Choosing Evergreens

pcthompsonOctober 5, 2011

Advice on conifer selection.

I have enclosed pictures of my home. I live in central Illinois. The house faces north by northeast. I would like to strategically plant conifers to block my view of my neighbors. Across the pond I want to block the view of the white siding on the garage, the view of the street next to it, and my neighbor�s landscaping down by the edge of the pond (see pics) I am considering staggering two Norwegian spruces. I have started a perennial border with plants from my old house. It is presently in rough shape, but it will receive substantial attention between now and the spring. The perennial border is 50ft long. I was going to plant one NS at the end of the border about 15 feet from property line and another one about 15 ft from the evergreen with the bird house in the center. The birdhouse is right on the property line.

Originally, the plan was to plant some kind of Colorado Blue Spruce at the end of the perennial border and a Dawn Redwood down by the pond about 15 feet from bird house. However, I was concerned about the redwood not screening the homes across the pond in the winter, and I was worried that the blue spruce would grow to slow and look out of proportion standing in the shadow of the redwood.

I would also like to block my neighbor�s garage. When I look out of my kitchen nook. We stare right at the garage door and window (See pic) There is about 13 feet from the corner of my house to the property line and about 15-18 ft from the corner of the house to the south end of the perennial border. I have been exploring 3 option. Option #1 is to plant a couple of Serbian Spruces. Option #2 is to plant several skyrocket Junipers, and option #3 is to plant sky pencil hollies.

I also want to plant a Dawn Redwood, but I do not know where to plant it. I have woods on the north and west. There is also a steep ravine to the west.

Finally, I would like to plant a conifer on the front, SE corner of my house. I need to soften that corner. Originally we were thinking a blue spruce to match the one that we originally proposed for the back, but I am concerned about slow growth and the lack of height.

I would appreciate any suggestions. I am especially interested in the pros and cons of the trees I selected, and I am hoping for new ideas.


Here is the link for pics of the house and lot.

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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)
    Bookmark   October 5, 2011 at 7:48PM
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Point of clarification, you say the house "faces north/northeast" and later say "front, southeast corner." This does not jive.

Most of the evergreens you mention become huge. In the long run, where space becomes tight (anywhere near the house) you'll end up being forced to limb up the trees because they are "eating up" all the property around them. Then, good bye low level screening and picturesque views. At the back, these evergreen trees though grown in "shrub" form (with foliage to ground) will block out water view as well as the property across the pond. Is this the goal?

You've presented a puzzle with limited options (evergreen only) to the solution. With this, I don't think it's possible to see your overall objective and how things fit together. To approach landscape design piecemeal is not going to be to your advantage in the long run. The photos of your house are begging for a landscape designer...not just a few band-aids. To do it that way means that every plant you put in has the capacity to become the wrong thing in the wrong place at some point in the future.

I understand the love for evergreens where the world looks like it's all corn and soybeans and trees that are "dead" in the winter. But using only evergreens (or almost only) does not make the optimum residential landscape. If you ever get to the Chicago area, a visit to the Chicago Botanical Garden to see the possibilities would be well worth your while. Even if it's in winter (not after a huge snow!) there are many interesting things to see.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2011 at 7:06AM
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The front of the house southwest and the back faces northeast.

We do have a comprehensive plan for the yard with other shade trees in the front and back. The evergreens will only sit along the east property line, and there will only be one evergreen in the front, a Co Blue Spruce. We just need to find the best cultivar.

We plan to thin the woods of the scrub trees and sumac (leaving the oaks, maples, and dogwoods), so we can see the pond through them, so I am not concerned with losing my view. I want to frame my view, so I do not have to look at all that white siding or see the lights from the road on the other side of the pond.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2011 at 7:53AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I think Yardvisor has expressed several concerns quite well, and I'm glad to hear you have an overall plan.

I would add only one thing, which is that sometimes, distraction is more effective than screening. This point comes up again and again here on the forum when people get kind of stuck on the idea of sticking a plant right where an eyesore is, and often the screen ends up being an eyesore in and of itself, often due to being a plant stuck into the landscape for no apparent reason at that particular spot.

Screening has limitations too - tree canopies, for example, if that's the right term for conifers, move over time. So to start with they won't be where you want them, and then they will be, and then they won't be again (with conifers, if the lower branches die off). So the governing principle that I would suggest instead is that wherever a view bothers you, give yourself something else to look at in the same frame, and you are likely just going to stop noticing the thing that is bothering you. Try it with just anything - maybe a small table with a vase on it - to try the principle out.

You may want to do the conifers as well, of course, and they may work out just fine. But I'd anticipate that their success will be as much because you like looking at them instead of at what is behind. And you may want to put something else in the picture for your eye to rest on too. This also gives you the freedom to pick a conifer you might enjoy for its structure, rather than just picking the densest one. For example I have a little Swiss (I think) pine that is quite open but so pretty that you don't look past it.

I know this works because I have a yard with a serious hoarder next door and industrial buildings across the lane. Because my garden offers so much to look at out the window, I don't think much about those other things, although I don't consciously screen them.

Regarding which selections will be good in your area, of course I'm no help there! Glad to see you've also asked in the conifers forum; they will be much better for that.

Karin L

    Bookmark   October 6, 2011 at 8:38PM
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As you have another plan that comes into play, it's not possible to see how things fit together. It's a little like looking through a peephole so I'll just make some general comments.

I reiterate that the evergreen trees are ultimately huge. I can't see them working well close to the house unless you remove bottom limbs at some point and turn them from shrub form to tree form...which I think will be contrary to your appreciation of them. The other plants (holly and juniper) will be ok for where space is tight. The Holly will be the easier to control & to adapt to varying conditions. Don't forget about the possibility of nice looking privacy fencing being incorporated into the scheme.

Small things can look nice next to big things...happens all the time. I wouldn't be concerned that a C. blue spruce doesn't grow as fast as something else. It's better to plan for the long run and be willing to wait some. In the meanwhile, maybe you need temporary screening behind it until it can take over the job...? For a fast, tall temporary screen, I think it's hard to beat Heavenly Blue morning glories on poles. If set at 3' apart, they will grow together solid. When they bloom it can be an explosion of beautiful blue. You'll be cleaning out that woods so there's a source of free poles. Set 30" to 3' deep, tamped in, as top growth can become heavy. (Use a post hole digger to make holes.)

Very shortly after the picture was taken, these did grow together. They are in the 13' to 14' ht. range.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2011 at 7:51AM
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If you are strictly looking to plant conifers, you might want to try posting in the conifer forum. There are many interesting cultivars that might suit your purpose and the guys over there know all about them. Thuja Green Giants are often used for screening. You might also use Picea abies 'Cupressina' instead of the species if you are concerned about width. There are truly some amazing things that you can do with conifers (they are my favorite type of landscape plant) and they come in many different forms (columnar, weeping, round, pyramid) and colors (green, orange, yellow, blue).

    Bookmark   October 7, 2011 at 10:25AM
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Thanks everyone for the feedback and suggestions.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2011 at 1:15AM
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