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Mon, Jan. 27

Living fences provide seclusion and privacy

Living screens provide privacy – and the enjoyment of going “green.”

Courtesy Living screens provide privacy – and the enjoyment of going “green.”

This past week Joanne of Prescott e-mailed this question: "I receive your 'Personal Gardener Newsletter' each week and it's great. You haven't covered privacy screens though. Can you mention your favorite plants that can provide the best screening for my new hot tub?"

Joanne, the personal shoppers at the garden center spend more time with clients on this topic than any other landscape objective. It is a topic more popular than animal-proof plants or container garden combos. Let's cover some of the options you have for creating a living privacy screen that will please you practically and aesthetically.

Rows of evergreen plants are first to come to mind, but you needn't limit yourself to these for your screen. Of course, evergreens are thick year round, but, unfortunately, are slow growers. Deciduous plants - those that lose their leaves in winter - grow much faster and provide great screening for every season but winter. Most of us don't use the back patio, pool or deck in winter, so in some instances a fast-growing deciduous screen is a viable option. However, if you plan to use your hot tub while there is snow on the ground, you might need to plant tall evergreens along with deciduous plants for a fast, thick screen.

In planting your screen, ignore most growers' spacing requirements for hedges and screens. When the tag on the plant says it grows 10 feet wide, bear in mind that that will be your widest spacing. The branch structure should overlap at least 6 feet off the ground. I recommend spacing plants 25 percent closer than recommended for their mature size. This insures a quick screen that grows thick and full.

I train our staff to plan new screens for immediate privacy. I recommend putting money into some large specimen plants, which are placed directly in front of areas that need instant privacy. We use smaller-sized, less expensive plants to fill in the peripheral portions of the screen, which will fill in for total coverage in a few seasons. This practical design idea provides instant privacy from a neighbor's deck or windows, but it also stretches our clients' landscape budgets.

There are four plants that work best for hardy screens that are fast- growing and eventually become so thick that even animals won't try to go through them.

Pyracantha is the old-fashioned favorite. This 12-foot tall shrub has everything: beautiful spring blooms, robust green leaves during summer, bright orange berries in autumn, and is a beautiful winter evergreen. Birds love it and it only uses moderate to low water consumption. It can be trained into a formal hedge or let go to provide a more natural look. However, it has lost favor over the years because of its thorns.

Another privacy screen plant that is as natural as an Arizona sunset is the cypress. The Arizona cypress grows 18 feet by 12 feet wide and has a classic blue that blends well with any landscape. Leyland cypress is the same size and just as hardy as her Arizona cousin but has a more formal look and feel. The needles have a fan or flared soft appearance and are rich emerald shades of green. Either cypress naturalizes well in local landscapes; it all comes down to which color you prefer.

For a hedge that stands out with brilliant red growth in spring and an impenetrable wall of green the rest of the year, you should consider the red-tipped photinia. Glossy leaves reduce moisture loss from the plant and makes this a moderate water user that is fast growing. This year's summer crop has pushed new growth and appears really lush right now. This is a variety that delivers a lot of plant for the money.

The red cluster berry cotoneaster out-does all other screen plants. I have planted cotoneasters to hide propane tanks and, within a season, a huge 500-gallon tank was hidden from view. This evergreen shrub grows 10 to 15 feet tall and half as wide. Bouquets of white flowers form in the spring and eventually form clusters of red berries throughout winter, which give it its name. A 5-gallon size cotoneaster planted now can grow to be 6 feet tall by this time next year.

I would like to know your thoughts, concerns, questions or topic suggestions for this column. You may submit them to me at Watters Garden Center, 1815 Iron Springs Road, Prescott, AZ 86305, or by logging onto my website at You'll find the "ask a question" link on the left side of your screen. Whether you choose electronic or snail mail, I look forward to those comments from your desktop to mine.

Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.

Ken Lain, the owner of Watters Garden Center in Prescott, is a master gardener and certified nursery professional who has gardened extensively throughout Yavapai County.

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