7 of the Best Shrubs for Privacy That are so Much More Than Simply Plants for Screening

Create a more private plot while at the same time adding beautiful flowers, jewel-like berries and lush foliage that will truly enhance your space

courtyard with green plants
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There could be multiple reasons why you want to screen your yard by adding some of the best shrubs for privacy. Planting is one of the easiest solutions to help fix the problems of an overlooked patio, pool or entertaining area, or to help blur and disguise neighboring windows that look right down into your yard.

If your garden is overlooked, walls and fences offer the ideal surface for extending planting upwards, increasing the height of a fence or wall with greenery. It becomes easier to blur the boundaries by choosing shrubs that will bring structure, seasonality, shade and, of course, privacy. Cladding boundaries with a generous planting of shrubs makes the garden as lush as possible and offers a lovely distraction from the fact of being overlooked. 

When making your garden feel more private look for creative ways to enhance the aesthetic by adding the best plants for privacy that offer so much more than simply blocking a view. Now find out what we think are the 7 best shrubs for privacy and consider how to replicate these planting designs in your own yard.

1. Mock orange

philadelphus (Mock Orange') with flowers

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Choose a few of one of the taller varieties of mock orange like 'Snow Storm' and plant them in a row as a flowering privacy hedge in your front yard. Position the plants 30 inches apart to create a screen. If you have space, arrange plants in a loose zigzag pattern for a more naturalistic look.

Mock orange (also known as Philadelphus), which you can find at Home Depot, is sweetly fragrant and as you would expect from the name, smells of oranges. They are covered in large, mostly double, white blooms in summer that attract pollinators. They need a bright and sunny spot, as the more sun they are exposed to the more flowers they will get, but they do need well-drained soil to thrive.

Another idea is to use several mock orange shrubs to enclose an outdoor seating area to enjoy the sweet fragrance up close. Train mock orange shrubs to produce plenty of side branches by pruning them after the flowers fade. This will help your shrub develop a full, bushy growth habit over time. Simply snip off the last few inches of every branch to achieve this look.

There are lots of varieties to choose from if you live in Zones 4-8, many of which are hardy in cold climates.

2. Butterfly bush

butterfly bush growing by white wall

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Butterfly bush is a vigorous-growing, flowering shrub that produces large colorful flower spikes in summer and fall. Each flowering head is made up of lots of small individual flowers that produce large quantities of nectar, which makes them one of the best flowers for hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. Once the flowers fade be sure to remove any unsightly brown heads to improve the look of your shrub.

The best shrubs for privacy are taller non-invasive varieties of butterfly bush such as ‘Blue Horizon’ and ‘Dartmouth’, which grow as tall as 13-16ft in a 10-year period. They will thrive in a spot where they get sun all day long, such as a south-facing wall or fence that you want to add height to for screening purposes. Butterfly bush thrives in Zones 5-9.

Butterfly bush, which you can buy from QVC, is also an excellent choice for patio or courtyard garden screening too as you can plant them up in a large container. In colder areas, move the pot to a sheltered pace for the winter. Prune in spring, then return to the sunny site.

3. Arborvitae

row of aborvitae used for screening

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Arborvitae has a columnar, narrow growth habit and densely packed foliage, making it one of the best trees for privacy that can also be grown as shrubs. The foliage is soft to the touch and a vibrant shade of green, enhancing the overall beauty of your landscape at the same time. It's especially suited to privacy hedging. Plant along the edge of your property or use it to screen different areas of the yard.

'The variety 'Emerald Green' is often seen planted in rows,' says Rich Christakes, CEO of Chicago-based Ship My Plants. 'Their narrow, upright form has dense foliage of vertical sprays and a bright green color year round. They are hardy, adaptable, and the perfect choice for camouflage.' 

Another reason why arborvitae is such a good choice for screening is that it grows a couple of feet a year, with some fast-growing cultivars putting on as much as 5 feet a year. Plus, of course, it's evergreen, so offers year-round cover. It thrives in Zones 2-9, and does well in full sun to partial shade.

