Professional Grounds, Inc. Blog

privacy screening near pool

Using Plants for Outdoor Privacy Screening

By Brittany, Landscape Designer

Unless you are lucky enough to live on a large property the Metro DC area, you likely live in close proximity to your neighbors. We live in an amazing area so of course it’s going to be more densely populated but close living quarters don’t mean you have to compromise privacy in your outdoor area, no matter how small it may be!

Patio with Privacy Screening

Small back yard? Check out this little patio with lots of privacy!

The most common solution that comes to mind to increase outdoor privacy is to install a fence or another non-living barrier. Before you invest a ton of money to install a huge, intrusive fencing structure, we recommend the alternative of using plants and landscape to create a more private outdoor area!

Using plants for outdoor privacy screening has been around forever and is gaining popularity again. Plants are an environmentally friendly and often less expensive alternative to fencing or barricading. Indeed, there are landscape jobs compare in price (or far exceed) to a new fence quote but you are likely to plant something against that new fence after it’s installed anyway. Think of all the time you could save installing something functional and enjoyable as a way to increase your outdoor privacy.

Already have that fence installed? Thats no problem! Installing the right plants and trees along your fence-line will not only increase your level of privacy but will create an inviting extension of your home for you and your guests to enjoy. Additionally, a well designed and installed landscape can significantly increase the revalue of your home!

Take a look at the top 10 plants we suggest, along with a brief description,as options for outdoor privacy screening:

1. Leyland Cypress- If you want a fast growing evergreen, this is your tree! They can grow about 3’ a year. They top out at about 20-25’ tall and 10’ wide and they are pretty dense, so you won’t be able to see through them which makes them one of the most popular for this purpose. They are readily available and quite inexpensive. Tip: Don’t spend the money to use a bigger tree, since they grow fast, your space will be filled in within 5 years. A 6’ tall tree installed is sufficient.

2. Cryptomeria- A PGI designer’s top pick! They also top out at about 25’ and 10’ wide. They are not quite as fast growing as a Leyland, but still considered fast among the trees.

3. Red Maples- This tree is fast growing trees once established. They top out at 35-40’ with a 20’ canopy. They have brilliant fall color, but are often overlooked because they lose their leaves. We suggest you don’t discount them since you aren’t hanging out outdoors during the winter much, so you don’t need as much privacy.

4. European Hornbeams- Hornbeams grow extremely fast and in a natural upright vase shape form. They top out at about 40’ with a 15’ spread. You can get them with a low branching habit (the branches come almost to the ground). Even though they lose their leaves, the branches are so dense that they provide privacy. If you have a smaller space, these trees take to pruning well and you can keep them narrow.

5. Southern Magnolia- You will be hard pressed to find a more beautiful screen. Southern Magnolia can get up to 40’ tall with a 20’ spread, but there are some varieties you can get that will stay smaller. Although not the fastest growing, they are the most beautiful with their dark green leaves and bronze undersides. They also have huge fragrant white blooms in the warmer months. This option, specifically, is where you would want to spend the money for a larger tree. They are also easily trained on a trellis for smaller privacy needs.

6. Arborvitae- The ‘Emerald Green’ variety does well in smaller applications. It is a dense, evergreen, moderate grower topping out at about 15’ with a 4’ spread. Use the ‘Green Giant’ variety (equally as dense) in a larger application as they grow faster and have a larger spread at about 8-10’. The ‘Green Giant’ get about 15-20’ tall. Deer do LOVE these plants though, so you may want to steer clear if you have deer that venture in your neighborhood.

7. ‘Skip’ Laurel- It’s the quintessential dense evergreen suburban screen. It reaches between 8-12’ and about 5’ wide. It has broad pretty olive green foliage with white (non showy) flowers in the spring and even gets a couple berries here and there. Not the most impressive of the plants on our list, but definitely a popular one.

8. Leatherleaf Viburnum- This Viburnum is evergreen, tolerates shade, flowers profusely in the spring and is easily hedged. This plant is often overlooked in nurseries as its not super impressive in an unplanted state but once you get it in the ground and established, its magnificent! The Leatherleaf Viburnum will grow upwards of 15’ in full sun with about an 8’ spread.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION: The last two screening plants on our list are INVASIVE plants. That means it will take over your yard if you aren’t careful. We do not suggest using these plants if you don’t have a method of containing them. With that being said, due to their insane growth rate and hardiness, they make excellent screening plants.

9. Bamboo- You can get a million different varieties but the stuff you see growing on the side of the road is what we’re referring to here. Phyllostachys is the genus. We can’t warn you enough, this stuff will take over, but if you have a proven containment method, it’s great because it grows 3’ in a couple weeks, it’s a beautiful green, and really cool to look at!

10. Privet- Also sold in the nursery as Ligustrum. Farther down south than our DC suburbs, Chinese Privet can be quite the problem. It was used in the old days as hedges but has lost popularity. It grows fast though, and can get upwards of 12’ given full sun. We’ve seen a one gallon Privet grow over 6’ wide and tall in just three years! Many people have great success, without extreme measures, controlling this plant from taking over.

Now that we have provided some suggestions, we have some quick tips, to keep in mind, when installing screening plants. Resist the urge to plant screening plants too close together. We know you want that instant gratification, but in the long run overcrowding will cause plant death. If you have a long expanse, we suggest you stagger the plants, as planting in a straight line can be hard on the eyes. Try using several types of screening plants planted in threes or fives, this adds a lot of interest to your privacy screen and looks more natural.

Are you interested in landscaping for additional privacy? Do you need some help maximizing the small outdoor space you currently have? You’re in the right place! Please contact us to speak with one of our amazing landscape designers who can help you come up with a beautiful design and installation plan for your space today.

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