Plants and Trees for Privacy and Windbreaks

A privacy screen or windbreak is something everyone can see a need for in their yard. Planting your own can be significantly cheaper than other options such as a block wall, vinyl fence, or screening alternatives which can cost up to $30 per foot!

One thing you want to do is ask yourself these questions when looking to plant a privacy screen or windbreak:

  • Do I want a screen, windbreak or both?
  • How tall do I want it to be?
  • What type of care am I realistically going to give it? (water, trimming, mulch, fertilizing)
  • How long am I willing to wait?
  • Do I want a hedge, or a low maintenance barrier (No regular trimming)?

Once you answer these questions you can use the information below in Hedge or Layers? to make a decision on which to choose and then proceed to choose appropriate plants.

What Grows The Fastest?

Silverberry Bush

We’ll start by addressing the question everyone asks first, “Which one grows the fastest?” This seems to be most people’s #1 priority for plant choice (I get it, I’m a millennial…). I’d suggest that it not be, but since I probably won’t change your mind, here is a list of them that grow in zones 8-9 (which is the zone that the High Desert and surrounding areas are):

  • Arborvitae ‘Green Giant’ – 3′-5′ per year
  • Silverberry – 3′ or more per year
  • Leyland Cypress – 3′ or more per year
  • Bamboo – 2-3′ and up to 5′ per year
  • Willow Acacia – Up to 3′ per year
  • Tecate Cypress – Up to 3′ per year
  • Carolina Cherry* (Alkalinity problem maybe?) – Up to 3′ per year

Why don’t you see some of these in the desert? Good question. Leyland cypress, Italian cypress, red-tip photinia, other arborvitaes, olives, oleanders, waxleaf privets, pyracantha, and euonymus seem to dominate the choices here in the Mojave Desert. Reason for this are availability, durability, and adaptability.

Others such as Green Giant arborvitae are close to impossible to come by in Southern California (why I’m not sure). Tecate cypress isn’t as popular as it should be among growers, and bamboo immediately scares everyone to death because it spreads in a way we’re not familiar with. Silverberry is hands down the best fit for a fast growing privacy screen for the High Desert. It grows around 36″ tall per year (which is not counting lateral growth), is extremely drought tolerant once established, has a small inconspicuous flower that smells great, and has small fruit that doesn’t create a mess but is available for wildlife.

These amazingly fast growth rates are all assuming that they are provided ideal care. This includes mulching the ground around the plant, giving sufficient water to maintain the growth rate, and fertilization at least once a year. This is also not immediate. There is a saying in gardening, “The first year it sleeps, second year it creeps, and third year it steeps.” that means a plant doesn’t assume it’s highest rate of growth as soon as it is planted in the ground. However, the smaller you plant a plant, and the better shape the plant is in when purchased (or how well it is grown), the quicker that growth rate is assumed. Typically plants grown in air root pruning pots, grow bags, or root pouches are among those that will transplant seamlessly and assume the maximum growth rate sooner than later.


If you’re like many others, you’ll usually be looking for an evergreen plant for a privacy screen. The leaves will stay on the plant and never allow anyone to see through, and even block the wind in the wintertime. (Those marked with * are difficult to find or seldom grown)


  • Golden bamboo (It’s a grass, I know)
  • *Arborvitae ‘Green Giant’
  • Arborvitae ‘Emerald Green’
  • *Eastern Red Cedar
  • *Willow Acacia
  • Olive (fruiting or fruitless)
  • Hop bush
  • Leyland Cypress
  • *Tecate Cypress
  • African Sumac
  • Italian Cypress

Drought Tolerant


Another option is working with deciduous plants, either by themselves or in combination with evergreens. These plants and trees will lose their leaves in the wintertime, leaving a hedge or twigs and branches behind. One advantage of deciduous trees and plants is that they can have fall color and flower. European hornbeams, which are commonly used as hedges in Europe, will hold onto leaves until new ones come out in Spring, but it isn’t particularly drought tolerant. Here is a short list of deciduous trees and shrubs you can use if you want a uniform hedge:

  • Chinese Elm (recommended over Siberian)
  • Deciduous Privets (Common, Ovalifolium)
  • European Hornbeam (not drought tolerant)
  • Trident Maple (not drought tolerant)

To create twiggy growth in deciduous hedges you need to trim more often at first to get early branching. This in combination of good watering and fertilizing creates loads of fine twigs to be the main branches going forward.

Hedge or Layers?

There are two main ways to create a privacy screen or windbreak which each have advantages and disadvantages. Personally I prefer a good layered privacy screen over almost any hedge as they give much more visual interest, but to each his own.


privacy screen hedge leyland cypress


  • Clean, manicured look
  • No designing or planning
  • You can choose just one plant
  • Can stay whatever size you would like
  • Fewer plants and less water
  • Needs little space


  • Need regular trimming
  • If one plant dies you have a gap until it regrows
  • Lacks depth and visual interest
  • Lack of biodiversity opens up to pests and diseases that can wipe out the entire hedge




  • Various textures and layers
  • Biodiversity that helps control pests and diseases
  • A dead plant is replaceable without looking odd
  • Needs little to no maintenance


  • More expensive as more plants are needed
  • Can take more water upfront to establish plants
  • Requires a wider area to successfully execute various layers
  • Planning and knowledge of plants to design

Whatever method or plant you decide on, the sooner you plant it the quicker you’ll get the results you want. Give us a call and we’ll answer any questions you might have.