Landscaping for Privacy

Ask the Gardener: Landscaping for Privacy

Privacy is one of the most common issues my clients ask me to address. Nothing quite says ‘Welcome to the Neighborhood!’ like planting a looming tower of evergreens in-between you and the adjoining properties. The only winner is the person selling all the trees. Landscaping beds that incorporate evergreen trees are a great alternative. Using landscaping beds to create privacy can serve many purposes. Beds can add definition to a yard. They can allow you solitude while blocking out the world allowing you to enjoy your patio. Lastly, the key is that the beds should look so beautiful that no one notices the privacy that was created. Whatever the reason, there are many ways to achieve privacy and make it look great at the same time.

Every privacy project has to be evaluated based on a variety of different factors. Elevation—Some variables are tough, such as elevation. Homes that border your property and sit a bit high are more difficult to address. Space—We have to choose plant material based on space and plant size. Let’s avoid grabbing too much usable, flat lawn area for the privacy bed. Conditions—A grove of tall, young arborvitae is an all-you can-eat-buffet for a gang of deer. Season—Do you need the privacy 12 months a year? Budget—What is practical and what will give the customer the biggest-bang-for-the-buck. Plant Material—Choose something you like to look at that also provides privacy.

In a perfect situation you can grab almost instant privacy by planting two staggered rows of any evergreen tree. Space the trees 20 feet apart. Then allow 10 feet between the rows. Stagger the rows. This creates instant privacy and is standard practice by architects on many commercial projects. This scenario is best for homeowners if your new neighbor is similar to Gladys Kravitz from the old Bewitched television show. I like to try to be more creative when trying to provide privacy for my clients.

I try to keep the beds in the rear of a home less formal and more naturalized. We live in Western Pennsylvania so choosing plants that grow in our state naturally always gives the plants a good chance of thriving. Naturalizing the bed by adding some colorful deciduous shrubs and landscape boulders really adds to the overall presentation. Viburnum is a deer-resistant woody shrub that really compliments a bed of evergreen and boulders. It’s akin to creating the Allegheny Forest look.

It is tricky to add a tall, fastigate shaped, deciduous trees in the bed of evergreens trees, but it as tremendous benefits. Fastigate is the term used for columnar shaped trees. Deciduous refers to trees that drop their leaves every year. The color and height difference is immediate. I recommend avoiding the wider varieties of trees. They look great the first year and by year 3, everything is growing together and the shade created stunts the even growth in the evergreen trees. Evergreen trees provide good privacy, but require a lot of sun to thrive.

There are columnar varieties of common trees we all know. They have the same leaf, but remain narrow. The Acer Rubrum (Red Maples) that have become popular in recent years, come in several varieties that hold a more columnar shape. There are also columnar red oak, Slender Sweetgum and columnar European Hornbeam. For color, my favorites are the Columnar Red, Purple and Dawyck Beech. These type trees are not as widely cultivated so planning is important.

A wide variety of perennial grasses are available. Grasses are a less expensive alternative to trees and they can give the customer quick coverage. You can also work grasses in on the ends of evergreen beds and use them to fill in blank areas. The draw back to using too many grasses is they can look messy. Pieces break off and blow around your yard. Grasses must be cut back before the next growing season. They can die from the center leaving an even looking plant. Like anything, with a little work, fertilization and care, grasses will do much better year-to-year.

Last, but certainly not least, try to allow for soil in the budget. These are the defined beds you admire and notice. Soil allows for higher planting of the evergreen trees. This allows instant height compared to a tree planted flush in the ground. It also encourages the trees to spread roots and grow faster than a trees root ball that is planted in a hole collecting too much water. You can place separately raised beds one behind the other and create the illusion of one long bed. This adds to the privacy without trapping water in the yard. Trapped water leads to soggy, marsh-like grass.

This article appeared in the August issue of InPeters Community Magazine.