Landscape & Hardscape Ideas

Green screen: Plant a living fence around your patio

Shrubs, trees and ivies can be beautiful privacy borders for your landscape. Robert Frost wondered why  “Good fences make good neighbors,” but good fences can turn your yard into a haven made just for you. A “living fence” is a landscape border constructed with greenery. Self-supported woody shrubs and trees add height and shade. Ivies or tall grasses are trained on trellises.

The Arbor Day Foundation encourages homeowners to consider privacy greenery for its various benefits not only to the environment, but to the owners. Along with privacy, greenery screens help block out noise and break up strong winds. The Foundation lists the most popular shrubs and bushes for privacy borders as Azaleas, Hydrangeas, Crapemyrtle, and Mollis hybrids. Laurel plants are hardy hedges that can thrive in dense suburban environments or in salty-soil shore towns. Privet and Boxwoods are probably the most popular garden-sculpture shrubs. Geometric shapes, animals and even garden mazes can be carved out of boxwood shrubs.

Evergreens like American and Green Giant Arborvitae are officially hedges but can grow 40-60 feet tall. The hedges are popular privacy screens because they grow wide and thick. Trees like junipers and cedars offer less of a thick border and they don’t hedge in pets and kids as well as shrubs but they add beauty and majesty to a landscape. The key to planting a tree border is to space the saplings at the correct distance apart for that species with the mature size in mind. Nurseries will provide guides for planting.

Bamboo is a tall grass that spreads rapidly and stays green throughout the year. Be careful to check your municipality’s regulations before planting any fast-spreading tall grasses. Several types of bamboo are considered invasive and planting them is banned in many areas. An alternative is making a willow fence. Willow trees are self-rooting, meaning a willow branch stuck in the ground will root itself. Willow branches can be shaped in different ways to provide architectural interest, and in a few weeks the leaves will offer privacy as well. The willow branches will sprout leaves each year which can be pruned back to help support the willow’s health and longevity. Garden entrances with willow arches are popular shapes but a plain wall is also a great use for willows. You can find willow privacy screen kits online or check with your local nursery.

Deciduous shrubs, i.e. shrubs that lose their leaves like trees, are an option for an outdoor space that gets used mostly during the late spring-early fall months. Fiery burning bush can tower over a yard by growing up to 24 feet in height, and it provides berries birds find enticing. Forsythias are beautiful yellow-flowered shrubs that can grow up to 9 feet. Lilacs are also lovely quick-growing additions to a spring-blooming garden and can withstand the cold winters of the northeastern states.

The best thing about a greenery screen is the low maintenance. Trimming or pruning is the main task after the screen is planted and has rooted well. Each species will have its own pruning schedule and technique, but they will be simple tasks any new gardener can do.

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