Evergreen shrubs, with their year-round foliage displays, are, of course, prime candidates for privacy screens. Arborvitae, juniper and holly will be considered below, as examples of tall, medium and small evergreen shrubs suitable for privacy screens.
Tall Evergreen Shrubs for Privacy Screens: "Emerald" Arborvitae
"Emerald" arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis 'Emerald') is a small tree or tall evergreen shrub well-suited for the "loose border" style of privacy screen discussed on Page 2. With its flat, long-lasting needles and dense growth-habit, just let this evergreen shrub grow into the tall privacy fence you need -- with little maintenance on your part. Narrow and upright in form, Emerald arborvitae attains a height of 15'-20', with a spread of about 4 feet.
Intermediate Evergreen Shrubs for Privacy Screens: Irish Juniper
Irish junipers (Juniperus communis 'Stricta') are a favorite evergreen shrub of mine for privacy screens. With a dense growth-habit and narrow, columnar form, just let them stand together in a colonnade to form a loose border, walling out unwanted sights, sounds and overly-curious neighbors. Irish juniper has a wonderful bluish-green color and grows to 10'-12' in height. These evergreen shrubs are so narrow in width as to resemble a column. Hardy to zone 3.
Small Evergreen Shrubs: "Little Red" Holly
"Little Red" holly (Ilex x 'Little Red') has a dense growth-habit and compact nature (5' x 5') that make it useful for privacy screen hedges in areas where taller privacy screens are not desirable. These evergreen shrubs produce attractive red berries and has a moderate growth rate. Little Red holly can be grown in full sun or partial shade. Like American holly it likes well-drained soil with a pH that is acidic. Cold hardy to zone 6. As broadleaf evergreen shrubs, hollies make ideal privacy screens around pools -- no leaves or needles to clean up. Little Red holly responds well to pruning, meaning that you can sculpt a beautiful, formal hedge out of it.
Hardscape-Softscape Combos and Easily-Overlooked Ways to Make a Yard More Private
In choosing privacy screens, remember that hardscape and softscape needn't be mutually exclusive. Hardscape privacy fencing that you find unattractive or in need of "dressing" may be adorned with vines. For more on the myriad landscaping uses for vines, please consult "Landscaping With Vines." Climbing roses, like vines, can also be used for this purpose. To grow some lovely "clothing" for your hardscape privacy screens, learn the tricks for growing roses.
Finally, there are common plants having potential as privacy screens that you may easily overlook, but that nosy neighbors will not be able to look over. Eastern hemlocks (Tsuga canadenesis) are best known as forest trees that reach enormous heights (60' or more). But if you select a shrub-form cultivar, eastern hemlocks can be maintained at the height you desire. A properly pruned row of these evergreen shrubs can form a dense and attractive hedge, with their feathery foliage.
Likewise, eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) grows to a height of 100' or more in the forest, but that doesn't mean that with pruning it can't be shaped into a specimen evergreen shrub (see photo at top of page). You may already have a crop of young pines on your property, just begging to be transplanted into a row and pruned into a neat evergreen hedge -- a privacy fence for free.