Plants For Privacy

By Eric Christensen

January 24, 2013 5 min read

Homeowners too close to a neighbor's windows or a loud highway often plant privacy screens. But hedges and trees can vary not only in shape and price, but they can also take months or years to grow. Homeowners who rush to solve their screening problems can accidentally create unsightly privacy screens or run afoul of homeowner associations. Replacing or repairing a privacy planting is expensive. Instead, take the time to consider a few details so that you can be confident in the long-term success of their privacy planting.

Clare Siegel, president and owner of Land Art Design Inc., and Kelly Smith Trimble, an editor for HGTV Gardens, agree that homeowners should begin by considering what they do and do not want to screen. Trimble says, "Do you want to make a patio more private for outdoor dining? A lattice enclosure trained with jasmine, roses or another flowering vine could be a nice solution." Similarly, Siegel says, "It could just be the neighbor's car or their kid's play set, in which case they don't need to plant a tree that will grow 75 feet tall and block out their horizon." Let your needs and limitations dictate the ultimate shape and form of the privacy planting.

But do not consider just your needs, Trimble and Siegel warn. Consider your neighbors and any homeowner associations. Trimble says, "You should think about property lines and ... consider how planting just on your side of the line could affect your neighbor. For example, would planting a shade tree end up shading out your neighbor's vegetable garden in a few years or completely block their view of the sunset?" Homeowner associations vary dramatically, so make sure your planned privacy planting satisfies any rules regarding plantings.

Siegel also suggests thinking about when to screen. "If you are screening an area that you only use during the summer time (for example if you won't go out on your patio during the winter), you can use a deciduous tree to screen above you, leaving your patio in shade from May until October."

Once you have decided on the type of plants, don't run to the nursery and buy the first plant they try to sell you, Siegel warns. Inexpensive plants are often young and not as pest-resistant as the more expensive trees. Ask questions about how tall and wide the plants will grow, and how long it will take to reach that size. And ask about whether the plants root structure. These sorts of questions will help you purchase the correct plants for their needs and plant them properly.

Planting is as important as selecting the plants. Trimble suggests planting the trees or shrubs no closer together than the recommended spacing. "Planting too closely can also result in disease spread and a not-so-pleasant patchwork of green and brown plants." Otherwise, she says, "They'll compete for water and nutrients and end up dwarfed and/or more susceptible to problems." Siegel says one of the most common errors is planting in a straight row. "What happens," she says, "is that in five years, the plants become unhealthy. ... If you stagger the plants slightly -- it doesn't need to be a lot, depending on the size of the tree -- then the tree will be healthy and your investment will pay off." Also when planting, ensure that your plants won't interfere with power lines.

If your space is large enough, layering your privacy planting might be an option. Trimble says, "Layers and plant combinations are preferable for a more natural style. A good design might place taller evergreens in the background and stagger deciduous plants, such as smaller trees and shrubs and perennials toward the front of the bed." But Sigel suggests homeowners layer with restraint. Otherwise, she warns that it might end up looking like a mismatched mess.

Planting for privacy can help homeowners define the spaces within their property, improve ugly sightlines and introduce new shapes and color into their landscape. But many homeowners underestimate the difficulties. Consequently, they make expensive mistakes. "Do your homework," Siegel says. "Go online; look at the habit of trees; and read about how they will age." This should help protect your investment and ensure you will enjoy it for years to come.

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