20 Tall Outdoor Potted Plant Varieties for Privacy

Lofty plants are logical additions to landscape design for a number of reasons. The right choices can add height and drama, taking a garden space from drab to fabulous in no time and are often relatively low-maintenance.

Practical applications like foundation protection and erosion control can also be managed with these generous-sized plantings. One of the most common uses, though, is to create privacy. 

But, what if you don’t have the ground space to plant such tall flora? Keep reading to explore some tall outdoor potted plants for privacy that work beautifully.

Types of Fuss-Free Potted Privacy Plants

Gardens come in various shapes and sizes, in different hardiness zones and contain distinct soil types.

When choosing the best tall outdoor potted plants for privacy in your garden, these factors should be considered to substantially increase in their success rate.

Other factors should include:

  • The preferred height of your potted privacy barrier
  • Deciduous or evergreen foliage
  • Foliage colour (green, chartreuse, red, purple, etc.)
  • Flowering, fruiting or non
  • The type of plant (tree, shrub or climbing vine)

Once you’ve established these preferences, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the benefits of each plant type.

Potted Trees

The tall and conveniently compact tree options below are well-suited for containers, to keep prying eyes out, and can be placed in almost any sized garden or side yard.

Strategically placed ones will even protect you and your home from the glaring summer sun and inclement winter weather.

Potted Shrubs

Given their shorter stature, shrubs are great for defining outdoor “rooms”. They can also establish property boundaries to deter wanderers.

Container-recommended shrubs are available in a variety of colours, textures and growing habits. Just make sure their mature size is appropriate for the pot you have in mind.

Vining Plants

Viners and climbers offer increased versatility. Simply insert a sturdy trellis, twice as wide as each pot along your privacy line and they’ll weave a blooming wall in just a couple of years. 

Potted climbers are also ideal for tight spaces between your home and an existing fence.

13 Varieties of Potted Privacy Plants

The following have proven low-maintenance and highly effective as privacy plants, while also adding color, contrast and form to your landscape.

Take note of their care requirements and recommended hardiness zones. Matching these to what your garden offers will help to narrow your list.

Arborvitae

1) Arborvitae

Tall, evergreen Arborvitaes are quintessential privacy plants and reach a mature height of 10-15 ft with a 3-4 ft spread. Sprays of vibrant green branchlets grow in dense, pyramidal formations and release tiny, blue-green cones in spring.

  • Ideal Position: Full to partial sun
  • Difficulty: Potted Arborvitae are considered low-maintenance with a slow to moderate growth rate and little pruning needed.
  • Toxicity: Mild to severe toxicity, subject to the variety.
  • Natural environment: Originating from a relatively humid climate with significant rainfall, many Arborvitae species can actually tolerate cold winters down to zone 2, depending on the variety, and warm summers up to zone 8.
  • Level of required care: In a minimum 20-gallon pot, Arborvitae grows best with weekly watering (more in hot weather), loamy, well-draining soil and a yearly dose of evergreen shrub fertilizer.
Elderberry

2) Elderberry

An Elderberry’s voluminous foliage and branch structure make this a superb privacy option as it matures to 3 ft tall and wide, in pots.

Narrow, stenciled leaves encircle long stems that release delicate bouquets of white, spring blooms and clusters of purple, autumn berries.

  • Ideal Position: Tolerant of partial shade, full sun is best for flowering and berry production.
  • Difficulty: Potted Elderberry shrubs are very easy to grow, provided they get enough moisture and nutrients. 
  • Toxicity: Uncooked elderberries can cause severe intestinal issues when consumed. 
  • Natural environment:  Native to the damp shores of lakes and ponds, potted elderberries will thrive in hardiness zones 3-9.
  • Level of required care:  In a 24”x20” pot, Elderberries prefer fertile, moist acidic soil and 1” of water weekly throughout the growing season and a 10-10-10 NPK fertilizer when needed. 
 Cherry Laurel

3) Cherry Laurel

Maturing to a height of 3-6 ft tall, Cherry Laurels exhibit glossy, ovate leaves that emerge a soft orange before ageing to chartreuse and dark green.

Tubular clusters of daisy-like blossoms appear in spring that develop into purple berries for wildlife, come fall.

  • Ideal Position: Tolerant of full sun and partial shade.
  • Difficulty: Even in pots, the low-maintenance and easy-to-grow Cherry Laurel is a popular privacy plant.
  • Toxicity: Cherry laurel leaves contain cyanogenic glycosides that are toxic to people and pets.
  • Natural environment: Indigenous to low-altitude forests, fields and thickets, Cherry Laurels grow best in moderate to warm zones 7-10.
  • Level of required care: Maintain moist (not soggy) soil around potted cherry laurels with weekly or twice-weekly watering. If needed, prune just after blooming and fertilize with balanced, slow-release fertilizer granules.
Photinia

4) Photinia

In warm zones, potted Photinia shrubs will remain evergreen and eventually reach a potential, mature height of 6 ft with a 5 ft spread. 

New leaves bud in bronze and copper before ripening to rich red and vibrant green.

