The 8 best perfect-for-privacy garden trees
Your perfect-for-privacy garden trees are the not the same as anyone else’s.
This post will show you how to choose the right privacy tree for your garden. And it’ll also help you choose the right tree for the problem.
Perhaps you have a neighbour’s window over-looking your garden, but you only really need privacy in the summer? In that case, a deciduous tree, which loses its leaves in winter, will also give you glorious autumn colour.
But if you want to screen an ugly view or a street-lamp which shines into your windows, you’ll need an evergreen tree. That will keep its leaves – and your privacy – all year round.
But the days of planting gloomy conifers to prevent people peering in are over. They can even be illegal if they get too tall.
Top 10 privacy garden trees
- Ornamental pear ‘Chanticleer’ (Pyrus calleyrana ‘Chanticleer’) – deciduous
- Magnolia grandiflora – evergreen
- Holm oak (Quercus ilex) -evergreen
- English holly (Ilex aquifolium) – evergreen
- Amelanchier lamarkii (also known as Juneberry) – deciduous
- Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) – leaves die in winter but stay on the tree
- Ornamental cherry ‘Snow Goose’ (Prunus ‘Snow Goose) – deciduous
- Crab apple tree – especially Malus hupehensis
- A large shrub, such as Cherry Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus).
- A multi-stemmed tree, usually silver birch or amelanchier – deciduous
But before buying one, read more about it to check it’s perfect for you! (There’s more about each in this post, updated in 2021).
If you’re interested in all aspects of your garden privacy, then see my book, The Complete Guide to Garden Privacy, available as a Kindle ebook or a paperback in up to 13 countries.
And here’s what you need to know about finding a beautiful tree to make your garden more private and which won’t block too much light.
Before deciding on your privacy garden trees…
There is no single ‘perfect-for-privacy garden tree’. But there is the right tree for your garden privacy.
And the starting point is your climate, your soil, how big your garden is and what grows well in it. Before making a short-list of perfect-for-privacy garden trees, read this post on how to choose the right tree for your garden.
It’s also important to remember you don’t often need a whole row of trees. If only one neighbouring window can see directly into your garden, then you just need one tree, placed in the line of sight between your garden and that window. Here’s more about garden privacy and lines of sight.
How to choose trees for privacy
When you talk to tree suppliers, ask how fast a tree grows and how high it will get. Young trees are cheaper and often establish better. But if you want privacy soon, then consider how fast the tree grows.
If a tree is slow-growing, then mature specimens will be very expensive. But young trees will take years to get to where you want them.
We were originally recommended Acer Griseum (Paper-bark Maple) as ‘the most beautiful garden tree’. It is glorious, but too slow-growing for privacy.
But, on the other hand, planting a fast-growing tree close to your house can cause problems if the tree gets too big.
Think about shape and size
It’s important to think about its eventual shape, too. An upright, vase-shaped or tear-drop tree won’t spread its branches all over your neighbour’s garden. Perfect for privacy garden trees include Ornamental Pear (Pyrus calleyrana) seen in the photo below.
If your tree’s branches do cross into another person’s garden, they are legally entitled to cut them off.
There are a number of trees which are quite large for small gardens. But they can be pruned or shaped to make them work. Remember that will mean yearly maintenance, however. Read Jamie Butterworth’s advice and ideas in this post on trees for small gardens.
Pyrus calleyrana ‘Chanticleer’ – the ideal tear-drop shape
The shape of a tree makes a big difference to how much light it blocks. I asked award-winning garden designer Charlotte Rowe to recommend some perfect-for-privacy garden trees.
‘There are so many trees that it’s difficult to name one without knowing the site and what the client wants,’ she said. ‘But a tear-drop shape is a good option.’
Charlotte has often used Ornamental Pear (Pyrus calleyrana) ‘Chanticleer’, including in her own garden. People call it ‘the perfect street tree’. It’s easy to grow in any aspect, windproof, generally pest-free, low maintenance and tolerates air pollution. It has beautiful white spring blossom and good autumn colour.
Evergreen magnolia for year-round privacy
Think about when you want the privacy. If you only want privacy when you are in your garden in summer, then a tree which loses its leaves in winter may be fine.
But if you are blocking an eyesore, then you will want an evergreen tree for year-round screening.
We have an evergreen magnolia grandiflora directly in front of an ugly, glaring streetlamp. It has thick green leaves but doesn’t spread over the alleyway behind it. It’s not large enough to have any impact on the neighbour’s garden beyond.
More evergreen trees for privacy
Many evergreen trees, such as conifers, can grow very big. They’re not suitable for small gardens.
