The Q&A Archives: Plants as privacy screens

Question: I have a home that has a fairly busy street behind it. What type of plants can I use for privacy and noise abatement? I prefer something that would be low maintenance. I was thinking of using some type of bamboo, but I don't know much about bamboos.

Answer: Bamboo is just grass, but it varies in height from dwarf, one foot plants to giant timber bamboos that can grow to over 100 feet. It grows in a lot of different climates, from jungles to high on mountainsides. Bamboos are further classified by the types of roots they have. Some, called runners, spread exuberantly, and others are classified as clumpers, which slowly expands from the original planting. There are also varieties of root systems that are a mixture of these types. Generally, the tropical bamboos tend to be clumpers and the temperate bamboos tend to be runners. Black Bamboo is Phyllostachys nigra. The famous jet-black canes develop when the plant is quite young. Cultivation is as for other bamboos, but for best color, grow in full sun. It attains a height of about 15 feet in good conditions of moist soil, and lots of food. Non-invasive, it will make a wonderful plant for your purpose. Or, there are a number of shrubs to meet your needs - for sunny spots, choose Photinia fraseri, Elaeagnus (silverberry), or Dodonaea 'Purpurea' (purple hop bush). For partly sunny conditions, Escallonia, Rhamnus 'Columnaris' (tallhedge buckthorn), Osmanthus heterophyllus (holly leaf osmanthus), or Thuja occidentalis 'Fastigiata'. These shrubs are used quite often as hedging material; all take well to pruning if it's a neat, well-maintained look you're after, and all produce seasonal flowers for added interest. Good luck with your new hedge!

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