How To Plant A Privacy Fence

Privacy fences and hedges have a lot of benefits and many homeowners like to utilize them in their landscape. Privacy fences can provide seclusion from street traffic and neighbors, create a sound barrier to reduce noise, act as a windbreak to protect against harsh winds, and block off the view of eyesores. But most homeowners are at a loss when it comes to how to plant a privacy fence and what type of trees/shrubs they should use.

Step 1: Choose The Right Trees/Shrubs

Choose for Height

Before planting a privacy fence it’s best to decide how tall you want it to be. If you want a fairly short fence you may need to look for shrubs that can be grown and pruned to resemble trees.

  • American Arborvitae: ranges between 40 feet and 60 feet tall
  • Green Giant Arborvitae: a fast-growing tree that can grow up to 60 feet tall.
  • Emerald Arborvitae: ranges between 10 feet and 15 feet tall but can be trimmed shorter.
  • Nigra Arborvitae: ranges between 20 feet and 30 feet but can be trimmed shorter.
  • Rose of Sharon: a shrub that ranges between 8 feet and 12 feet tall. Can be pruned into a single-stemmed small tree.
  • North Privet: a shrub that grows between 8 feet and 12 feet tall.

Choose for Health

Leyland Cypresses are a go-to for privacy screens; however, they only do well in full sun/well-drained soil and often have health issues. Opt for the tree species below if you’re looking for a hardy, easy to manage privacy fence.

  • Arizona cypress for dry sites in full sun
  • Green Giant arborvitae for moist, but well-drained, soil in full sun
  • Japanese cedar for a tall screen in a partly shady area.
  • Savannah holly, Foster’s holly, and the Aqupernyi hollies (Dragon Lady, and Carolina Sentinal) are great for narrow areas.
  • Lusterleaf holly and Nellie R. Stevens holly are good for less restricted areas.
  • Cultivars of Southern Magnolias such as Alta, Bracken’s Brown Beauty, and Edith Bogue are great for tall and narrow privacy screens.
  • Little Gem Magnolia for medium height and a compact look.
  • Sweetbay Magnolia for moist soils.
  • Henry Hicks and Santa Rosa Magnolias can be used in most situations.
  • The Fragrant Tea Olive is great for tall privacy screens.
Little Gem Magnolia
Little Gem Magnolia Privacy Screen

Give Enough Space

Planting trees and shrubs too close together causes root crowding and creates competition for sunlight, water, and soil, limiting growth potential and causing severe health issues – often death. To avoid root crowding and the health issues that come with it make sure your trees/shrubs are planted at least 12 inches to 24 inches apart. Measure this distance from the center of the tree’s trunk. This range is a good rule of thumb, but the actual amount of space you need will depend on the species.

  • Junipers and Cedars: 6-8 feet between trees
  • Pines and Spruces: 10-12 feet between trees
  • American Arborvitae: 3 feet between trees
  • Emerald Arborvitae and Korean Boxwood (or other narrow species): 2 feet between trees.
  • North Privet: 2 feet between trees
  • Rose of Sharon: 2-3 feet between trees
  • Mid-sized evergreen shrubs: 3-4 feet between trees

Plan it Out

After you’ve determined how far apart to plant your trees it’s time to plan out where they will go. To keep them evenly spaced and on a straight line, we recommend following the steps below.

  1. Put a stake at each end of your planting area.
  2. Tie a string to each end of the stake.
  3. Starting at the first stake measure out the distance you determined above. Place a sprinkler flag there. Keep measuring the same distance and marking the spot with a flag.
  4. Plan to plant your trees where the flags are located.

Often privacy screens are planted along property lines, so don’t forget to take that into account. Privacy screens planted too close to property lines could cause issues with your neighbors. Branches extending into your neighbor’s yard can be trimmed back by the property owners. Plant well inside your property line to ensure your tree stays healthy and intact.

Plant Your Trees

Give your trees the best chance of survival by following our planting guidelines below.

  • Prepare an area two to three times the width of your tree pot/tree ball by digging and breaking up the soil. Your goal is to make an area of looser soil that young roots can penetrate easily in order to quickly establish their root system.
  • Remove weeds and stones larger than your fist from the planting area.
  • Water your tree’s in their pot or burlap the evening before.
  • Dig holes the same depth of and a little wider than the pot/root ball.
  • For potted trees/shrubs remove the pot/container gently and place it in the hole.
  • For burlap-wrapped trees/shrubs place it in the hole then cut away and remove the burlap.
  • Water the trees while they are in their holes.
  • Fill the holes back in with soil. Make sure to cover the top of the root ball with very little soil – no more than one inch.


The first few years of a tree/shrub’s life are critical for long term survival. To keep your newly planted trees healthy you will need to provide them with a little TLC.

  • Bio-stimulant: Bio-stimulants will give your privacy screen the nutrients it needs and help it establish a strong root system.
  • Water: New trees cannot rely on water reserves during dry periods like their mature counterparts do. To combat this water your tree regularly.
  • Mulch: Mulching fertilizes the soil and holds in moisture, giving the newly planted trees/shrubs time for them to absorb these essential resources.

Read our Young Tree Care blog for more info.

Need help with your privacy screen? Give us a call at 703-573-3029 or schedule a consultation with one of our Certified Arborists through our online booking system.

One thought on “How To Plant A Privacy Fence”

  1. Chris Davis says:

    As a privacy fence, I’ve had good success with skip laurel I planted 16 years ago.

    And thank you, by the way, for these informative articles.

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