Drought-tolerant Privacy Shrubs

Q: We live in Kamloops, BC, and are looking for either a privacy shrub or tree for our north-facing front yard. We want something that is drought-tolerant; many people around us have cedar trees, but they require a lot of water. Can you suggest another type of evergreen that would require less watering and grow at a pretty good rate?

Can you further suggest a bush or shrub that we could make a hedge out of that will offer some noise buffer and some privacy as well?

Drought tolerant evergreens include many of the pines and junipers. Neither are as fast growing as the ubiquitous cedars, but either will require less water.

A very nice and hardy upright juniper is the native Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum). Most of the named cultivars are various shades of blue-green or grey-green, although at least one (‘Cologreen’) is dark green. They vary widely in ultimate width from the very narrow ‘Skyrocket’ to the broad ‘Moonglow’. Most get to be 4 to 5 metres high, although ‘TableTop’ tops out just over 1 metre.

Like most plants that are drought tolerant, these are drought tolerant once established. Water deeply every so often during the first year so they can get that root system established. Many people are distrustful of pines right now, our native populations having been decimated by the Mountain Pine beetle, but most of the non-native varieties are not affected, and the epidemic is pretty much over anyway (the beetles having run out of mature trees to lay eggs in.)

One of the dwarf forms of Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris) may suit your needs; there are many nice ones. A good form of Mugo pine might also do well for you, although these can be unpredictably variable in size and shape, but beautiful in the right location. Some of the southern pines, Bristlecone or Limber pine (P. aristata or flexilis, respectively) would also do, though you don’t mention the size and shape you are looking for.

For a hedge, I am a big fan of mixed hedges rather than single species hedges; they are healthier and more interesting and can give delight year-round. Choose a selection of shrubs that do well in your soil and climate and that are all around the same mature height. They can be pruned into a formal hedge, or left to grow naturally to slightly different heights. They will all grow into each other quite happily—think of the century-old hedge-row in England.

Lilacs for spring bloom; mock orange for fragrance; rugosa roses for summer bloom, fragrance and colourful rose hips; Silver buffaloberry for the foliage; Caragana for texture… Once established, a deciduous hedge will do an excellent job of screening all year-round, without being quite the solid dark lump an evergreen hedge can be. The birds and bees will be happier too.

A few small evergreens can be tucked into a mixed hedge at strategic points to good effect, as well. Plants are far better at getting along together than people are.