Planting the Perfect Privacy Screen
When you walk out the back door of your home what is the first thing you see? Is it your neighbors broken down shed, or maybe it’s the children playing in the common area of your development. Whatever it is, wouldn’t you rather walk out the door into your own private sanctuary surrounded by shades of green in a noise-free environment?
Privacy screens are more important today than they have ever been. We all need some peace in our lives and screening plants offer that. Before we get too far into the best plants for screening let’s talk about what we are trying to accomplish. Privacy screens offer more than just privacy. They can offer sound reduction if you live near a busy road for example or the neighbors that “entertain” frequently into the wee hours of the morning. Screens offer wind blocks which can help to keep your home warmer in the winter and reduce energy bills.
You may say that a fence can accomplish the same thing and in some cases, you would be correct.
Why consider a living screen rather than a traditional fence?
The overall cost of a screen planting is usually a fraction of the cost of building a fence.
- You can create a much taller screen or wind and noise buffer with trees.
- Overall yearly maintenance costs of a fence can be astronomical compared to a “living fence”
- Most people tire of the look of a fence after a few years and start to plant trees and shrubs to cover the fence.
- Most HOA’s have regulations regarding fence styles and types and these can be difficult to work within.
- Many municipalities require a costly permit and property survey before a fence can be installed.• Privacy screens can actually increase the resale value of your property.
Screening plants can be planted with a set back from property lines if needed and most neighbors will be more than happy to see trees and shrubs planted. Some may even agree to split the expense of the trees and allow planting on the property line so everyone can reap the benefits of the screen. Typically in today’s smaller urban yards, a beautiful hedge piding two properties is welcomed by all neighbors over a fence.
Which types of plants can I use for a privacy hedge?
The most visually appealing privacy screens are typically made up of a variety of different plants. You can choose from a myriad of colors, textures, and heights. Typically larger trees make up the backdrop and these are usually dark green in color and in front you may choose medium or small shrubs to add color to the screen. The color of the smaller shrubs really pops against the darker backdrop. Imagine a beautifully mixed row of arborvitaes, cypress, junipers, pines, and hollies creating a backdrop for colorful shrubs such as azaleas, photinias, euonymus, or our favorite spring or fall blooming camellias.
What is the best layout for a privacy screen?
There are no rules when it comes to planting your privacy screen. Screens can be planted in a straight line for a formal look. They can be planted in a double row where you plant one row in the back and another row in front of that putting each plant from the front row in-between the trees in the back row. This not only creates privacy faster but also creates a dense screen which has the best sound buffering capability. The final method and my personal favorite, plant the trees in small groups which creates a more natural look.
One of the most basic principles of landscape design is that nature doesn’t create in straight lines. Therefore to mimic nature most effectively we can plant in small groups or informal waves instead of one straight line. This method is ideal if you have a larger space and want something different. Whichever design you choose, remember there is no right or wrong way to do it. It’s your screen, plant it in a way that most reflects your personal style.
Which types of plants are best suited for privacy screens?
The most effective privacy screens are comprised of evergreen plants which offer privacy all year long. There are many evergreen plants available and this list is by no means complete.
Arborvitae: There are uncounted numbers of arborvitaes available in the market today. Arborvitae Degroot's Spire and Emerald Green are perfect for smaller properties where space is an issue. These can be planted as close together as 4 feet and will grow to a height of 14 feet. Arborvitae Green Giant is best suited for larger properties and are deer proof which is important in some areas where deer tend to graze on landscapes. Green giants are fast growers up to 5 feet per year and can reach heights of up to 50 to 70 feet. Thuja Nigra is a North American native plant and known for its hardiness. Great choice for medium landscapes as it can reach heights of up to 20 feet. Thuja Green Giant Arborvitae Trees grow up to 60 feet tall very quickly (about 4 feet a year), but you can still arrange them in a privacy screen for when you need your privacy in much bigger spaces.
Leyland Cypress: Leylands have long been planted as privacy trees and still have a place in the landscape today. They are fast growing, three to five feet per year, and are very tolerant of most soil conditions including wet soils where few other plants can grow.
Holly Trees: For a different look consider adding hollies to the screen. Nellie Stevens holly with its dark green leaves and red berries not only add beauty year round but also provide habitat and protection for songbirds in the winter. They are relatively fast growing and can reach heights of up to 20 feet. Ilex Opaca or American Holly is not only a beautiful evergreen tree but is also native to the eastern United States. American Holly is more tolerant of shady areas than most others so consider planting this in your privacy screen.
Pine trees: White Pines are a great choice for those looking to have a more open and airy privacy screen. White Pines are long-lived and are a great choice for windbreaks as they are very sturdy. They are very hardy and thrive into colder more northern zones.
Spruce: The Baby Blue Spruce is a slow-growing version of the native Colorado Blue Spruce. Excellent as a small colorful Evergreen tree that never requires pruning. Perfect for smaller gardens or confined spaces. Baby blue brings a wonderful soft blue to any landscape hedge. It’s slower growing than most of the other privacy trees but well worth the wait.
Smaller plants for use in screens:
Photinia: Red-Tipped Photinia is a very popular shrub used as a privacy or screening plant. The oval leaves of photinia plants start out bright red but turn into the dark reddish-green after a couple of weeks to a month. During the spring, the photinia also has small white flowers that produce red fruits, that often last into the winter. They can reach heights of up to 12 to 15 feet and offer wonderful color throughout the year.
Cherry Laurel: Schip Laurel is a handsome shrub or medium hedge plant that tolerates filtered sunlight or dappled shade. It produces glossy, medium-green foliage that has a refined look on a dense, vase-shaped form. Stalks of fragrant white flowers appear in spring. They can reach heights of up to 12 feet and respond well to pruning. Schip Laurel can produce a very formal look when used as a medium hedge.
Remember it’s a proven fact that the best relationships with neighbors begin with a privacy screen.
Until next time, See you in the garden (or not if you have a privacy screen),