  • Ideal Position: Full or partial sun.
  • Difficulty: Dwarf Photinias are best for containers and are easily pruned to the desired form for privacy.
  • Toxicity: Photinia shrubs contain potentially lethal cyanogenic glycosides.
  • Natural environment: Originating in the warm, temperate climates of the Himalayas, Japan, India and Thailand, photinia does well in climates across zones 7 to 9. 
  • Level of required care:  In a 20” pot, Photinias will require weekly watering and mulching around the base to retain moisture in hot weather. Fertilize with an all-purpose shrub NPK, in spring, for the first few years after planting.
Ornamental Grasses

5) Ornamental Grasses

Indiangrass, oat grass, switchgrass and fountain grass are fun and whimsical choices as potted privacy plants. Their mature size (up to 15 ft tall) offers substantial privacy. In addition to elegant movement and cascading growth habits.

  • Ideal Position: At least six hours of sunlight per day. 
  • Difficulty: Ornamental grasses are conveniently low-maintenance and easy to care for in pots.
  • Toxicity: While most ornamental grasses are considered non-toxic, there are a few that can be toxic when ingested.
  • Natural environment: Commonly found along shorelines, many ornamental grass varieties are highly tolerant of salty environments. Making them perfect for privacy around coastal homes in zones 4-9. 
  • Level of required care: Ornamental grasses are known for their drought resistance. But, when in pots, they’ll need weekly watering. To increase growth density, a slow-release, granular fertilizer can be applied in spring.
Hydrangeas

6) Hydrangeas

With generous leaves and soft, pastel flower clusters, Shallow-rooted Hydrangeas are easily grown in pots and can reach mature sizes between 3-6 ft, depending on the cultivar. 

  • Ideal Position: Direct morning sun with dappled afternoon sunlight or shade.
  • Difficulty: Hydrangeas are quite tolerant of different soil types and climates. But, acidic soil is a must for healthy growth.
  • All parts of a Hydrangea can cause severe intestinal issues and skin rashes.
  • Natural environment: Native to nutrient-rich, forested areas, rocky slopes and stream banks, Hydrangeas will thrive in hardiness zones 3 to 7.
  • Level of required care: Privacy Hydrangeas should be initially potted in a 20” container full of nutrient-rich, well-draining soil and provided with 1-2” of water per week. Apply two doses of slow-release fertilizer granules for acid loving plants in spring and summer.
Bamboo

7) Bamboo

Create an island getaway in your own backyard with these tall, woody canes and small, densely growing leaves that weave a 3-5 ft tall living wall of privacy.

  • Ideal Position: Full sun
  • Difficulty: Potted bamboo is fast-growing and can create a sense of privacy rather quickly without them taking over your garden. 
  • Toxicity: Specific bamboo varieties are poisonous, while others are non-toxic. Check the label when growing these around small children and pets. 
  • Natural environment: Different bamboo species grow everywhere from warm, tropical climates to cooler mountain regions. Most grown-in-home gardens will thrive in hardiness zones 5–10.
  • Level of required care: In a pot that’s 20” tall and deep, plant bamboo in loose, well-draining soil and offers at least 1” of water per week. Fertilize with a nitrogen-rich NPK in spring, summer and fall.
Magnolias

8) Magnolias

The elegant Magnolia is well-known for its large, fragrant flowers and leathery two-toned leaves. Dwarf varieties can mature to between 6 and 12 ft, providing ample privacy and can even be trained along a trellis.

  • Ideal Position: Full sun to light shade.
  • Difficulty: When positioned correctly, potted magnolia cultivars perform well. A lack of sunlight or alkaline soil will reduce blooming.
  • Toxicity: Non-toxic to pets and people.
  • Natural environment: Original to warm, temperate climates, new hybrids are now available that will thrive from zone 9 down to snowy zone 4.
  • Level of required care: Pot size should be 1 ft wide for every inch of mature trunk diameter. Water potted magnolias weekly until there is sufficient drainage from the bottom. Mulch the soil’s surface to keep roots cool and fertilize with a 10-10-10 NPK.
Dogwood Trees

9) Dogwood Trees

Potted Dogwoods can provide lush privacy and abundant, star-shaped blooms of creamy white, pink or red. In the ground, Dogwood can rise 25 ft. But, in pots, they would remain around 10 ft tall.

  • Ideal Position: Morning sun and afternoon shade.
  • Difficulty: Provided potted Dogwoods have a large enough pot to accommodate their substantial root system, they are fairly easy to grow.
  • Toxicity: Non-toxic to animals and humans.
  • Natural environment: Dogwoods grow as wild, understory trees. In-home gardens, Dogwoods will flourish outdoors in zones where winter temperatures remain above 15°F/10°C.
  • Level of required care: Potted dogwoods need plenty of water, which is best applied using a thin-tube irrigation system, together with heavy mulching over the soil surface. Fertile, well-draining soil (and a slow-release fertilizer for mature trees only) will promote fuller blooming. 
Butterfly Bush

10) Butterfly Bush

Buddleia bushes present tubular flower clusters in white, orange or lavender that emerge from the tips of long, pendulous branches surrounded by grey, green foliage. 15 ft of height can be achieved in containers, with dwarf varieties being available with lower barriers.

