Most of us consider our yards and gardens an extension of our homes, and we look for sanctuary and privacy there.
Plants can create living walls, which can be especially important in neighborhoods where homes are close together. Whether you can wait years for the screen to grow in place, or need a screen right away, you have many options. For best results, follow these steps:
Assess your needs. Are you looking for living fence for year-round privacy, or just for seasonal screening? How much maintenance can you manage? Do you want a mixture of plants with multiseason interest (flowers, changing foliage, winter color, fruit), a formal clipped hedge, or potted plants for portable screening? What is your minimum height requirement? How much money can you invest in this project?
Assess the site. Evaluate the area in terms of dimensions, sun and shade exposure, soil type and drainage, and proximity to underground features such as gas and water lines. Talk to your neighbors to alert them about your intentions, and make sure the project works for them, too.
Choosing plants. Once you have information about the site, you can decide what kind of plants will thrive there and meet your needs. When your desire is for immediate results, only a fence or a substantial investment in mature plants and landscaping will do the trick.
Mixed plantings of evergreen and deciduous shrubs provide interest in many seasons.
Deciduous plants provide more shade in summer but allow light to reach your yard in winter.
Fruiting trees, bushes, and vines provide snacks for you and the birds and for your neighbors.
Tall potted plants make a fast portable screen around a pool, patio, or deck.
Clumping bamboo and ornamental grasses grow quickly and lend an exotic air.
Annual vines grow quickly up a trellis. Perennial vines can climb an arbor or trellis, or soften a fence.
Excellent plants for traditional hedges include evergreens such as boxwood (Buxus), oleander (Nerium), yew (Taxus), arborvitae (Thuja), and hemlock (Tsuga). Deciduous hedge plants include Japanese barberry (Berberis), and privet (Ligustrum). Be sure to check the USDA Climate Hardiness Zone of each plant and compare it to the zone where you live.
Photography by Suzanne DeJohn/National Gardening Association.