapidly grows to 20’.  Fruits are poisonous if ingested by humans, but are considered to be quite tasty by many birds.

Note: This is not the aggressive Oriental bittersweet, C. orbiculatus, which has escaped cultivation and is naturalizing in parts of eastern and central North America.

Clematis 'Jackmanii'
Clematis

This clematis is an old favorite which was introduced in England in the mid-1800s but is still a valuable addition to the garden. It should be cut to the ground each spring but it will quickly cover a trellis in spring and can be covered with  5-7" violet-purple flowers from  mid to late summer. It is easily grown in fertile, medium moisture, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade.

More plants

 

Humulus lupulus 'Aureus'
Hops

Hops is a rhizomatous, twining perennial vine that is grown commercially for harvest of female fruits which are used by breweries to preserve and flavor beer. It is also an easy-to-grow ornamental plant that can be grown on a variety of support structures. It grows rapidly each year to 15-20' long on rough stems clad with lobed leaves. Flowers emit a pine-like fragrance and are attractive to butterflies. It is easily grown in average, medium, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. Prefers moist, rich soils, but has some tolerance for drought. 'Aureus' has leaves which emerge bright chartreuse in spring, but some leaves tend to turn more greenish as the growing season progresses.

Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris 
Climbing hydrangea

Climbing hydrangea is a vigorous, sprawling, deciduous, woody vine that clings and climbs by twining and aerial rootlets along the stems, typically maturing over time to 30-40’ long. Fragrant white, lacecap flowers bloom in late spring to early summer (May-June). It is best grown in rich, fertile, moist but well-drained soils in part shade to full shade. Tolerates full sun only if grown with consistently moist soils. Slow to establish, but quite vigorous thereafter.

Lonicera × heckrottii 'Gold Flame' 
Goldflame honeysuckle

 ‘Gold Flame’ a vigorous honeysuckle with intense flower color but is not invasive like Japanese honeysuckle, which should be avoided. It is most frequently seen as a twining vine that grows to 10-15’, but may be pruned as a rounded, free-standing shrub growing to 4-6’. Extremely fragrant tubular, rose pink flowers (to 2” long) with yellow interiors bloom throughout much of the growing season in terminal whorls. The most profuse bloom typically occurs from June to August, with sparser bloom continuing into fall on new growth. Easily grown in average, medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade.

Lonicera sempervirens
Trumpet honeysuckle

This woody, perennial vine is nothing like the rampant, invasive Japanese honeysuckle. It is a vigorous, deciduous, twining vine which typically grows 10-15' (less frequently to 20') and is one of the showiest of the vining honeysuckles. It should be trained on a trellis and in warm winters will be semi-evergreen. Grow it in average, medium, well-drained soil in full sun. Blooms best in full sun but tolerates shade. Adapts to a wide range of soils.

Parthenocissus quinquefolia
Virginia creeper

This deciduous woody vine is a vigorous tendril-climber that needs no support and typically grows 30-50'. It can adhere to flat surfaces (e.g., brick, stone or wood walls) via adhesive disks at the tendril ends, and so is excellent for covering walls, trellises, arbors or fences. It may also be grown on the ground to cover old stumps, rock piles or other eyesores or for erosion control on slopes. The large compound-palmate leaves emerge purplish in spring, mature to dull green in summer and change to purple to crimson-red in autumn. Fall color can be quite attractive. The dark blue to black berries are attractive to birds. Tolerates full shade.
Passiflora incarnata
Wild passion flower

The unique flower makes this vine an extremely interesting plant for the garden. It is a rapid-growing, tendril-climbing vine that is woody in warm winter climates and herbaceous (dies to the ground) in cold winter climates. Flowers bloom in summer and are fragrant. The fleshy, egg-shaped fruits, called maypops, appear in July and mature to a yellowish color in fall.

Rosa
Climbing roses

Climbing roses trained on a fence or trellis are also  a good solution for sunny areas. Rosa 'New Dawn' is considered by many to be one of the best of the repeating climbers. This large-flowered climbing rose typically grows 8-12' tall. Features fragrant, blush pink, double flowers (to 3" across). Blooms late spring to frost. Glossy, dark green foliage. Abundant red hips in autumn. Best grown in average, medium moisture, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. Best flowering and disease resistance generally occur in full sun, however.

Another recommended variety is BLAZE IMPROVED

Wisteria frutescens
American wisteria

American wisteria is a clockwise-twining deciduous woody vine that grows to 40’ or more. The drooping, fragrant, lilac-purple flowers bloom April-May after the leaves emerge but before they fully develop. Limited additional summer bloom may occur. Flowers give way to narrow, flattened, smooth seed pods in summer. Leaves are deep green. American wisteria is not as aggressive a spreader as Wisteria sinensis (Chinese wisteria).

