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How to Get Instant Privacy from Neighbors with a Living Fence

Maren gardens in PA, specializing in earth-friendly, unconventional, creative, joyful artistry. She works for eco & climate health.

Sunflower and Morning Glory Screen of Privacy

Morning glories climb strings and sunflowers add cover to create privacy for your lawn and yard.

Morning glories climb strings and sunflowers add cover to create privacy for your lawn and yard.

It's so relaxing and so protective to see plants instead of nosy neighbors.

It's so relaxing and so protective to see plants instead of nosy neighbors.

Spending More Time in Our Gardens

Many of us are at our home much more than we ever could have anticipated in January 2020. We are working remotely, or on leave from work, or following our government’s public health guidelines to stay at home. We are spending much more time in our houses and in our own yards and gardens.

This leads to more contact with other folks who also are now at home.

Perhaps you will discover some wonderfully interesting, kind neighbors – hurray!

However, there is also a chance that you will realize that there are some neighbors with whom you would like to reduce interaction.

One way to establish a visual and psychological boundary is to put up a fence. But not everyone is in a financial position to throw up a fence costing thousands of dollars.

In addition, not all of us want to live in a yard darkened by a ten-foot high stockade of brick or wood or vinyl.

There is another way.

A Pleasant Privacy Screen of Vegetables

Vegetables trained to grow up a cyclone metal framework.

Vegetables trained to grow up a cyclone metal framework.

The bigger picture of this boundary between properties.

The bigger picture of this boundary between properties.

Plants Can Be a Fence

Another option is to use living plants as a wall.

The kind of plant you choose will accomplish varying kinds of privacy. Your view may be completely, or only partially blocked. The privacy may last all year round or exist only spring through fall.

Strings and Wire Guide the Clinging Vines

Wires placed in aesthetic diagonal rays for the vines to wrap around.

Wires placed in aesthetic diagonal rays for the vines to wrap around.

Rapidly growing morning glory vines are wrapped around strings and gently tied in place for maximum shielding effect.

Rapidly growing morning glory vines are wrapped around strings and gently tied in place for maximum shielding effect.

1. Right NOW! And Cheap! Tall, Fast Growing Annuals and Vines

Immediate relief can come from planting fast-growing annuals. Tall plants and fast vines will create the physical and psychological barrier you seek.

These two may be able to grow without any support:

  • Mammoth sunflower
  • Okra

Read sunflower seed packets or nursery tags carefully. Sunflowers come in different varieties – some as short as two feet tall. I recommend the Mammoth sunflower which can grow up to 12 feet tall. That is serious growth for wonderful definition of space and blocking views. In my experience it usually does not need a support. I have chosen, however, to use string to tie some of my large sunflowers to a support about seven feet above ground or higher. The reason for this is that my sunflowers were drooping over cable television and electric wires and putting weight on them.

Another option is okra, a vegetable plant with huge green leaves. In my growing zone in Pennsylvania, it is an annual. But, what a great annual for creating a privacy screen: it grows seven to eight feet tall! During the pandemic, I scoured the region for okra seeds, and finally found them at a country hardware store.

Add to this mix some vining plants. These will need a support. This could be a purchased wooden or metal trellis, string columns suspended from a clothesline, or the stalks of your sunflowers. The cost in your own people-hours needed to make supports may, for you, offset the very low cost of this solution.

Possible vines:

  • Morning glory
  • Ivy

Morning glory is an annual flower which spreads so rapidly, it could almost be called invasive. However, it truly is glorious with whitish pink and blue flowers. When it dies off in the fall, consider allowing the dry brown stems to remain in place on the string or supports for next year.

Ivies are evergreen and perennial. Some of them also are hardy and prolific enough to be regarded as invasive. However, since the goal is to create a living wall which quickly gives privacy, an invasive quality is a very good thing.

If you choose to plant any of these in a raised bed, this also helps define a property boundary line.

Some considerations, advantages and disadvantages:

  • Will annual plants that provide leaf-filled privacy for only part of the year meet your needs?
  • Do you have adequate space in the ground and the correct amount of sunlight for your plants to thrive?
  • Do you have adequate space for supports if needed?
  • Do you have the tools and strength to plant it/them, and to build supports, or must you pay for this service?

The Other Side of the Living Wall

Ah, feel the peace of green leaves blocking neighbors' eyes.

Ah, feel the peace of green leaves blocking neighbors' eyes.

2. The Familiar Evergreen Screen

All of us have seen properties with a line of tall evergreen shrubs marching along the border. It could be arborvitae, privet, yew, boxwood, holly and any number of wonderful, thick, bushy plants. (My British buddies call this choice “building a hedge.”)

