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When in the market for a nice screening tree, it can be difficult to decide which variety to choose. There are many factors to consider including overall shape, size, color and scent. Let’s compare some species of screening trees, all of which get 25-60’ tall in the landscape after 20-30 years, without getting too wide. This comparison will help inform about the varieties of screening trees we have available, including some lesser-known but nevertheless lovely options.

Cupressocyparis leylandii – Leyland Cypress

40-50’ tall x 25’-30’ wide.

This is our fastest growing conifer.  Its excellent form and the speed with which it gets to 25’ make this our best-selling conifer, as well.  Of course, no tree is perfect and this one’s fault lies in its poor root system near the trunk, which makes it hard to dig.  We recommend purchasing plants in containers or Root Control Bags, to help with this problem.

Cupressocyparis leylandii ‘Castlewellan’ – Castlewellan Cypress

25-40’ tall x 15-20’ wide.

This tree is always a good performer. You just can’t find a gold conifer that grows as fast as a Castlewellen.  Some may think that line of golden conifers would be distracting but we’ve seen it done and it works! As with its green counterpart, this tree has digging issues.  Buy plants in containers or Root Control Bags in order to minimize transplant shock.


Incense Cedar


Calocedrus decurrens – Incense Cedar

25-35’ tall x 8-12’ wide

What a beautiful tree!  Out of all the trees listed, this is the one that can be used as a legitimate specimen tree.  Its fragrant, heavy-textured foliage and reddish-brown peeling bark, along with an excellent structure, make this tree a winner.  Calocedrus tolerates poor soil and, once established, is the most drought-tolerant plant on this list.  We have always had problems with large B&B Incense Cedar so again I must suggest the Grow Bags instead.

Chamaecyparis nootkatensis ‘Viridis’ – Alaskan Cedar

15-25’ tall x 10-15’ wide.

The Alaskan Cedar is by far the most graceful screening tree we have. ‘Viridis’ differs from the species in that it is brighter green with hints of blue and, in highly acidic soils, moves mostly to blue.  The branching is slightly upright with hanging foliage.  It’s best to use this plant in an informal hedge line, with curved lines or in small groups of 3 or 5.

Thuja x ‘Green Giant’ – Green Giant Cedar

30-50’ tall x 10-20’ wide

This tree is commonly elevated in magazines and on infomercials and, for the most part, it does live up to its reputation. Just imagine a condensed Thuja plicata (Western Red Cedar) or an Emerald Green Arborvitae on steroids.  The branches are thick and the foliage is very dense but without the upward branching of a Thuja plicata ‘Atrovirens’.  The Green Giant is deer-resistant, as well! We tested this claim by planting 3 in an area that is visited daily by deer. The deer browsed on numerous plants but not Green Giant!




Thuja plicata ‘Atrovirens’ – Atrovirens Western Red Cedar

30-40’ tall x 15-20’ wide

This lovely screening tree is one we have in stock, but isn’t used often enough! When I walk through our fields, I always stop and admire how nicely this tree grows.  If you saw all the trees on this list lined up together, you would end up choosing the Atrovirens.  The plant grows in a perfect tear drop shape with tightly-held branching.  Use this tree as a clean, simple backdrop to your more complex planting beds in front.

Thuja plicata ‘Excelsa’ – Excelsa Western Red Cedar

25-35’ tall x 10-15’ wide.

If you really like the looks of the native Thuja plicata but are limited in space then the Excelsa Cedar is your tree.  Excelsa stays smaller but still retains the relaxed appearance of the giant Western Red Cedar.

Let’s change pace and try something new.  In addition to being great for screening, some of these trees make excellent hedges. If you are tired of using broadleaf evergreens for your 5-15’ sheared hedges, try some of the conifers we just talked about.  I would not recommend the Calocedrus decurrens or Chamaecyparis nootkatensis ‘Viridis’ but the others make excellent sheared hedges.  For a very formal look, I recommend trimming 3 times during the growing season.  For a formal but softer appearance, cut it once in the spring and let it flush; this also makes it easier to design around.  Using these conifers allows you to start off big without the availability and transplant problems of broadleaf plants, like English Laurel, that are commonly used as hedges.

Whether using these trees for screens or hedges, they can add beauty and privacy to your next project. Try some of the lesser-known varieties to make your landscape really stand out. What screening trees have you tried? What factors are the most important when you make your decision? Leave a comment and let us know what you think!


*photos thanks to Northscaping.com