 Espalier

Another way to provide a screen is to train plants in a flat plane against a wall or fence or on a trellis or wires. This is know as espalier. You can purchase small trees already trained as an espalier or you can start with a young plant and train it yourself.  Espalier fruit trees can be purchased from mail order catalogues or a specialty nursery. Trees can be trained in a number of patterns. Both summer and winter purning is usually required. Purchase a book on how to prune espalier plants or visit the many sites on the web that provide pruning instructions.

 

Apples

Apples need full sun to produce fruit so make sure you have a sunny location. Insect and disease control is usually required as is protection from birds if you want to harvest fruit. Espaliered fruit trees are high maintenance.

We recommend our Kemper Factsheet "Fruits for the St. Louis Area - Recommended Varieties" and the University of Missouri's guidesheet "Fruit Cultivars for Home Planting" as good sources for recommended varieties for the St. Louis area.

Pears

Pears also need full sun to produce fruit. Insect and disease control is usually required as is protection from birds if you want to harvest fruit.

See our Kemper Factsheet "Fruits for the St. Louis Area - Recommended Varieties" and the University of Missouri's guidesheet "Fruit Cultivars for Home Planting" for recommended varieties for the St. Louis area.

Grapes

Most grapes are rampant growers and if you just want a fast growing screen little pruning is required. If, however, you are growing the vines to harvest table fruit or growing wine grapes, considerable pruning and insect and disease control is generally required. Birds can also quickly strip the fruit if the vines are not netted or the grape clusters protected.

See our Kemper Factsheet "Fruits for the St. Louis Area - Recommended Varieties" provides variety recommendations. The University of Missouri's guidesheet on "Home Fruit Production: Grape Culture" and "Home Fruit Production: Grape Training Systems" contain a lot of useful information.

Campsis radicans
Trumpet creeper

Trumpet vine or trumpet creeper, is a dense, vigorous, multi-stemmed, woody, clinging vine that attaches itself to structures and climbs by aerial rootlets.It can rapidly grow to 30-40' high. It has attractive red trumpet-shaped throughout the summer. It is easily grown in most soils and vines must be grown on sturdy structures because mature plants produce considerable weight. This is an extremely aggressive plant which suckers profusely from underground runners and freely self-seeds.

  Hedging with Plants

With growing spaces of 3-6 feet wide, narrow growing annual or perennial plants can be considered. Annual plants can provide screening from mid-summer into fall. Decideous plants will provide more open screening in winter but evergreen plants can provide dense screening all year.

  Fast-growing Annual Plants and Grasses

Alocasia
Elephant ears

Alocasias and other elephant ears come in a variety of sizes, leaf colors and light requirements. They may be one of the few choices you have for an annual plant that can be grown in shade. Most, however, are best in part shade or filtered shade. They like a moist soil rich in compost. Many will grow as wide as they are tall but some narrow more upright growing varieties are available.

Canna
Cannas

For summer screening, cannas are both attractive and functional. Plants sold in commerce are mostly hybrids ranging from 1.5' tall dwarfs to 8' tall giants. Flower colors typically include red, orange, pink, yellow, cream and some bicolors. Foliage colors include shades of green, bronze and striped/variegated. Dramatic foliage provides considerable ornamental interest when plants are not in flower. Growing from rhizomes, they are best grown in moist, organically rich, well-drained soils in full sun. In St. Louis rhizomes need to be lifted in fall for overwintering. Our visual guide "Digging and Storing Cannas" explains how to dig and overwinter the rhizomes.

Helianthus annuus
Sunflowers

Sunflowers are a fast growing annual for a sunny location. They can grow in a narrow area only a couple feet wide and produce bright, colorful flowers that attract bees. The plants also produce edible seeds that can be harvested or left for the birds (yes, and squirrels). Sunflowers c0me in a variety of heights and flower colors but all need full sun and ample moisture. Seed directly in the ground when the soil has warmed, usually in mid to late May.

 

Panicum virgatum
Switchgrass

This perennial grass can grow 6 feet tall and is narrower than most ornamental grasses. It can also be used for winter screening as it holds its foliage well through winter. Cut down to the ground in later winter or early spring. Several colorful cultivars are available.

Ricinus communis
Castor bean

All parts of the castor bean plant are poisonous, especially the seeds. So, where there is no danger of small children eating the plant it can used as a screen. It will grow rapidly in a single season to 6-10’ tall and has attractive large leaves. It thrives in rich, evenly moist, well-drained loams in full sun. Plants tolerate part shade, but best height and flowering occur in full sun. Site in locations protected from strong winds. Sow seed indoors in pots about 6-8 weeks prior to last spring frost date or sow directly in the soil when the soil is warm.

  Evergreen Shrubs

In areas where you can allow the plants to spread to 6 feet wide you have a few more choices. First, let’s look at a few evergreen plants.