4. American beautyberry

beautyberry shrub with purple berries

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With its useful upright habit American beautyberry, which you can find at Walmart, is one of the best screening shrubs for your yard if you live in Zones 5-10. It stays slim and stands upright to slot into even small-space gardens. It makes a spectacular backdrop for perennial plants too.

'American Beautyberry (also known as Callicarpa americana) is a North American native deciduous shrub with arching branches that is a great way to add interest to your yard too,' says Shubber Ali, CEO of Garden for Wildlife, based in Bethesda, Maryland. 'It adds stunning color to the autumn garden when its leaves turn chartreuse, and clusters of bright purple fruit form along its stems.'

Its easy-care nature makes it a popular hedging plant for low maintenance gardens, especially as it grows up to 6 feet tall, and adds a couple of feet a year in the process. These plants are pretty flexible in terms of aspect too and will tolerate full sun or dappled shade, which is a big plus when you're looking for ideas for the best shrubs for privacy as it offers flexibility. 

5. Black elder

black elder (Sambucus nigra) foliage and flowers

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This gorgeous ornamental shrub with its dark foliage and elegant pale pink spring flowers looks stunning if you use several across your property line to blur the boundary and add a sense of privacy. You can use it to extend the height and improve the look of any wall or fence.

Black elder (also known as Sambucus nigra), which you can find on Amazon, is super-easy to keep pruned to the shape and size you want, or alternatively you can leave it to grow to its full height (around 12 feet) and spread. If you allow it to grow naturally it will develop into a small multi-stemmed tree, and thrives in Zones 3-8. Alternatively if your yard is small simply cut it back to the ground every spring, and it will regrow quickly and also stay small for you.

While this shrub is happy in any reasonable soil in sun or partial shade, you'll bring out the best of the deep burgundy leaf color if you plant it in full sun.

6. Rhododendron

pink flowering rhododendron by white wall

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Rhododendrons are one of the best shrubs for privacy as they grow up to 15 feet tall and really bush out so you can definitely count on them to screen a view if needed. Glossy evergreen leaves that are a year-round feature and colourful clusters of saucer-sized blooms means rhododendrons one of the best flowering shrubs to add to your collection.

Rhododendron can grow extremely tall so it's not a good idea to plant them too close to the house but they do extremely well on a property line to provide privacy if your garden is overlooked.

There are many different rhododendrons to choose from, with most varieties hardy in Zones 4 to 8. Always check both the hardiness rating of the rhododendron you’re planning on planting, as well as its mature height to make sure it's not going to swamp your yard.

7. Cherry laurel

cherry laurel screening in containers on deck

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Fast-growing cherry laurel is a landscaper's dream as you can use it to create a living privacy screen in your yard. It's easy to grow several in a row to make an effective screen. The glossy dark green leaves are a year-round feature as these shrubs are evergreen, so it makes the perfect shield if you want to create your own very private space.

Easy-care cherry laurel grows into a lovely backdrop, especially if you like a smart look and keep it closely pruned. It also suits a more loose naturalistic style if preferred. The white flowers are packed with nectar and fade to become the distinctive bright cherry-shaped fruit that gives this laurel its name.

Cherry laurels make an eye-catching garden feature when placed along your property line or used as a screen round a pool deck. In fact, these are one of the best shrubs for privacy and can be planted anywhere you want to define a space by adding a lush, dark green emphasis. They can be planted in either full sun or partial shade, in Zones 6-9, and require at least four hours of direct sunlight a day to produce flowers.

Lifestyle journalist Sarah Wilson has been writing about flowers, plants, and garden design and trends since 2015. Having already studied introductory garden and landscape design as well as a course in floristry she is currently adding to her list of qualifications with an RHS Level 2 course in the Principles of Plant Growth and Development. In addition to livingetc.com, she's also written for homesandgardens.com, gardeningetc.com, Modern Gardens and Country Homes & Interiors magazines.