Privacy. It’s a hot commodity in a world where we’re pushed ever closer in proximity to one another. It almost seems like a diabolical developers’ cruel joke to see how many houses they can cram onto a couple of acres.
You don’t have to put up with feeling like you live in a fishbowl. There are a number of creative and low maintenance landscaping techniques that, in some cases, provide almost-instant privacy. If you do your homework before choosing landscaping materials, you can get the solitude you crave and keep the work on it to a minimum.
Baby Steps to Privacy
One of the first things you need to determine is if your Homeowners’ Association has landscaping rules. Many of them do, so dig out the paperwork and pore over the CC&Rs to figure out what you can and can’t do with your property.
Next, determine the amount of privacy you desire. Dense privets block most prying eyes, whereas a mix of trees and tall perennials provide a lighter touch and look more natural.
The size of the space you need to fill plays a large roll in what to plant, so take measurements before heading off to the nursery.
Finally, make sure that the plants you purchase are suited to your growing zone. The United States Department of Agriculture provides a Plant Hardiness Zone Map based on the lowest temperature in a region.
In some areas of the country, such as California and Nevada, homeowners can also consult Sunset magazine’s climate zones. Unlike the USDA map, Sunset uses rainfall, high and low temperatures, the length of the growing season, humidity and wind to determine plant hardiness zones.
Finally, you’re always safe going with native plants that are adapted to your region and typically require less maintenance than the non-natives. Many larger cities have native plant societies that you can consult for ideas on what to use in your privacy landscape plan.
Landscaping Narrow Side Yards
Newer homes in subdivisions across the country tend to have tiny slices of vacant property between houses. There may or may not be a fence. If you don’t like looking at your neighbor as you wash the dishes, choose some fast-growing columnar trees to fill the space.
Italian cypress is an ideal plant for this situation. It grows quickly (up to 3 feet per year), remains slender and requires little maintenance. The best time to plant Italian cypress is in the spring, unless you live in a warm climate. In that case, plant anytime. For a good, dense screen, plant the trees 5 to 6 feet apart.
Privacy Landscaping for Front Yards
If the front of your house is open to the world, you have options to provide privacy. Privet hedges are commonly used to screen out prying eyes, but they require a good deal of trimming and pruning to keep them in shape. Instead, consider planting evergreen shrubs and trees. If you must use deciduous plants, the experts at Colorado State University suggest you choose those with lots of stems and branches to help provide a privacy screen even after the plant loses its foliage.
Plant the trees closer to the house with the shrubs in front. To make a more natural vignette, throw some low maintenance perennials in front of the shrubs. Ideal plant choices, according to Richard Jauron of Iowa State University’s Department of Horticulture, include butterfly weed or salvia for sunny locations and hosta, ferns or bleeding heart for shady spots.
Blocking the View From Above
When your neighbor has a bird’s-eye view into the home or onto your deck or patio, privacy landscaping becomes a bit trickier. Large deciduous shade trees with broad spreading canopies should provide enough cover.
An arbor, or overhead latticework, allows sunshine to penetrate but blocks most of what the neighbors might be able to see. For better coverage and to soften the hard lines of the structure, plant a vine at the base and allow it to grow up and over it. Quick-growing vines that require little care include clematis, ivy and trumpet vine.
While it may be true that good fences make good neighbors, privacy fences make good neighbors disappear – at least from sight. And that is a good thing.