However, one way of blocking a specific view would be to plant an evergreen tree and to keep it tightly clipped. You will need to have it clipped at least once a year. And if you’re not physically able to do that yourself, then you’ll need to budget for a once-a-year visit from a tree surgeon.
Or you can combine privacy with a dramatic focal point in your garden by topiarising the tree. That just means cutting it into an interesting shape.
Holm oak (Quercus ilex)
This evergreen tree cuts into shape very well. If you keep it trimmed, you can keep it the size and shape you want.
And you can topiarise it.Large topiary trees are very expensive, but we created our over around 5 years by buying two very young holm oaks cheaply. Once they’d been established for a few years, we had them cut into topiary shapes. You could, however, do a much simpler shape and do it yourself.
English Holly (Ilex aquifolium)
People think of holly as a bush rather than a tree. But like holm oak, you can trim it into the shape and size you want. The holly below (on the right) was originally just a big shrub. We had it cut into topiary. If a shrub is already established, it will take 2-3 years before the topiary shape is sharp and exact, because the growth takes time to establish where you want it.
Good evergreen trees for regular clipping and shaping include yew and holm oak.
Amelanchier – the tree to replace net curtains
You may want trees for privacy from the street, especially at bedroom height. Or you may just prefer to wake up in the morning looking at leaves rather than streetlamps and houses.
Amelanchier is deciduous and loses its leaves in winter – but, on the other hand, you probably keep your curtains closed for longer in winter.
Amelanchier has a ‘vase’ shape and its glorious colour makes it a good privacy tree. You also have plenty of space (and enough light) at ground level to plant other things.
Pleached hornbeam – good for privacy from the street
‘You shouldn’t have a row of evergreens along a boundary with a neighbour if it’s going to cause any problems with their light,’ says Charlotte Rowe. ‘And that often applies to pleached trees too, depending on the situation.’
However, there’s no doubt that a row of pleached hornbeam is very much more attractive and less light-sapping than a row of towering conifers.
Garden designers often use rows of pleached trees in city gardens – although Charlotte says she is more likely to use trellis than a tree if a client wants privacy in a small city garden.
Pleached trees are a great option for privacy from a road or blotting out an eyesore. ‘Carpinus betula (hornbeam) is a good choice as an individual tree for privacy in a town garden, too,’ she says, ‘as it’s relatively fast-growing but doesn’t get too big.’
Ornamental plum trees – a good ornamental fruit tree for screening
You could also consider planting ornamental fruit trees for privacy. They have great blossom and beautiful leaf colour. Not all of them are an ideal shape for allowing light into the garden – the winter-flowering cherry that used to be in our garden had widely spreading branches, which affected our light (and our neighbour’s light).
So a more upright ornamental cherry would be a better choice. Our Prunus ‘Snow Goose’ has beautiful white spring blossom, glorious autumn colour and is a very upright shape so it doesn’t cast much shade. Definitely one of the best perfect-for-privacy garden trees!
And black cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera ‘Nigra’) has worked brilliantly in another part of our garden to mask some railway signalling. It has staggeringly beautiful pink blossom in spring, and a very upright (tear-drop) habit which, so far, hasn’t blocked any light.
Perfect-for-privacy garden trees with fruit!
Apple trees and crab apple trees can offer privacy too, plus you get to enjoy the fruit. However, many fruit trees are sold on a dwarf rootstock, so check the eventual height before buying.
A tree for screening needs to be allowed to get bigger than a normal fruit tree. Fruit trees, however, rarely get enormous, so they’re a good choice for a middle-sized garden.
I am particularly fond of my two Malus hupehensis crab apples on either side of the front gate. They don’t exactly screen the road but they do give us a sense of enclosure and privacy when we step out of our front door.
Try large shrubs instead of privacy garden trees
Instead of choosing a small tree, you could consider a large shrub. Some shrubs grow to the size of a small tree and are easier to shape. Garden designer, Caroline Garland, suggests laurel or photinia.
Another good screening shrub is cotinus or smokebush. We have Cotinus coggyria ‘Grace’ which is more normally grown as a shrub, but has turned into a huge, glowing red tree. Everybody comments on its glorious colour.
It’s a good example of a shrub that will grow big enough – fairly fast – to give you screening. It has a beautiful leaf – a deep red which turns into a blaze of autumn gold. And it seems pretty happy with any kind of a cut – you don’t have to let it get as big as ours has.
Silver birch – beloved of ‘Chelsea’ garden designers (and me)
Silver birch has been seen so often at RHS Chelsea and other shows that some people may consider it to be a gardening cliche. But I love the pale bark in the winter, and the fact that it provides quick cover.
