Create a haven of privacy with the right trees and shrubs

Ah, privacy! If you live on a ranch in Wyoming or in a cabin in the wilds of Montana, that's probably not a problem. But if you're like most of us, you have neighbors quite close on each side of you and maybe overlooking the back of your lot as well.
Even if you're smack in the middle of suburbia surrounded by other homes, there IS some good news. You don't have to build a 15 foot brick wall around your perimeter just to secure your privacy. After all, who wants to live in Fort Knox without the gold?
In the previous Plant Man column, I described ways that trees and shrubs can help to insulate your home and garden from noise pollution, wind and heat, making your life more comfortable and your utility bills less demanding. If you missed that column you can find it archived under the Plant Man heading at my Web site
But as modern homes are being built closer and closer together, concerns about privacy become even more pressing for many of us. Fortunately, there are a number of "green" solutions that can provide the private haven you want without taking the ugly route.
The following e-mail is a case in point. It was fielded by my wife Cheryl.
QUESTION: "I live in a lovely cul de sac neighborhood, but I live on the corner and my whole yard is exposed, mainly the whole backyard. The lot is 3/4 acres and the house faces north. So rather than putting up an ugly wood fence, I was wondering if I could create some type of natural fence when I came across an article at your Web site.
"I mainly want to close in the backyard on the northeast side and half way across the back property line. The rest opens to neighbors whose kids play with my kids, and to forest in the back. If you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear about them." - Barry Preising
ANSWER: If the house across from yours has landscaping on the exposed area along the street, you may want to do something similar to keep a balanced look in the neighborhood. Should there be no house there or if they don't have any landscaping, here are a couple of thoughts.
Rather than the straight uniform look of a hedge, plant in groupings of plants (trees, shrubs and perennials) or a graduated hedge with breaks along the way. Beginning toward the front part of the property, plant a low growing hedge (rosa rugosa, burning bush or even ornamental grasses) along the first 1/3 of the length breaking up the plants every 20 to 30 feet with a green giant or another evergreen tree. For the next 1/3, plant a taller growing hedge such as hibiscus, clumping bamboo, or Canadian hemlock (kept at about 8 feet tall). Along the back 1/3, plant a tall growing evergreen hedge of cedar green giants or similar. Planting a hedge in S-form in an interesting way to create a hedge without it being completely straight. When planting using this method, add smaller growing shrubs, perennials, ornamental grasses in the indented areas. Using a partial fence area works great as well. The fence blocks the area you want to keep most private and then landscape with varied plants on each end as far as necessary to carry out the visual of the fence. I hope you can use one of these suggestions.
I believe the column that Barry referred to was titled "Use trees and shrubs to define your landscape." You can find it at if you need more information on this subject. Alternatively, drop me an e-mail, like Barry did, with some specifics about the problem you're wrestling with. I'll respond personally and your question might appear in a future column or in my newsletter.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to For resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free weekly e-mailed newsletter, go to

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