Privacy Plantings: What You Need to Know

If you live in a suburban or urban area you may have some big challenges in creating privacy on your property. With lot sizes getting smaller and smaller this challenge seems extremely tough. Most property owners don’t want to install giant fences and municipalities aren’t often a fan of fences, particularly over 4 ft. tall. One of the ways property owners can create screening is by adding trees and shrubs to their properties at strategic locations. As a professional landscaper in Bergen County, NJ and Rockland County, NY we get this request a lot.

If you’re considering plantings to help screen your pool, patio, or other areas of your property there are a few questions to ask yourself, landscape designer, and/or landscape contractor:

  • Do you need the screening all year round?  If this is the case, you’re going to lean towards using evergreen plants. If this is only a consideration during warmer months when you spend time outdoors, you will have more choices of deciduous plants to include as well.
  • What is the minimum height of a screen you need?  If you only need 7′-8′ of a screen, you don’t need to plant trees that will grow to 20’+. That will just create more maintenance for you in the long run. If you are going to be needing frequent hedge trimming, keep the hedge as short as you need it. Letting it get too tall will create more labor and more debris, and thus more cost to you.
  • How wide can the screen grow? Plants want to grow. So, if you take growth off of their tops on a regular basis, you will push more growth laterally. Research the plants you’re using. The last thing you want is to lose the space you’re trying to screen because you installed plants that are going to grow over top of your patio. Your neighbors will also thank you if you’re planting near the property line and can keep your plants off of their property.
  • Are there any easements or utilities you need to consider?  If you spend a good chunk of change installing plants the last thing you want is for the municipality to come in and tear them out years later if needed to get work done in easements. Make sure you know the width of these plants and install them in plenty of distance from easements and utilities so that they aren’t damaged during construction.
  • Do you want a wall or a tasteful grouping?  Unless you’re going for a formal, colonial garden, most sites look better if you mix it up a little. Consider using a mix of both evergreen and deciduous plants, varying in texture and color. Even when installing an evergreen screen you can alternate varieties of trees for a softer look.
  • How far apart should you install plants?  Give plants room to grow, otherwise you’ll have problems later. Each plant needs to develop to maturity and then touch. They each need their own space to form a root system and take in nutrients and water. Planting too tightly can lead to poor nutrition, girdling roots, and disease problems.
  • How close can you plant your screen to the area you’re trying to get privacy to?  If you have a small patio and you’re trying to provide privacy from your neighbor’s windows 50 yards away, you could plant closer to your patio instead of putting plants near the property line. Don’t always think of going out as far as you can. The closer in your vantage point you install plants, the sooner they will grow to block the view. Putting them farther away means you will have to wait even longer to get your screen.

Thanks to Chad Diller in Landscape

Fast-growers for Quick Solutions

Sometimes, you just need a quick-fix. Perhaps a neighbor suddenly cuts down a large tree or builds a second-story balcony, exposing an entire section of your yard. For swift and ample coverage, build a privacy screen using plants that grow tall and are quick to mature such as bamboo, Arborvitae, and Cypress. Ornamental grasses and shrubs which grow up to six feet in height may also be planted for immediate privacy. To protect a raised deck area from unwanted viewers in a pinch, use potted plants like boxwood or Photinia. Not only will pots add height, but, if lightweight or stationed on casters, can be easily moved to cover multiple viewpoints.

Perimeter Plantings for Privacy

For long-term, exceptional coverage, use perimeter plantings. Composed of thick rows of trees or shrubs grown along your property line, these plantings generally come in two flavors: formal and informal. Clipped, dense hedges borrow the form and function of actual walls when properly maintained and are typically formed using boxwood, privet, and yew. Be advised that formal hedges do take longer to grow and require annual shearing, though they are ideal for small yards. Informal perimeter plantings involve a stunning combination of trees, shrubs, and perennials that provide both diversity and adequate privacy. Perimeter plantings are especially useful when maximum coverage is needed because they are often not subject to municipal ordinances limiting the heights of structures.

Cover Up With Layers

A healthy mix of plantings and structures can work wonders for maintaining privacy in your yard. Train fast-growing clematis, akebia, or honeysuckle to grow up a trellis or fence for a lush and fragrant living wall. Top fences and walls with tall privacy plantings to enclose an outdoor space, letting perimeter plantings finish the job. Or, if your yard is large enough, stagger and group plants in odd numbers to create a multi-dimensional privacy screen. Even a few cleverly placed shrubs and trees can conceal select parts of your home or yard while allowing sunlight and air-circulation to naturally flow through.