In Northern California land is at a premium. Homes are being built on smaller and smaller lots, with neighbor’s houses a few feet away, with windows looking down on adjoining houses. At Details Landscape Art, a Sonoma landscaper, one of the most frequent requests we receive on our initial consultations with homeowners is to ensure privacy from neighbors. Enter the screening shrub.


While trees will do the trick, often trees are too wide and eat up too much area in a small residential garden, or else extend way over the fence line into the neighbor’s property.. So a tall growing yet relatively narrow columnar shape plant provides the necessary screening while utilizing minimum ground space. And since privacy is a year-round issue for a Sonoma landscaper, we have developed a list of evergreen shrubs that will grow at least 10-12 feet tall, and up to more than 20 feet, that we can rely on to use in this situation.

Pittosporum – This is our ‘go to’ screening shrub. Subject of a later blog (Pittosporum – The Workhorse of the Garden), there are several varieties that grow to different heights and widths, some are variegated, and all are tough hardy performers than can tolerate sun or shade and retain a natural columnar shape without shearing. Some of our favorites screening shrub forms (there are also dwarf varieties) are:

  • Pittosporum ‘tenuifolium’ – black stemmed, dark green leafed, upright. Can be kept to six-seven feet wide.
  • Pittosporum ‘eugenoides’ – lighter, variegated color leaf. The leaf has a crinkly form. Also six-seven feet wide.
  • Pittosporum ‘Marjorie Channon’ – lighter variegated leaf, dense shrug twelve feet tall by eight feet wide

Podocarpus gracilior – The beautiful lush dark green tree Podocarpus has long slender leaves and can be kept upright and narrow with a little occasional pruning. This is a shade plant and provides a beautiful tall background.

Leptospermum – The Tea Tree takes full sun, can easily be kept columnar, and is available in several heights and       colors. One of our favorite is Leptospermum ‘Ruby Glow’, with a deep red flower. This is one of the more colorful spring bloomers.

Hillside landscaping with color

Feijoa sellowiana – The pineapple guava is also a full sun plant, has a grayish green leaf, delicious edible fruit and edible flowers which are a tasty addition to salads.

Dodonea viscosa – The hopseed bush has dark red to purple foliage in full sun. It is somewhat frost tender in prolonged cold temperatures.

Photinia – This full sun evergreen shrub is noted for it’s new growth which is a rich red. It responds well to shearing which encourages new growth and discourages the pungent flowers.

Carolina laurel cherry – The Carolina cherry is an upright shrub (or can be trained as a tree), grows to twenty feet tall, and responds well to shearing, so it can be kept somewhat narrow.

A Sonoma landscaper like Details Landscape Art is responsive to homeowners’ needs for privacy. When we design a larger yard with longer fence lines, we like to alternate small groupings of different varieties of screening shrubs for a more interesting colorful background.