15 of the Best Native Trees and Shrubs for Privacy

Create year-round privacy and a sustainable habitat for local wildlife.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia)

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Growing a privacy hedge can give you the sense of living on your own island in the middle of your own neighborhood, and you can grow that “green fence” sustainably, relying on native trees and shrubs that sequester carbon dioxide and support local wildlife and pollinators.

There are a few considerations you may want to keep in mind as you choose plants appropriate to your needs: height, rate of growth, variety, year-round interest, and suitability to your soil and climate.

Height

A green fence needs to be tall enough to obstruct the sightlines of neighbors or passersby. This is usually 6 feet or so, but if you live next to a multi-story home or building, you may consider taller trees or shrubs.

Rate of Growth

Depending on your patience, fast-growing shrubs or trees provide the most immediate sense of privacy, but you may opt for more interesting, slower-growing plants.

Year-Round Interest

Evergreens provide better year-round privacy than deciduous plants, which may or may not be a concern. If you only want privacy for when you are enjoying your outdoor space and you live in an area where winter conditions make that impossible, then a deciduous shrub with lovely fall colors but bare winter branches might be preferable to an uninteresting evergreen that gives year-round privacy.

But if you want a hedge that can keep deer, other critters, and peering eyes out, evergreens may be a better option.

Suitability

As always, plant the right plant in the right place. Depending on its height your hedge may shade other plants already growing in your yard or garden. Be aware of the US Department of Agriculture's plant hardiness zone map, which can help you define which plants work well in your climate zone. And consider that native plants are naturally better adapted to your environment.

There are dozens of native trees and shrubs to choose from. Below are 15 North American favorites.

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Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia)

Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia)

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Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) is a shrub native to Eastern Canada and the United States, with beautiful fall foliage and edible (though tart) fruit. It grows in a V-shape to a height of 6-10 feet tall and 3-6 feet wide. White to light pink pollinator-friendly flowers in spring turn into red berries that can provide fall and even winter interest. Red chokeberry produces suckers that can be removed or retained, depending on whether you want it to spread or not.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun produces the best flowers and fruit
  • Soil Needs: Medium moisture, tolerates boggy soil
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Sweet Pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia)

Sweet Pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia)

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Also known as summersweet and other names, Sweet Pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia) is a deciduous shrub beloved for its sweet late-summer flowers and its ability to bloom even in shade. Clethra grows from 3-8 feet tall and 4-6 feet wide. It is native to eastern and southern North America, especially along the coast. Suckers can be pruned to prevent naturalizing. Dark seeds provide winter interest.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • Soil Needs: Tolerates medium to wet, clayey soil
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Common Manzanita (Arctostaphylos manzanita)

Common Manzanita (Arctostaphylos manzanita)

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Common Manzanita (Arctostaphylos manzanita) is a broadleaf evergreen shrub or small tree commonly found in the Southwest and Mexico. Slowly growing to 6-25 feet tall and 10-feet wide, manzanita is drought tolerant like other species in the Arctostaphylos genus. Manzanita creates a distinctive winding branch structure with a mahogany bark. It produces small, pinkish-white flowers that attract insects and hummingbirds. Its fruits resemble tiny apples that attract birds and mammals. Great for xeriscaped gardens.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 8 to 10
  • Sun Exposure: Sun to part shade
  • Soil Needs: Tolerates a wide variety of well-draining soils
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Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)

Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)

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Grasses may not come to mind when considering a privacy screen, but Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), Big Bluestem (Andropogn gerardii), Yellow Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans), and Pacific Island silvergrass (Miscanthus floridulus) all grow to 6 feet and are interesting ways to create privacy. Switchgrass retains its upright shape and shoots flower plumes up to 7 feet tall that provides seeds for birds in winter. It creates a dense column of foliage that retains year-round interest, though it can be pruned back in the late winter or early spring.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • Soil Needs: Tolerates a wide range of soils, but prefers moisture
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Common Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)

Common Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)

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Common Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) is found all over North America. It forms thickets 9-12 feet tall and 6-12 feet wide, ideal as a privacy hedge but also as a nesting site for birds. Mammals (including deer) and songbirds love them, too. Its small white flowers form dense clusters that attract pollinators and other insects and produce edible berries perfect for desserts. Its flowers are used for teas.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • Soil Needs: Prefers rich, moist soil, slightly acidic
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California lilac (Ceanothus caeruleus)

California lilac (Ceanothus caeruleus)

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A show-stopper when in bloom, California lilac (Ceanothus caeruleus) isn't a true Old World lilac, as it's native to Mexico and western United States. As may be expected from its native environment, it is drought tolerant and suffers more from too much water rather than from a lack of it. It can grow to 10 feet wide and tall, with dark green leaves and deep blue flowers. It is easy to grow and produces fragrant blossoms that attract bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies from mid-spring to late-fall. Deer enjoy the plants as well. A number of lower-growing eastern Ceanothus also exist.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 8 to 11
  • Sun Exposure: Sun to dappled shade in hotter climates
  • Soil Needs: Well-draining, pH-neutral soil
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Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)

