Best privacy trees for shady areas – 5 screening plants that thrive in outdoor spaces in partial and full shade

If your looking for trees to create privacy for your home and backyard, these are the best ones to choose for shady spots

a backyard with trees in a shady spot
(Image credit: Gieves Anderson. Design: Frederick Tang Architecture / Brook Landscape)

Whether you've got a north-facing yard, or neighboring buildings block out a lot of light to your outdoor spaces, finding trees that provide privacy and that thrive in these less-than-optimal conditions can be tricky. 

The problem is, some of the best trees for privacy don't thrive in full or partial shade.  These often dense trees can suffer when they don't get the required sunlight, preventing that thick foliage from forming that really helps to screen out the outside world. 

So what are the best privacy trees for shady areas of your garden? We asked the experts for their top picks.  

What are the best privacy trees for shady areas? 

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Before reading our expert picks of privacy trees for shady areas, bear in mind that light is just one consideration for choosing plants for your backyard. Climate and soil conditions are important to research, too. 

You should also refer to the USDA plant hardiness zone  of your area when tree landscaping.

1. English Yew 

One of the most versatile privacy trees is the yew, says gardening writer and expert Janet Loughrey. 'Yew (Taxus) is a popular landscape tree or shrub that is tolerant of a wide range of light conditions, from full sun to full shade,' Janet explains. 

'This evergreen conifer provides privacy year-round and comes in a range of shapes and sizes to suit any type of landscape,' she adds. If you're looking for privacy trees for a small backyard, look for fastiagata yew trees, which grow in thick, dense columns. 

2. American Holly

If you have a shady garden with areas of full shade, your options are a little more limited, however there are a few privacy trees which can tolerate it. 

'The American Holly is a great option because it can tolerate full shade, plus, it’s an attractive tree that has glossy green leaves with bright red berries,' Scott Gilmore, owner of Las Vegas-based landscape design firm Landscape Creations. 'It’s a fantastic option if you want something that can provide privacy and add an aesthetic appeal to your yard. Do remember that it’s a slow-growing tree and will take a few years for it to reach its full height.' 

3. Dogwood

If you're looking for a tree with curb appeal, potentially as a tree for a front yard in the shade, consider Dogwood. 'Dogwood is a deciduous shade tree that can be grown in a semi-shaded woodland setting, or in an area that receives partial sun such as adjacent to a building,' explains garden expert Janet Loughry. 

'Dogwood trees have an elegant canopy that can screen out an unsightly view or add privacy to a front or back yard. The attractive flowers, foliage, fruit and bark lend four-season appeal to the landscape.'

4. Eastern red cedar 

If you have an area of partial shade, your options for privacy trees open up. Varieties like the Eastern Red cedar, which are popular in tree landscaping for screening, will tolerate partial shade, while also being tolerant of a variety of soil types. Its dense foliage provides excellent privacy, and it is also low maintenance, making it a popular choice for homeowners.

5. Emerald Arborvitae 

'Arborvitae is the most commonly used shrub for privacy,' Nancy Trautz Awot, Horticulture Specialist at Burpee Gardening, tells us. 'They grow well in as privacy trees in pots and require minimal maintenance. Arborvitae are also evergreen, so they’ll provide privacy all year long,' Nancy adds. 

However, Arborvitae, or Thuja, are generally best suited for full-sun - without a good six hours of light a day, you might find that the thick foliage that makes it so well-suited for a privacy tree grows less dense If you do want to embrace the benefits of Thuja in a shady area, your best bet is the Emerald Green Arborvitae, which does well in partial shade. 

Hugh Metcalf
Editor of

Hugh is the  Editor of From working on a number of home, design and property publications and websites, including Grand Designs, ICON and specialist kitchen and bathroom magazines, Hugh has developed a passion for modern architecture, impactful interiors and green homes. Whether moonlighting as an interior decorator for private clients or renovating the Victorian terrace in Essex where he lives (DIYing as much of the work as possible), you’ll find that Hugh has an overarching fondness for luxurious minimalism, abstract shapes and all things beige. He’s just finished a kitchen and garden renovation, and has eyes set on a bathroom makeover for 2024.