 

Cedrus atlantica (Glauca Group) 'Glauca Pendula'
Blue atlas cedar

With support, weeping atlas cedar can make an attractive, narrow, evergreen screen. ‘Glauca Pendula’ is a columnar, weeping form featuring pendulous branches clad with bluish-green needles in clusters and upright, barrel-shaped cones. Training determines the form of the tree. Best grown in deep, moist but well-drained, acidic loams in full sun. Drought tolerant once established. Intolerant of poorly drained wet soils. Site trees in locations protected from wind.

Ilex × meserveae 'Heckenstar' CASTLE WALL (male)
Holly

CASTLE WALL is a male evergreen holly with a compact, upright, broad-columnar form that typically matures 5-8' tall and to 3-4' wide. It is a dense shrub that features small, oval to elliptical, serrated, glossy deep green leaves (to 1.5” long). Easily grown in average, slightly acidic, moist, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Part afternoon shade is best in hot summer climates.

 

Ilex × meserveae 'Hackfee' CASTLE SPIRE (female)
Holly

CASTLE SPIRE is a female evergreen holly with a compact, upright, pyramidal form that typically matures 8-10' tall and to 3-4' wide. It is a dense shrub that features small, oval to elliptical, serrated, glossy deep green leaves (to 2” long). Bright red berries mature in fall and remain on the plants into winter. Easily grown in average, slightly acidic, moist, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Part afternoon shade is best in hot summer climates.

 

Juniperus virginiana 'Taylor'
Red cedar

‘Taylor’ is an upright narrow columnar eastern red cedar that typically grows to 15-20' tall but to only 3-4' wide. Silvery blue-green foliage is attractive throughout the growing season. Foliage may take on some bronze tones in winter. Round, blue-purple, berry-like cones on female trees are often ornamental. Easily grown in average, medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun. Tolerates a wide range of soils and growing conditions. Prefers consistent moisture, but has good drought resistance once established. Intolerant of wet soils.

 

Picea abies 'Pendula'
Weeping Norway spruce

‘Pendula’ is an unusual weeping cultivar of Norway spruce. It is an irregularly shaped evergreen whose form will vary considerably depending upon its early training. If staked and supported, it can grow generally upright into a 10-15’ tall tree and trained to 3-4’ wide. Grow in average, medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun. Best in cold climates, and will not grow well south of USDA Zone 7. Norway spruce is one of the best adapted spruce trees for the St. Louis area.

Thuja occidentalis 'Klmeighteen' PATRIOT 
Arborvitae

American arborvitae can be grown in average, medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. It prefers moist, neutral to alkaline, well-drained loams and is intolerant of dry conditions. PATRIOT is an upright, narrow, columnar cultivar that eventually grows to 20-30’ tall with a spread to only 5' wide.

 

Thuja occidentalis 'Holmstrup'
Arborvitae

As above this arborvitae is good for sun or shade. ‘Holmstrup’ is a compact cultivar. It is a slow-growing cultivar that grows to 5-8’ tall over the first 10 years, eventually maturing to as much as 10-15’ and about 5' wide over time. Plants display a dense narrow-pyramidal shape with attractive rich green scale-like foliage in vertical sprays. Foliage is noted for retaining good green color throughout winter.

 

Taxus × media 'Beanpole'
Yew

‘Beanpole’ is an upright, columnar, hybrid evergreen yew that typically grows narrowly upward with ascending shoots. It eventually matures over 20+ years to 8-10’ tall with a spread of 4-6’ wide. Lustrous, flat-needled, two-ranked, dark green foliage. It is best grown in average, medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade but is tolerant of full shade. It also shows good drought tolerance in shade. One of the few good choices for an evergreen screen in full shade.

  Deciduous Shrubs

Following are some deciduous plants that grow 6-10 feet tall and remain narrow or can be pruned to remain narrower.

Aronia arbutifolia 'Brilliantissima'
Chokeberry 

‘Brillianttissima’ chokeberry is a deciduous shrub which typically grows slowly to 6-8' tall and is perhaps most noted for its attractive glossy red berries and red fall foliage color. With pruning it can be kept at a width of 2-3' wide. It is easily grown in average, medium, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade.

Carpinus betulus 'Fastigiata'
Common hornbeam

'Fastigiata', sometimes called upright European hornbeam, displays a narrow, fastigiate tree in youth, but gradually acquires a tear drop or oval-vase shape with age, typically maturing to 40’ tall and 30’ wide. With regular, yearly pruning, however, it can be trained to a tall hedge 10-20' tall and 4-6' wide. It is easily grown in medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade.

 

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Chionanthus retusus 'Tokyo Tower'
Chinese fringtree

'Tokyo Tower' is a narrow, strongly upright branching tree growing 12-15' tall and 4-6' wide.  It has terminal clusters of mildly fragrant, pure white flowers in late spring to early summer and tan and gold exfoliating bark. It is easily grown in average, medium moisture, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. Seldom needs pruning. Intolerant of prolonged dry conditions.

