Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

Friday, March 10, 2017 // A wise man once said, “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors.” That insightful man was poet Robert Frost and he was clearly on to something. While we might be fond of those who live around us, having privacy in our outdoor space is a valid concern. This space is an extension of our home, a place to relax and be comfortable. What do you do if you crave the privacy, but can’t or don’t want to put up a fence?  Going “au natural” can be a great choice. There’s a wide variety of trees, shrubs and vines that can help you turn your property into a secluded retreat. Using plants to create privacy is not only a friendly way to keep out prying eyes, it also makes your outdoor space greener. No matter what your style or taste, there are plants that can be utilized in-ground or in containers. Plants that can stand on their own or be trained to grow over a structure. Plants that offer year-round privacy or a plant that loses its leaves in the colder months and lets in all the light. No matter what your privacy needs may be for your outdoor spaces, there is a plant available that can provide it.

Once you’ve decided you want to try adding some plants for privacy, where do you start? The task of choosing which plants to use can be overwhelming. Consider the following to make the right choices for your home:


The best plants for privacy grow densely, require little maintenance and block a view completely. Choose plants that will do well in your area (zone 6), and grow at a rate that fits your maintenance objectives. Fast growing plants are appealing but will require more upkeep. It is also important to decide whether you want lawn debris from a flowering or deciduous plant or an evergreen that requires little maintenance.

Size Matters

When choosing plants, be sure to understand what size the plant will be when it reaches maturity. It may appear small in the pot now, but looks can be deceiving. Plants are commonly tagged with care information as well as size details to help you decide what will work for you.

Location, Location, Location!

The location you choose is very important when deciding which plants you'll use. Roots grow down and laterally. The bigger the plant, the longer the roots will be, an important consideration if the plants will be located near a sidewalk, foundation, pool or driveway.

Scope Out the Neighborhood

For a little inspiration, take a drive around and check out what types of plants your neighbors used. This will give you an idea of the types of plants that work in your hardiness zone, as well as the aesthetics of the plantings when they are mature. You may just gather some ideas of what to do, or not to do based on what you see. And, as always, head to local nurseries in the spring to see a large variety of plants in one setting.

Now that you know the basics, here are a few of the most common plants you might consider for your own privacy project:


Evergreens come in a vast array of species, both slow and fast growing, tall or low, and can be shaped and pruned into a variety of shapes and sizes. They make excellent privacy screens because they provide year-round coverage. Some evergreens to consider: Arborvitae, Cypress, Bayberry, and Yew.

Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental grasses are low-maintenance and varieties can grow between one and nine feet tall. They are best used during the summer and fall, the time when they reach their peak fullness. Many bloom in mid-summer and they look great in pots as well. Some varieties to look for: Blue Fescue, Switchgrass, Northern Sea Oats, and Fountain Grass.


Shrubs are excellent plants for privacy. They come in a variety of sizes and colors and many offer fast growth for the impatient among us. They are perhaps best known for creating the ultimate “I want to be alone” statement, the hedge. Privet, Holly, Boxwood, and Euonymus are all excellent choices.


Vines will grow outward and upward to create a living wall. Climbing vines grow by wrapping their tendrils around a support, such as a trellis or a pergola. A clinging vine has little suction cups or feet that grip onto a surface, such as a stucco or brick wall. Many vines have the added bonus of colorful, fragrant flowers. Clematis, Wisteria, Honeysuckle, and Morning Glory are a few to try.

Flowering Plants

If you prefer your natural privacy fencing to come with fragrance, color, and flowers available to cut for indoors, try Lilacs, Forsythia, Hydrangea, and Rose of Sharon. All feature beautiful blooms and can provide both privacy and interest in your landscape.

Privacy is a top priority for homeowners with close neighbors, loud sounds from street traffic or less-than-scenic vistas. Plants make excellent privacy screens because they can block noise and unappealing views while also adding color, texture and seasonal interest that gets better with each growing season. There’s just something about a Michigan summer that has us craving outdoor living. So don’t forget about that good neighbors-good fences business. Inviting some of those folks over for a frosty beverage and some BBQ to show off your private backyard oasis is a must.

Tags: landscape design