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I'm looking for the ideal plant for a privacy hedge to block our land from the road. I'm hoping I can make lilacs work, because we have a free source from a friend and I really like the plant. Plus, they're deer-resistant, a huge plus. The planting area is open, fairly well-drained, and full sun, but close to the potentially salt-ridden road. USDA zone 5a.

I'm worried that the lilacs won't grow thick enough in the winter to provide a good visual barrier. Does anyone have experience with winter lilacs and/or lilac hedges and know how thickly I'd have to plant the bushes to get a decent winter privacy hedge? Two thick, three thick, more, or not feasible?

Thanks!

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I actually have a lilac privacy hedge alongside my driveway (zone 5). Here's a far shot (note that the bare spot in the middle is from a missing tree - EAB killed it years ago).

Far shot - about a 40 foot hedge

It's meant to screen the house from a side street and does a decent enough job, but I don't know that it would be a great winter screen for a backyard, as it is a bit "open". The variety of lilac you choose also makes a difference. Mine are a hybrid - I think they're still Syringa vulgaris, though, so they're probably the thickest cultivar you'll find (for a contrast, French lilacs don't really sucker and are therefore "thinner").

Here's a closeup of one of the four shrubs. This one still has about two-thirds of its leaves, but should give you an idea of what you can expect in the winter:

enter image description here

The lilacs are about 6-7 feet from the side street and have not been affected by years of road salt, so you should have no worries there. One nice perk about this as a driveway hedge is that it allows me to shovel or snow-blow snow directly onto it - the snow filters through the branches, which are also strong enough to take the snowload without breaking. If it were evergreen, then the snow blown off of the driveway would either settle in front of the shrubs and in a bad winter would be difficult to clear after a few storms or would be damaged by the snowload. I'm not sure if this is a concern for you.

One note - my hedge doesn't have any snowed plowed onto it. I assume that if it did, then the plowed snow would break branches, but this would be true with any shrub, I think.

If you're now wondering whether this kind of hedge is right for you, I encourage you to look at a Hedge Cotoneaster, if you have the room for a 10 foot wide shrub or feel like trimming your hedge ever year. This shrub has a much denser branching pattern and so is more effective as a winter screen. It has smallish glossy dark green leaves, very small pink flowers, somewhat showy small fruits, and fantastic fall color. I had these as a hedge at a different house (zone 4) and they worked great.

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  • I don't think mine are French lilac... they're suckers from a very large, thick bush (around 14'x10'). Regarding snowblowing over the bushes, that's good to know they can take it! I live on a fast road with large snowplows in the winter, but I planted my initial lilac hedge ~20ft back to try to allow for growth and protect from road activities. Thanks for the link to Hedge Cotoneaster. It’s new to me. I do have room for even a twenty-foot hedge if required. – Kilobyte Oct 19 '20 at 12:53
  • I forgot to mention that the hedge cotoneasters at my other house were along a driveway and handled snow-blowing well. They're out of fashion at the moment, so may be hard to find (a local nursery can probably special order them for you if you prepay). In fact, I just found a nursery that is charging $77 !!! for one bareroot plant, which is ridiculous - they should cost about $30 for a large-ish plant in a 2 or 5 gallon pot. – Jurp Oct 19 '20 at 13:12
  • Yikes! That's a substantial cost. I have about 150 ft of road frontage to cover, which is why I'm trying a little too hard to make my free lilac suckers work. Thanks for the tips. – Kilobyte Oct 22 '20 at 13:54
  • Well,depending on your patience, you could get by with 10 plants, but yeah, even at usual market price you're looking at $300 or so. I just thought of another shrub that could work - Viburnum - either V. trilobum or V. dentatum. They're also large (8-10 feet wide, depending on cultivar) and fairly dense. They sucker well, too, so maybe you could start with some and then transplant suckers after three to five years? A little more cost-effective, but a much longer time to get what you want. Maybe a mixed hedge of all four shrubs, randomly spaced? – Jurp Oct 22 '20 at 13:58
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Lilac will drop the leaves, the branches and twigs will give some privacy. Conifers are needed to completely block the view . My experience is deer not eat conifers. Depending on the exact conditions , rhododendrons retain their broad leaves, but they are slow growing. In that area , I found spruce grew well and made a barrier in a few years.

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  • Thanks. I've wondered about rhododendrons or assorted conifers. I failed to mention that my hedge will be close to and almost under some power lines, so I'm hoping for shorter barrier plants, but I do have enough room to plant spruce back from the lines. In my area, deer feast on thuja hedges. Not sure if these deer would sample other conifers. – Kilobyte Oct 19 '20 at 12:41

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