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Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is deciduous native to much of the United States, growing up 6-12 feet tall and 8 feet wide. Native to low-lying wetlands, it is happier in standing water and doesn't like drying out. Its pincushion-like, fragrant white flowers appear in early summer, attracting hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, and other insects, then give way to reddish fruits that provide food for birds and mammals throughout the winter.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
  • Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun
  • Soil Needs: Moist, poorly draining, fertile soils
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Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus betuloides)

Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus betuloides)

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An evergreen shrub that grows to 12-15 feet high and 20 feet wide, Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus betuloides) is a drought-tolerant West Coast native. It produces birch-like leaves and pollinator-friendly yellowish flowers followed by distinctive feather-like tails. Its nitrogen-fixing root system makes the plant act like a legume, enriching the soil. A close relative, Cercocarpus montanus, thrives in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 10
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • Soil Needs: Well-draining soil
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American Holly (Ilex opaca)

American Holly (Ilex opaca)

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Evergreen American hollies (Ilex opaca) can grow up to 15-30 feet tall in a garden—taller in the wild. While they bloom in May, their flowers are insignificant. Their spiny leaves and bright red berries have been decking the halls of Christmas for centuries. The berries also delight birds in wintertime. One of American Holly's strengths as a privacy screen is that its branches go all the way to the ground. Shorter hollies include the 5-8 foot Inkberry Holly (Ilex glabra) and the 3-12 foot Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata).

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • Soil Needs: Acidic, well-draining soil
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Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana)

Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana)

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Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) can either be grown as a 10-35 foot tree or as a multi-stemmed shrub for privacy purposes. Also known as a swamp magnolia, it is tolerates damp and boggy areas. It has smaller flowers than its better known Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), but its creamy white flowers are just as fragrant and the leaves are just as spicy. The fruit is reddish and attractive to birds. Evergreen in southern regions but deciduous in the north.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 10
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • Soil Needs: Moist, rich, acidic soil
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Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica)

Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica)

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Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) is a deciduous shrub that can grow 6-10 feet wide and tall. While its yellowish-green flowers are insignificant to humans, its berries attract birds into the winter. Being dioecious, it needs at least one plant to fertilize female plants. Prune any suckers if you don't want it to naturalize. Native to eastern North America, its taller cousin Myrica californica thrives in cool, coastal habitats.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • Soil Needs: Well-drained soil
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Hollyleaf Cherry (Prunus ilicifolia)

Berries of Hollyleaf Cherry Prunus ilicifolia
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A popular hedge plant in California, the Hollyleaf Cherry (Prunus ilicifolia) is an evergreen shrub that can grow to 30 feet tall and 30 feet wide, but is often clipped to form a hedge. Its shiny, spiny toothed leaves look like English holly, but being in the prunus genus, its edible, black cherry fruit attract birds and other wildlife. It produces small, white, pollinator-friendly flowers in early spring. For a similar cherry used in hedges but with a wider range of horticultural zones, see the Carolina Cherry (Prunus caroliniana).

  • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 10
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • Soil Needs: Tolerant of most soils, but prefers fast-draining, fertile soil
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Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius)

Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius)

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Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) is a deciduous shrub that can grow 5-10 feet tall and 6-8 feet wide, with distinctive red, green, and yellow leaves. Its pink or white flowers emerge in late spring and attract birds, bees, and butterflies. Fast-growing and versatile, it can tolerate drought conditions and is well-suited for xeriscaping.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 8
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • Soil Needs: Acidic to neutral clay or loamy soil
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Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis)

Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis)

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No list of privacy plants would be complete without Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis), a slender evergreen that is widely used in hedges and screens. Also known as Northern (or Eastern) White Cedar, arborvitae can grow to 60 feet tall. In areas with snowy winters, it is susceptible to ice and snow weighing down and snapping its branches. Songbirds and mammals may nest or find cover in arborvitae while deer will feed on its branches as well.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 7
  • Sun Exposure: Sun to part shade; avoid full shade
  • Soil Needs: Moist, neutral to alkaline soil
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Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia)

Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia)

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Also known as a shadbush and a number of other names, Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) is a slow-growing deciduous tree or shrub that can reach 18 feet in height and width. Let it sucker and it will grow shrub-like; cut the suckers back and you have a beautiful tree. Its small berries are edible and can be eaten fresh or in baked goods, but birds and small mammals will eat them, too.

Amelanchier alnifolia is native to western North America. For its eastern relative, choose Amelanchier canadensis, hardy from zones 4 to 8 that can grow to 30 feet. Other Amelanchier species exist as well.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 7
  • Sun Exposure: Loamy or sandy soil, neutral pH
  • Soil Needs: Moist, well-draining soil

Before you rush off to the garden center, do some research and bring a list of options. Trees and shrubs are longer-term investments than a pot of petunias. Consider what your privacy needs are, what will work in your garden and climate, and what will you continue to enjoy in 5 to 10 years.

Just because a plant is native to North America doesn't mean it's not invasive in your area. To check if a plant is considered invasive in your area, go to the National Invasive Species Information Center or speak with your regional extension office or local gardening center.