Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
July, 2009
Regional Report

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This dwarf Carolina cherry laurel hedge makes an excellent screen to block out the view of an unsightly parking lot.

Using Plants to Screen a View

They say good fences make good neighbors. Well, there are certainly times when a little bit of a screen can help provide some privacy or perhaps hide an unsightly view. While privacy fencing certainly has its place, I prefer the look of a living fence to wood, chain-link, or any other material. Even a well designed and constructed privacy fence can be beautified with some appropriate plant material.

Living Screens
Here are a few tips for using plants as a visual barrier:

1. We don't always need a tall tree to do the job of blocking out unsightly views or providing privacy. Take a stroll through the backyard or sit in the patio area and evaluate just how tall a screen needs to be. Often a 6- to 10-foot-tall plant is enough to break the sight line and make that neighbor's idea of backyard art or creative landscaping disappear!

2. Many of our outstanding landscape shrubs are deciduous. While they provide a great screen in summer, by winter the leaves are gone and with them our privacy. This may not matter if the privacy is for a swimming pool, but it would matter in most other situations.

Evergreen plants provide year-round screening and are usually the best choice. Keep in mind that foliage grows where there is light. Shrubs often grow "top-heavy" as their top gets wider, shading out the lower areas. This leaves us with a lack of foliage down low where it is most critical. Prune hedges to keep the tops a little narrower than the base to allow light to the lower areas and avoid this common problem.

3. You don't have to get all the benefits of a tall screen from one plant. You can use a taller shrub or columnar tree and place mid-sized shrubs in front of it. Two or three levels of different plants does more than just screen; these tiered plantings create visual interest in your landscape.

4. There are a number of evergreen vines that will quickly cover a fence or other structure. Many offer blooms as an added bonus. I have a personal distaste for chain-link and yet have been blessed with this durable fencing material in most of the places I have lived. Give me a chain-link fence and I can turn it into a bloomin' beauty in a season or two!

Now I would like to add a disclaimer to all my current and past neighbors who might be reading this: Nothing in this article, including comments and inferences about past experiences has any reflection on the wonderful, beautiful, tidy folks who have lived alongside me over the years. It's all about someone else!

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