Fast Growing Shrubs for Privacy

Use Them as Specimens, or in Hedges to Make Your Yard Private

White lilac bush in bloom.
Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) is a fast-growing shrub. richgreentea/Moment Open/Getty Images

Fast growing shrubs are a great choice for homeowners seeking quick privacy hedges. For that matter, homeowners simply hoping to enjoy stand-alone specimen bushes some time in the not-too-distant future will also be glad to find plants as impatient for growth as are their owners. This article lists several choices, linking to further information that discusses their main features and tips on caring for them.

Redtwig Dogwood: Its Bark Takes a Bite Out of Winter's Gloom

Its leaves are gone. Its berries are gone. Its flowers are long gone. It is winter, and redtwig dogwood is practicing its own version of "addition by subtraction." For, despite having lost so many features, redtwig dogwood may be at its best when nothing blocks the view of its best feature: its signature bark color, shouting out above the layer of snow coating the landscape (the same applies to yellowtwig dogwood, but in a different color). Looking at such a plant can lift your spirits on the gloomiest of winter days.

Mock Orange: Citrusy Fragrance

The wonderfully fragrant bush, mock orange is rather unfortunately named for what it is not, rather than for what it is. As the "mock" in its name suggests, mock orange is not a true orange. But the citrusy smell of its white blossoms was enough to invite comparison, thus accounting for the origin of the mock orange's common name.

Another white-flowered option is doublefile viburnum

Lilac: an Oldie but a Goodie

Like mock orange, the traditional lilac is an olfactory treasure. New cultivars are now available, but I still prefer the type of lilac with fragrant flowers that you probably remember from your grandparents' yard. 

Forsythia: Fast Growing Shrubs That Herald Spring

There is a special place in our hearts for forsythias.

When we see their flower buds yellowing up, we feel our anticipation fully justified. What is it we anticipate? Forsythia flowers? Yes, but much, oh, so much more than that. For forsythia flowers herald nothing less than spring, itself. Among the bushes, they are the spring flowers par excellence

Cotoneaster: Berry King

The branching of rock cotoneaster is stiff and dense, giving the plant, overall, a rather bristly look. Stems shoot off the branches in what is often referred to as a "herringbone pattern," a term also used in hardscaping. The bristly look is significantly softened once the red berries appear, as your attention will be drawn to their fleshy orbs. But for a privacy hedge, go with one of the taller types of cotoneaster, such as C. lucidus.

All of the fast growing bushes mentioned so far have been deciduous. Where are the evergreen choices? You will see them further down the list, but let's first look at a few more deciduous examples. Each boasts an interesting feature -- beyond being a sound choice when you need privacy fast, that is.

Beautyberry: Purple Berries, Really? Yes, It's True

Beautyberry is such a fast growing bush that many recommend pruning it down to within a foot or so of the ground in early spring.

The resulting new growth, laden with berries by autumn, is sufficiently large to make for a compelling display. 

Diablo Ninebark: Bark and Beyond

Even though ninebark was named for its bark, it is not in quite the same class as redtwig dogwood (see above). But the 'Diablo' cultivar offers something beyond an interesting bark: a dark foliage that makes it one of the so-called "black" plants

Pussy Willow: Another Fast Growing Shrub That Heralds Spring

You read above that forsythia heralds the spring. Well, in a clear case of botanical one-ups-manship, pussy willow tries to do forsythia one better: it whispers spring thoughts long before forsythia does, when spring's future arrival is still just an unfounded rumor. What pussy willow lacks in colorfulness (whitish catkins and rather uninteresting foliage) it more than makes up for in other ways.

Another willow shrub that grows quickly is Flamingo Japanese willow

Loropetalum: Queen of the Southeast

Loropetalum's use is not restricted to the American Southeast, but that region may well be considered its "capital" in the New World, where it is evergreen and an immensely popular plant. Speaking of evergreens, now it is time to look at a few examples (specifically, three of the needled evergreen bushes).

Arborvitae: Bring on the Evergreens

No article about fast growing shrubs for privacy hedges would be complete without providing examples of fast growing needled evergreen shrubs that tolerate cold winters. The advantage that evergreens have when it comes to privacy hedges is, of course, the fact that they can serve as four-season privacy hedges, since their leaves do not drop in autumn.

Arborvitae is one example of an evergreen. There are many kinds of arborvitae used in hedges (including the relatively small 'North Pole'), and they do not all exhibit the same rate of growth. Therefore, not all arborvitaes are equally suited for use in privacy hedges. A good choice for privacy hedges is 'Green Giant,' a fast grower. But 'Green Giant' is just that, reaching 50-60 feet tall (with a spread of 12-20 feet). If you want a bush that is more compact and do not mind waiting a bit longer, 'Emerald Green' arborvitae is a better option. The latter usually reaches just 12-14 feet tall, with a spread of 3-4 feet. Its foliage comes in flat sprays and, if you look closely, the needles appear covered in scales. 

Yew: the Versatile Bush

An advantage that yews have over many similar evergreens is that these shade-tolerant plants will thrive in north-facing foundation plantings, no matter how sunlight-deprived. Yet they can be grown in full sun, too. If you have small children, make sure they do not eat the berries: their toxic seeds qualify yews as poisonous plants

Hemlock: It's Not What You Think

This is not the poisonous plant that famously killed the Greek philosopher, Socrates. Moreover, whether you think of hemlock as a tree or shrub may well depend on where you live.

If you dwell in a rural area of North America, you probably know hemlock as a towering tree. But some of the finest privacy hedges in suburbia are composed of scaled-down hemlocks. 

Burning Bush: Growing Quickly by Cheating

Some shrubs that are fast growers are too good at what they do. Dubbed "invasive" shrubs, these are the cheaters: their progeny tends to escape cultivation and exploit an unfair advantage to out-compete native species.

The remaining plants discussed on this list are popular because they are fast growers, but they have been deemed invasive shrubs in North America.

Burning bush may be the poster child for invasive bushes in North America. It is a fast grower with terrific fall color. Its fall foliage color ranges from red to pinkish-red. Burning bush also produces reddish-orange berries in fall. But this invasive shrub is one of the most hated plants among gardeners "in the know." 

Barberry: as Invasive as Burning Bush, but Without the Beauty

As widely despised as an invasive shrub as burning bush is, some have more of a bone to pick with barberry. Barberry spreads like wildfire in the forests of the Northeastern U.S., forming large stands in some areas. And try walking through a stand of these barbed bushes when you are out hiking -- it is not a pleasant experience. This bush also lacks the beauty of burning bush.

Butterfly Bush Not the Only Butterfly Magnet

In the Pacific Northwest, it may be butterfly bush that most draws people's ire as an invasive shrub. There are plenty of other bushes that attract butterflies, so finding a substitute "butterfly magnet" should not be a problem. 

Lantana: Floridians, Beware!

Northerners, who know it as a plant sold in hanging pots at nurseries, may be scratching their heads over the inclusion of lantana in this list. But in the Southeastern U.S., lantana is considered an invasive shrub. 

Privet: Privacy at a Price

Here is another plant whose inclusion here among invasive shrubs may strike some as odd. What is more familiar than a privet hedge? If one were writing a dictionary entry for "privacy hedge," one might well accompany it with a picture of privet. In this case, familiarity breeds not contempt, but acceptance; yet this fast grower is, indeed, considered an invasive shrub in North America