Evergreen windbreaks (wind breaks, wind screens) and living privacy fences (privacy screens) are popular uses for evergreen trees, and we often get questions about planting strategies and installation techniques. Here are a few tips to get the best out of your windscreen or privacy fence project.
Spruce, Fir and Cedar are generally better than Pines for living windscreens and privacy fences due to their dense foliage and moderate growth [slow growth = dense growth]. Spruce do not tend to die back on the bottom as with most Pines. However, your personal taste is just as important as any of these factors, so feel free to buy what YOU want. And check on what Mother Nature has already naturally planted nearby, as she is giving you an obvious hint of what species are happy to grow there.
Use Larger Trees or Plugs
We do not recommend bare root evergreen seedlings for this type of application unless you can provide significant care and watering during the first two years. Yes, they are the cheapest, but they’re very small and their root systems do not reach very far down, making them more susceptible to drought than larger trees. Bare root seedlings are also easily choked out by taller grasses and weeds, and can be forgotten and cut down by an errant lawnmower (yes, that actually does happen). Evergreen transplants and plug transplants are generally best due to their larger size, longer root systems and overall robust nature. Plug seedlings also have big advantages over bareroot seedlings simply because plugs are technically not “dug up”, and therefore don’t suffer the same amount of transplanting shock that bareroot trees often experience when first planted.
Evergreen Windbreaks: Recommended Tree Species
Black Hills Spruce [slow growing, but very dense growth]
Black Spruce [slow growing, but very dense growth, does well in poor soils]
Colorado Spruce [good balance of speed and density, pictured at right]
Norway Spruce [fast growing, not very dense]
White Spruce [highly tolerant of strong, drying winter winds]
Serbian Spruce [good balance of speed and density]
Meyers Spruce [dense foliage, grows much farther south than most spruces]
Oriental Spruce [dense foliage, grows much farther south than most spruces]
Eastern Red Cedar [can grow almost anywhere, dense growth, can be trimmed aggressively]
White Cedar [can be planted closely and trimmed aggressively into a tall hedge]
Balsam Fir [dense growth]
Douglas Fir [good balance of speed and density]
Fraser Fir [dense growth]
See our evergreen tree buyer’s guide for a chart of characteristics for each species, or click on any of the links at far left for even greater details about each species.
We don’t recommend Tamarack Larch for privacy simply because they are “deciduous” conifers, not “evergreen” conifers. They drop their needles every fall after a spectacular show of color, thus providing no privacy or wind break during the late Fall through early Spring. Pines are also generally a poor choice for a privacy screen, since as they mature they tend to lose lower needles and branches.
Evergreen Windbreaks: Proper Spacing
It is best to space each tree [and each row of trees] about 10 feet apart, with the trees of each row staggered like footprints. From a distance they will both appear and function like a single tight row planted only 5 ft apart, but without the resulting competition for water, sunshine and nutrients. For a more natural look, use multiple species and plant them more randomly, not in straight lines.
If you do plant too close, each tree may develop a void in the needles and branches due to competition from the next tree over…and if one dies, the holes in the greenery of the trees on each side will be revealed. You may need to cut down every other tree after 5-10 years to allow the rest to mature naturally without developing those holes. But hey, you could always sell or give away the ones you cut down as Christmas trees.