Tall shrubs can create privacy in your courtyard.

Tall Shrubs for Courtyards

by Victoria Weinblatt

Tall shrubs for courtyards provide vertical interest, serve as focal points and offer a substantial amount of greenery. Some ideal characteristics of shrubs for courtyards include tolerance of shearing so you can control its shape and the ability to perform well in a limited amount of soil. Uniformity, such as repeating a sequence of plants, is simple way to create an aesthetically pleasing landscape design in courtyards. Texture, such as eye-catching branch patterns, flowers and ornamental berries, help create interest.

1. Fragrant Flowers

The tea bush (Camellia sinensis) and privet (Ligustrum x ibolium) put out fragrant, white flowers and tolerate shearing. Plant the tea bush in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 9 and expect flowers in the fall. This tall shrub grows 10 to 15 feet tall by 6 to 10 feet wide and prefers a partially shaded site with moist, acidic soil. Privet has butterfly-attracting flowers in spring that yield attractive, but poisonous, berries and grows 8 to 12 feet tall by 6 to 8 feet wide in USDA zones 4 through 7. This tall shrub tolerates a wide range of soils and drought.

2. Urban Courtyard

Pollution-tolerant shrubs are just the right choice for urban courtyards. Smoketree spurge (Euphorbia cotinifolia) requires sharply-drained soil and full sun to light shade in USDA zones 10 to 11. This broadleaf evergreen offers burgundy-red leaves, white flowers in June and grows 10 to 15 feet tall and wide. Obtain the black locust “Lace Lady” (Robinia pseudoacacia “Lace Lady”), also known as “Twisty Baby,” trained as a multi-stemmed shrub, instead of a small tree, for USDA zones 4 through 8. An excellent conversation piece, this thorny shrub features zigzagging branches and curling mature leaflets. “Lace Lady” grows 8 to 10 feet tall by 12 to 15 feet wide in full to partial shade and listed as invasive in some places.

3. Narrow Evergreens

Certain tall, narrow shrubs provide a vertical accent and are excellent at filling corners or framing an entryway in sites with moist soil featuring full sun to partial shade. The best site for Japanese holly “Sky Pencil” (Ilex crenata “Sky Pencil”) has acidic soil. This tall shrub rarely requires pruning and grows 4 to 10 feet tall by 1 to 3 feet wide in USDA zones 6 through 8, but is an invasive plant species in some places. Outstanding in partial shade, yew “Flushing” (Taxus x media “Flushing”) performs best in sandy loams. Good for topiary, it grows 12 to 15 feet tall by 2 to 3 feet wide in USDA zones 4 through 7 and is amenable to early spring shearing. These tall shrubs tolerate air pollution, too.

4. Full to Partial Shade

Glossy-leaved paper plant (Fatsia japonica) and spotted laurel (Aucuba japonica) are broadleaf evergreens that thrive in full to partial shade. Glossy-leaved paper plant grows 6 to 16 feet tall and wide in the warm climates of USDA zones 8 through 10, but prefers cooler temperatures between 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit found in the shade. Amenable to pruning, this seasonal bloomer begets creamy-white blossoms followed by inedible, but non-toxic, berries. Tolerant of nutritionally poor soil, spotted laurel grows 6 to 10 feet tall by 5 to 9 feet wide in USDA zones 7 through 9. Its reddish-purple flowers come out in March to April.

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