I have wanted a vase-shaped multi-stemmed birch for so long that I can’t understand why I haven’t bought a silver birch and cut it down, so that I’d have one by now. This would certainly be my choice for the current spot where we need screening – although the shape may not be quite right.
Think about how leaf colour will work in your garden – robinia ‘Frisia’
Trees such as robinia and acacia have glorious leaf colour, but are considered ‘suburban’, says Caroline Garland. If you mainly need privacy in the summer, she recommends you look again at what these trees have to offer in terms of leaf colour. ‘I think they’re ready for a revival.’
We have a robinia ‘Frisia’ at the back of our garden, planted by our predecessors. It is definitely too big to be planted close to the house – but in the right position will offer summer leaf colour and a stunning effect.
Where you plant your privacy tree makes a big difference
Your instinct might be to plant trees around the edges of your property to leave as much space free in the middle as possible. However, that may upset your neighbours (unless they, too, would like more privacy). And it will also draw a visual line around your garden and make it look smaller.
Garden maker Posy Gentles has planted three small birch trees slightly off-centre in the middle of her long thin town garden. You can see to the end of the garden but the exact outlines are blurred.
Both her garden and the back windows of her house are protected from the gaze of the houses opposite, but she’s not causing light problems for her neighbours. Posy’s trees are too far away from their gardens.
See how it works in video
The same principle applies if you use trees for privacy in a larger garden. The laws of perspective mean that planting trees – for example – halfway between your house and what you want to block is more effective than trying to plant them too close to either building. And it leaves more light for everyone!
Alan Titchmarsh has written a very useful book called Small Trees in his How To Garden series. It lists trees suitable for middle-sized gardens along with how fast they grow, which soil they grow in, etc. There’s also pruning advice – once you plant your tree, it is well worth pruning it well.
If you’re starting out in gardening and want to know which are the best tools and books to buy, there are lists of my favourites on The Middlesized Garden Amazon storefront.
Note: There are some affiliate links in this post, which means you can click through to buy. If you do, I may get a small fee, but it won’t affect the price you pay. See disclosure.
How close to the house can you plant a tree?
The RHS says that a tree should be three-quarters of its height away from the house.
However, the RHS also stresses that trees benefit gardens and very rarely cause damage. The fear that people have of trees is largely unfounded. Trees that are least likely to cause problems to houses are apple, plum, pear, hawthorn, rowan and birch.
It’s also essential to plant your tree correctly. Badly planted trees are likely to die, possibly several years later. See this post for expert tips on how to plant a tree.
Pruning your tree can help with privacy and light
Are you thinking of taking a tree down because it is making your garden too shady? If you still want privacy, then consider pruning it instead. Thin the branches out or ‘lift the tree’s skirt’ by cutting off the lower branches.
Pruning trees well makes a huge difference to their impact on your garden, so consult a proper arboriculturalist rather than a handyman with a chainsaw. Find out more about privacy garden trees and light in my post on how to prune trees for privacy and light. Even if you’re not pruning the trees yourself, it’s important to recognise good pruning.
Of course, there is never a ‘best tree for privacy’ – there is only a ‘best tree for your privacy’. You have to take into account when you want the privacy and where to plant the tree.
Also consider how it will affect your neighbours and other factors, such as whether it’s good for wildlife.
So I hope this helps as a starting place, and do tell me which trees have worked for you. And if you’ve found this useful, do please share this using the buttons below – thank you!
The Complete Guide to Garden Privacy
Gardens are getting smaller and more over-looked. So making a private space is no longer just about planting the tallest tree possible. The Complete Guide to Garden Privacy shows you how to choose and combine trees, hedges, fences and screens for privacy. There is a chapter on which climbing plants to choose and how sheds, pergolas, arbours and trellis can help create a secret garden feel.
For a link to buy The Complete Guide to Garden Privacy in your country, see this list of Kindle and paperback editions around the world.
Or you can download it as a PDF from here to read on your tablet or pc if you don’t use Kindle. Or you could print it out.
The Middlesized Garden mugs, t-shirt and tote bag…
One of my favourite sayings in gardening is ‘Gardeners Learn by Trowel and Error.’ That’s because plants are so individual and gardens are so different – it’s always worth trying something out.. Sometimes it doesn’t work out – but even most expert gardeners sometimes kill plants. And often you’ll find it works out unexpectedly well, and something beautiful happens. So to remind you, I’ve designed a mug, tote bag and t-shirt with my favourite slogan on them. You can buy them here.
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