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Urban trees provide a lot of benefits to us where we live, work, and play. They clean the air we breath and provide us shade. Another benefit I talk about quite often is using evergreen trees and shrubs for privacy screening. The most important thing I have to say about evergreen screens in Union County is actually a request – please stop planting Leyland Cypress trees. Leyland Cypress is a heartbreaking tree because they suffer from fatal fungal diseases that are not preventable or treatable. Just when they get to a perfect size, usually right around age 20, Leyland Cypress will start to die very quickly. This is because Leyland Cypress is native to the Pacific Northwest so they simply cannot tolerate our hot dry summers. They grow fine when they are young, but once they reach a mature size they become overwhelmed by drought stress and quickly succumb to fungal diseases. I recommend planting Eastern Red Cedar instead of Leyland Cypress. Because Eastern Red Cedar is native, we know it tolerates our soil and our hot, dry summers. Eastern Red Cedar may not be as pretty as Leyland Cypress, but it won’t quit on you after 20 years.
Another very common scenario I see with privacy screening is that someone has a row of mature trees along the property line that provide shade, wildlife habitat, and aesthetics, but because the limbs don’t extend to the ground, these mature shade trees do not provide privacy screening. So the question is, what do I plant in the dense shade under these mature trees to create a privacy screen? I would recommend trying a few different things at the same time to see what does well. I would recommend Cherry Laurel, Yaupon Holly, Burkwood Osmanthus, Florida Anise Tree, and Rhododendron. A diversity of plants is very important in the urban forest. This way, if an insect or disease comes along that feeds on Cherry Laurel, you don’t lose your entire privacy screen all at once because you also planted other species. So choose a diversity of plant species for a more resilient landscape and urban forest.