Rhamnus frangula 'Ron Williams' FINE LINE
Alder buckthorn

‘Ron Williams’ being sold as FINE LINE is an upright, columnar, freely branching, deciduous shrub with fern-like foliage, few flowers and nonviable seed. It grows slowly to 5-7’ tall but to only 2’ wide. It is easily grown in average, medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Prefers consistent moisture. Adapts to a variety of soils. Plants will not self-seed in the landscape. Although species plants of Rhamnus frangula are invasive there is currently no good evidence FINE LINE is invasive or presents any problem to the environment. Check your state laws. Some states do not allow the planting of any cultivars of species they list as invasive even if the plant is sterile.

 

Hibiscus syriacus 'Diana'
Rose of Sharon

'Diana' is a sterile rose of Sharon that produces white flowers and very few if any seed pods. It will grow 8-12’ tall and 4-6’ wide without pruning but can be kept to 3-4’ wide with regular pruning.  It can also be trained as an espalier. It is easily grown in average, medium, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade with better flowering in full sun. Very tolerant of summer heat and humidity.

 

Lagerstroemia indica 'Whit II' DYNAMITE
Crape myrtle

The trunks of crape myrtle are marginal hardy in St. Louis but most all cultivars are root-hardy. In severe winters the trunks may freeze to the ground but growth will regrow from the base. Plants typically grow to 15-25’ tall where winter hardy but can grow 4-5’ when they freeze to the ground, still providing a good screen and colorful bloom as they bloom on new wood. They are best grown in average, medium moisture, well-drained soil in full sun. DYNAMITE features cherry red flowers from mid-summer to early fall.

 

Taxodium distichum var. distichum
Bald cypress

Bald cypress is a long-lived, pyramidal conifer (cone-bearing tree) which grows 50-70' tall but can be pruned to a smaller hedge 10-20 feet tall and 4-6’ wide with regular pruning. Although it looks like an evergreen, it is deciduous and will drop its leaves in fall. It is easily grown in average, medium to wet, moisture retentive but reasonably well-drained soils in full sun. Requires regular, severe pruning to keep it small. Dwarf cultivars may be available for use in smaller spaces or to reduce the need of severe, regular pruning. 

 

Viburnum carlesii
Koreanspice viburnum

Koreanspice viburnum is a slow-growing, upright, rounded, deciduous shrub which typically matures to 4-6' tall and can be pruned to 2-3’ wide. Red buds open in late March/early April to pink-changing-to-white flowers which are arranged in snowball-like clusters (hemispherical cymes) to 3" across. Flowers are very fragrant. It is easily grown in average, medium, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. Prune immediately after flowering since flower buds form in summer for the following year.

Viburnum dentatum 'Christom' BLUE MUFFIN
Arrowwood viburnum

BLUE MUFFIN is a compact, rounded, deciduous, arrowwood viburnum shrub that typically matures to 3-5’ tall and as wide but can be kept to 2-3' wide with regular pruning. White flowers in flat-topped cymes appear in mid to late spring. It is easily grown in average, medium, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. Prune as needed immediately after flowering.

 

Viburnum × rhytidophylloides 'Alleghany'
Lantanaphyllum viburnum

This hybrid viburnum (cross between V. rhytidophyllum and V. lantana 'Mohican') is a deciduous, multi-stemmed shrub with a dense, globose habit that typically grows 8-10' tall and can be pruned to 3-4’ wide. It has creamy white flowers in spring and evergreen foliage in the South. Grow in average, medium moisture, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. Prune as needed immediately after flowering since flower buds form in summer for the following year.

  Four to Certainly Avoid!

Bamboo

For a year-round evergreen hedge many gardeners ask about bamboo. Although bamboo grows tall and narrow the species that can be grown in Missouri are spreading or running types and will quickly get out of bounds and spread uncontrollably. See “Controlling Bamboo”  for more about problems with running bamboo.

Euonymus fortunei 'Coloratus'
Wintercreeper euonymus

Wintercreeper is often used as a groundcover but it will climb up fences where it can create a screen. It is very invasive, however, and should not be planted. Seeds are readily spread by birds and the young plants will spout and grow everywhere.

Lonicera japonica
Japanese honeysuckle

This deciduous vine will quickly cover a fence and spread uncontrollably everywhere by long running vines and seeds spread by birds. It is very invasive and can quickly overgrow other plants and kill them. It should not be planted.

Lonicera maackii
Bush honeysuckle

Bush honeysuckle is one of the most invasive plants currently found in St. Louis yards, gardens and natural areas. It will thrive in most soils as well as both in full sun and almost full shade. Young plants sprout from seeds spread by birds and rapidly crowd out other plants.