  • Ideal Position: Full sun and well-drained soil
  • Difficulty: Butterfly bushes are easily grown in pots, provided that a pot no smaller than 24” wide is used.
  • Toxicity: Buddleja is not known to be toxic to humans or animals.
  • Natural environment: In the wild, seeds germinate in sunny, well-drained fields, forest edges and riverbanks. In-home gardens, most Butterfly bush varieties thrive in zones 5-9.
  • Level of required care: Potted Buddleia plants need deep watering, using a drip irrigation system. Increased blooming typically results from a dose of rose-formulated fertilizer in early spring.
Clematis

11) Clematis

Clematis vines are indispensable as privacy plants and produce abundant blooms in a variety of colors and sizes. Vine length is not limited by the size of their pot and can easily cover a large trellis 5-6 ft wide. 

There are specific Clematis cultivars that are endemic to particular regions, the Pine hyacinth, for example, is a native Florida flower.

  • Ideal Position: Full sun
  • Difficulty: Clematis vines are prolific bloomers as long as the plant gets full sun and roots are mulched to keep cool.
  • Toxicity: Consuming any part of a clematis plant can lead to severe intestinal issues in humans and pets.
  • Natural environment: Different Clematis cultivars are native to and thrive in either cool or warm climates in zones 4-9. 
  • Level of required care: Fertile, well-drained soil in an 18” x 18” pot is preferred. Water when the top few inches of the soil are dry and fertilize with slow-releasing fertilizer granules in spring. 
Trumpet Vine

12) Trumpet Vine

The luxurious Trumpet vine is a dense, deciduous climbing plant that secures itself to walls, fences and trellises with aerial roots. Large, orange-red, bell-shaped blooms erupt along each 10-20 ft long vine throughout summer. 

  • Ideal Position: Full to partial sun.
  • Difficulty: Trumpet vines can be vigorous and aggressive growers in the ground. In pots, this is more easily managed.
  • Toxicity: Stems, foliage and flowers are all mildly toxic to people and pets.
  • Natural environment: The trumpet creeper can be found winding its way around trees and large shrubs in thickets and dry woods in zones 4-10. 
  • Level of required care: In a 20-gallon pot, provide one inch of water per week. Fill the pot with equal parts potting soil, perlite and wood chips and apply a 10-10-10 NPK starting in early spring. 
Japanese Maples

13) Japanese Maples

Delicate Japanese Maples can offer low-profile privacy around pools, patios and decks with an air of elegant mystery. Leaves on each variety present unique leaf shapes. Smaller varieties that put on a spectacular autumn show are ideal choices for pots. 

  • Ideal Position: Dappled to full shade. Full sun will scorch the foliage.
  • Difficulty: Japanese Maples insist on specific, but not complicated, environmental conditions and care.
  • Toxicity: Japanese maples are not poisonous to humans or pets.
  • Natural environment: Japanese maples are generally understory trees, growing in the dappled sunlight of protected woodlands. Potted privacy specimens, will flourish in zones 5-8.
  • Level of required care: In a 20-gallon pot, water weekly, avoiding the foliage, in spring, summer and fall. Fill the pot with a mix formulated for acid-loving plants and feed with a slow-releasing Rhododendron-specific NPK. 

Potted Privacy Plant Care

On our list of tall outdoor potted plants for privacy, we’ve seen that each one is unique and caters to your individual preferences for foliage colour, growth habits and flowering.

However, plants grown in pots have different needs than those grown in the ground.

Let’s take a look at some specifics:

  • Watering requirements: Potted plants require more frequent watering as potting soil presents a lower moisture retention rate than ground soil.
  • Position: Be aware of sunlight requirements. Bloomers, like clematis and Butterfly bush, require full sun. Others can tolerate partial shade, while a few, like Japanese Maples, actually prefer shade.
  • Temperature and Humidity: These are the primary factors that define your hardiness zone and the plants that thrive within it. Matching your favourites to your specific zone is imperative.
  • Potting soil: Most plants prefer a similar soil structure. A loose loam with balanced drainage and moisture retention features.
  • Soil pH: Each plant type prefers a specific pH range in which it can effectively absorb nutrients. 
  • For example, Hydrangeas and Japanese Maples prefer a low pH (high acidity). Bamboo prefers a neutral pH and Arborvitae favour alkaline (low acidity) soil.
  • Feeding: Flowering plants generally need more phosphorus and potassium for bud production and development vs evergreen and non-flowering shrubs that thrive with more nitrogen.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the fastest-growing plant for privacy screens?

The fastest-growing plant on our list of tall outdoor potted plants for privacy

is Bamboo, which can reach full maturity in a single growing season. Arborvitae and ornamental grasses come in a close second, reaching maturity in 2 to 3 seasons.

Do outdoor pots need holes in the bottom?

Yes! You can not successfully grow any plant in pots without drainage holes in the bottom. The soil will become saturated and drown the roots of your plant, eventually killing it. Since some of these larger plants are an investment, drainage holes are critical features. 

Citations

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Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.