Best Screening Trees / Shrubs for San Diego – Part 1

Best Screening Trees / Shrubs for San Diego – Part 1

One of the most common requests from both our retail and landscape customers is for “the perfect screening shrub” – what this means to different people varies, but generally the desirable characteristics are as follows:

– Between 15 and 20 feet tall.
– Evergreen and dense.
– Tolerant of full sun.
– Fast-growing.
– Low maintenance, particularly low water use.
– Non-invasive.

The goal of a screening shrub is to create just that – a screen, sometimes called a privacy hedge – to protect against everything from spying eyes, noise pollution, wind and sun. Because we are so often asked about which sort of shrubs can meet all these requirements, I’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite screening shrubs and trees for use in San Diego and other Southern California locales.


Common Name: Podocarpus, fern pine, yew pine, yellow wood, Japanese yew
Scientific Name: Podocarpus sp.
Height: 50 to 100 ft
Sun: Part shade to full sun
Water: Low to moderate
Description: One of the tallest trees on this list, we love podocarpus because it is an extremely resilient, fast-growing tree that is tolerant of full sun and low water. It can also stand part shade and holds up against windy, salty, coastal conditions. In addition, it responds well to pruning and shearing, meaning it can be managed at any height and made into a formal hedge. Of course, you can always choose to leave these trees in their natural form for a more organic appearance. There are a few varieties to choose from, including P. henkelii, which has long, slender and drooping leaves, P. gracilior, with fern-like foliage and P. gracilior, which has pine-like foliage and can be found in a variety called ‘Icee Blue,’ which has fabulous steel blue coloration.


Common Name: Pittosporum, kohuhu, ‘Silver Sheen’
Scientific Name: Podocarpus tenuifolium
Height: 20 to 30 ft
Sun: Part shade to full sun
Water: Low
Description: Pittosporum tenuifolium is a drought-tolerant New Zealand native that makes an excellent screening shrub here in Southern California. It tolerates full to part sun and can be either sheared into a more dense formal hedge or allowed to assume a natural, upright and wispy form. The most popular cultivar for use in home landscaping is ‘Silver Sheen,’ named for the grey-green tops and white undersides of its small leaves, which appear to flicker when caught in a breeze. The dark stems on this variety make it a striking choice indeed. Other varieties include ‘Gold Star,’ ‘Gold Sheen,’ ‘Marjorie Channon’ and ‘Irene Patterson,’ which come in different shades of green, variegated or otherwise, with bright red to deep black stems.


Common Name: California Bayberry, California Wax Myrtle, Pacific Wax Myrtle
Scientific Name: Myrica californica
Height: 15 to 30 ft
Sun: Part shade to full sun
Water: Moderate
Description: A shrub native to the West Coast from Washington to Southern California, it has slightly fragrant, evergreen leaves. Best used along the coast, it is tolerant of sandy, loamy and clay soils, high winds and salt spray, making it an excellent windbreak along the coast. Needs some protection from sun and supplemental water when used further inland. Beautiful natural form, does not tolerate shearing.Ligustrum-Texanum-Screening-Hedge

Common Name: Privet, wax leaf privet
Scientific Name: Ligustrum japonicum ‘Texanum’
Height: 8 to 10 ft
Sun: Part shade to full sun
Water: Moderate
Description:  Many gardeners are averse to planting privet because it has a reputation as being invasive and aggressive. However, in spite of these characteristics it makes an almost perfect hedge: fast growing, dense, evergreen foliage, tolerant of shearing with profuse white flowers. We recommend choosing the cultivar ‘Texanum,’ which is a less aggressive variety that only grows to half the size of the species. Will .ppreciate supplemental watering during the warmer months.


Common Name: Spartan juniper
Scientific Name: Juniperus chinensis ‘Spartan’
Height: 10 to 15 ft
Sun: Full sun
Water: Low
Description: There are many species of vertical-growing juniper that make excellent wind breaks and privacy screens. ‘Spartan’ is a cultivar we love for its moderate height, vertical form and rich green foliage. It is very responsive to pruning, and tolerant of heat, cold, wind and drought. Requires very little maintenance once established. Other similar choices are Juniper ‘Skyrocket’ and Cupressus sempervirens ‘Tiny Tower.’


Common Name: Weeping fig, Benjamin’s fig, ficus
Scientific Name: Ficus benjamina
Height: 15 to 30 ft
Sun: Part shade to full sun
Water: Moderate
Description: Although in tree form this ornamental fig’s roots can become invasive, the United States Forestry Service has said that, when used as a hedge or screen it poses no threats to residential property. Luckily, this dense, evergreen tree responds well to pruning and makes a beautiful weeping screen when periodically sheared and given moderate supplemental water. Advantages are rapid growth to a desirable height.


Common Name: Bamboo
Scientific Name: Bambusa sp.
Height: 15 to 30 ft
Sun: Part shade to full sun
Water: Moderate
Description: Bamboo is an excellent choice for a fast-growing, tall privacy screen with a tropical look. We recommend choosing clumping varieties that will not invade the rest of your yard – a favorite is the cultivar ‘Alphonse Karr,’ which has beautiful golden yellow stems and can be maintained at whatever height you desire with occasional pruning. Note that bamboo is a messy plant and tends to drop lots of leaves.


Common Name: Bay laurel, sweet bay
Scientific Name: Laurus nobilis
Height: 15 to 25 ft
Sun: Part shade to full sun
Water: Low
Description: Similar in appearance to privet but lacking flowers, bay laurel is a slower-growing, less-aggressive shrub that can be sheared into a formal hedge and is tolerant of full sun and low water. Very low maintenance and can be allowed to assume its natural form for an organic look.

And there you have a list of some of our favorite evergreen shrubs for first-floor privacy screens and hedges. Whichever you choose will be based on the look you prefer and the goals you have in mind. If you need further assistance or would like to order plants for your own project, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Author Bio

We are a locally owned and operated retail nursery and garden center based in North Park, San Diego.


  1. Diane - September 1, 2014

    Hi. I reside in El Cajon and am looking to plant some fast growing screen hedges/trees for my front yard Your information was informative. My soil is granite/dirt. Any recommendations and when is the best time to plant with the awful heat?


  2. Sandy - January 13, 2017

    Yours is one of the BEST coverage on both illustrating and describing privacy screens I’ve ever seen. I live up north in the Bay area and wish I could find a similar list for local needs (although I have seen some of the top screens you cover also growing here.)

    Thanks again for the concise and well laid out page – handy for both owners, architects and city planners to actually visualize a selected screen!

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