These evergreen bushes are wonderful for providing visual privacy. Many of these plants can grow very tall and provide the blockage of sight line without making you feel like you are surrounded by a castle wall.

Some considerations, advantages and disadvantages:

  • Do you want to purchase mature, tall evergreen plants? They cost significantly more money than young ones, but will provide better privacy instantly.
  • If you choose to buy younger, cheaper evergreen screen plants can you accept that they will be very short and probably need to be spaced far enough apart to allow healthy growth, thus not providing as much instant visual privacy as the line of mature plants?
  • Do you have adequate space in the ground for your plant to thrive?
  • Do you have a way to transport your plant purchase to your yard?
  • Do you have the tools and strength to plant it/them or must you pay for this service?

Evergreen Hedge

A straight and stately line of evergreen arborvitae bushes mark the property border and guard privacy..

A straight and stately line of evergreen arborvitae bushes mark the property border and guard privacy..

3. Deciduous Trees and Bushes and Evergreen Grasses

Another option for defining your property border is using trees and bushes which lose their leaves every winter. The trunk and branches will remain all year round, but flowers return every spring and green leaves appear concurrently or after the flowering and remain through autumn.

Some of the deciduous trees and bushes which are fast growers and can be used for privacy are:

  • Lilac
  • Spirea
  • Forsythia
  • Weigela
  • Rose of Sharon
  • Crepe myrtle
  • Butterfly bush
  • Maple tree
  • Crabapple tree
  • Japanese maple tree
  • Royal star magnolia tree
  • Birch tree
  • Dogwood tree
  • Serviceberry tree

I am also including grasses which are considered to be evergreen. Two notable examples are bamboo and pampas grass. Although horticulturists refer to them as evergreen, I place them in this group because I feel that their winter leafiness is so sparse that they offer a level of sight blocking similar to deciduous trees.

Some considerations, advantages and disadvantages:

  • Will a bush or tree that provides leaf-filled privacy for only part of the year meet your needs?
  • Will a tree that does not give complete visual blocking for the area under the branches meet your needs?
  • Will you be able to do the leaf raking and disposal for your deciduous bush or tree?
  • Do you have adequate space in the ground for your plant to thrive?
  • Do you have a way to transport your plant purchase to your yard?
  • Do you have the tools and strength to plant it/them or must you pay for this service?

Deciduous Bushes as Screening Plants

The Rose of Sharon is a very fast grower. It can be pruned to look like a bush or like a tree.

The Rose of Sharon is a very fast grower. It can be pruned to look like a bush or like a tree.

In the middle of summer, a forsythia's leaves are very dense.

In the middle of summer, a forsythia's leaves are very dense.

In a Nutshell

The type of plant you choose will determine what kind and for how long the privacy is for your yard.

Your plant may provide a year-round screen or may only do its visual blocking job in the spring and summer.

It may be permanent or something that only lasts one season.

It may be sturdy enough to stand on its own or it may need some sort of support.

Bonus points: whatever plants you choose will probably

  • provide food and shelter for birds, pollinators, and other beings,
  • perform carbon capture that benefits the climate, and
  • offer aesthetic nurture for your soul.

So, go out and plant for your peace of mind.

Get A Great Trowel

All Started with Seeds

A sight  to truly enjoy - flowers!

A sight to truly enjoy - flowers!

Comments

Maren Elizabeth Morgan (author) from Pennsylvania on August 20, 2020:

Linda Crampton, both fences and plants add to the aesthetics of an outdoor space. However, there is something very soothing about living greenery.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on August 19, 2020:

I like your suggestions, Maren. It's great when plants are useful as well as attractive. Plants can be a nice border even when a fence exists.

Maren Elizabeth Morgan (author) from Pennsylvania on August 19, 2020:

Thank you for your comment, Sp Greaney. You can always supplement an existing fence with green plants. As you might detect in my photos, I had installed a 4 foot wooden "airy" fence to deal with my troublesome neighbors, but it didn't create enough of a boundary. I needed to go higher and have something more solid and opaque.

Sp Greaney from Ireland on August 18, 2020:

We have a fence between our house and the neighbors house, but I like the idea of using a hedge or bushes. It sure would be a lot more prettier to look at than a wooden fence.

Maren Elizabeth Morgan (author) from Pennsylvania on August 18, 2020:

Phil Holzinger, very true about bamboo. Thank you for this information.

Phil Holzinger on August 17, 2020:

Be careful going with bamboo. Some places it is outlawed because it spreads and will go into your neighbor's yard unless you have poured a cement barrier in the ground, which the average person doesn't do.