Low maintenance evergreens

Santa Rosa, CA

Hello everyone!
I'm looking for some help. I live in Sonoma County, Ca (Zone 8b). I've never landscaped or had a garden before. I need to plant low maintenance evergreen trees and shrubs all along the back fence for privacy. We have a hedge out front, and I am able to prune it to keep its shape. That is where my skills end (and time availability with the kids & work doesn't allow anything more either).

The area gets all day of sun. One of my issues is that we are building a deck that will stop about 2 feet in front of the fence. I'm hoping to find some evergreens that do not drop a lot of debris. Some thoughts I've had are the tree (standard) forms of Grecian Laurel (sweet bay), English Laurel and Pineapple Guava up high for privacy. Any thoughts on these and suggestions for pretty and low maintenance evergreen shrubs to cover the fence?

Thank you so much for any help!!

Greenfield, OH(Zone 6a)

I personally like arborvitae. Many grow fairly fast and there is no trimming needed if spaced correctly. Home centers carry many that will grow tall. We have some that are over 12 feet tall and are only 10 years old.

Contra Costa County, CA(Zone 9b)

How tall do you want it to grow? Are there some neighbors houses and windows you want to screen off?

When you build the deck how high will it be? Is it OK if the plants overhang the deck a bit?
If you want something that only grows 2' wide (to stay off the deck) then it will also grow only 2' wide the other way, and you will have to plant a LOT of them, to screen a fence.

Walk around like you are using the back yard. Where will the bar-b-que be? Where will the table and chairs be?
Now look at the neighbors windows.
Plant small trees to screen those. Trees that get maybe 20' high will usually have branches that start at about 6-8' off the ground, or can be pruned a bit so you can walk under them when the deck is built. Unless you are dealing with a 2 story house and need the screening trees to be much higher, 20-30' trees are plenty. You could plant these as close as 8' apart, for the fastest screen though most would get pretty crowded. 12' would still provide full coverage, and not be too crowded. Of course this also depends on species.
In between the trees plant vines on the fence. Many vines will grow pretty fast to the top of the fence, then grow sideways, making a fluffy mass at the top of the fence, and adding at least a foot, often 2' to the height of the fence for more privacy. Adding a string or wire trellis system to the fence and training the vines on the fence will hide most of the fence.

ALL plants drop debris.
Evergreen: A plant that grows new leaves before dropping the old ones.

If small debris is easier to clean up, then choose a small leafed plant. If larger leaves are easier to clean up, choose a large leafed plant.
I would be more concerned about fruit staining the deck. Select something with minimal fruit, or dry fruit, not a juicy berry.
Give me some input if these ideas are going in the right direction, and lets fine tune it.
If you can post some pictures of the area, and some measurements that would really help.

Worcester, MA

Yardener - I'm with you. I planted 15 6' Emeralds along my back fence for privacy in 2004. All but 3 grew quickly (to date range from 16' - 18') and totally wiped out the view from my neighbor's yard and deck (the GOAL). The other 3 were stunted by the shade of my Norway maple, but when I took the maple down in 2010 they shot up, practically making up those 6 years of lost growth in the last 2...

These are compact neatly shaped trees, don't intrude on my neighbor's property and don't shed to the point I feel like I need to get a rake. They required some care the 1st season but after that, I've not had to trim them or water them. I especially enjoy the deep year-round green, especially here where the winter seems to last forever.

This pic was taken last year. The (much) shorter tree on the far right is one of the 3 that were affected by too much shade, but is nearly 2' taller than it was the year prior. They need at 6 - 8 hours full sun. If you have the sun, I think this is easiest living privacy 'fence'.

Thumbnail by davidsl88
Contra Costa County, CA(Zone 9b)

Laurus nobilis is fast growing, but can be pruned to form a hedge, and espalliered even if there is no wall or fence. It would be difficult, but not impossible to keep it 2' wide lower down, so you could walk by it and under it on your deck, but it will spread out above where you can prune it. I have kept mine that narrow, without anchoring it to the house until we had to cut it to paint the house. It was not very dense, but it was 2' wide in one direction and about 12' wide the other way, spread out against the house. It was taller than the (one story) house. I hand pruned mine, never sheared it, and that did not take long.
It is neat, clean. It has tiny flowers that will drop, but they are fairly dry, and will not drip nectar on the deck.
It might make part of a mixed planting that in total is a screen. By itself... depends on where you actually need the screening.

Prunus laurocerasus is another giant shrub to small tree, but is even harder to prune than Grecian Laurel. The leaves are so large that if you try to shear it you mangle the leaves and it looks bad. I have seen it as a 25-30' tall tree, and just as wide. I have seen it as a screening hedge, but in a much wider setting than yours. At least 8' wide. If you try to prune it too narrow it just does not stay dense enough. So your screen would not be a screen until it is higher than you need to cut it to walk under. It has some tendency to burn in full sun. The best ones I have seen in my area (about the same as yours) were in a fair amount of morning sun, but protected from the hottest part of the day. I know Santa Rosa can get really hot in the summer.

Feijoa sellowiana is a sparse shrub, not a good screen. Delicious fruit and flowers. I have seen quite a few grown for the picturesque bark, and contorted branches. Mine is young, yet, though it does produce fruit. It is as dense as I have ever seen them, and it is not a good choice for a screen.

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