Growing privacy and enclosure
Should you build a wall or fence to increase your privacy, or let plants do the job? The answer depends on your budget, your patience, and the look you desire.
Plants grow. Fences and walls don’t. For that reason, privacy plantings make good economic sense. If you have the patience, you can start with small plants and wait for them to grow. Or you can invest in a few large plants to block critical areas and set out smaller plants to fill in where you don’t mind waiting for a living screen to mature.
Then there’s the neighbors. A substantial fence can create sore feelings next door. Trees, shrubs, and other plants create a softer look than fences or walls so it might not be as evident to the neighbors that you’re putting up a privacy screen. Plantings also remove the possibility that your neighbors (or you) won’t like looking at the back side of a fence. If your yard already has a lot of paving or decking, using plants instead of fencing keeps the hardscape from overwhelming the space.
If you’ve decided to plant a screen but aren’t sure how to choose the plants, consider the amount of privacy you need on your deck.
- If you need year-round and total privacy, evergreens yield the best results. These species shed their foliage discreetly throughout the year instead of dropping the leaves all at once. You may have to put up with a small trade-off, however: Many evergreens grow
at a slower pace than deciduous plants.
- If seasonal privacy will suffice, plant deciduous species. Their screening ability increases in spring and summer when they bear leaves, and decreases in autumn and winter when foliage falls. Even without leaves, the structure of the plant forms a visible barrier that defines space.
Some tree species, such as serviceberry, feature multiple trunks that lend themselves beautifully to separating areas and creating a sense of enclosure. They offer a measure of privacy too. Deciduous trees permit winter rays to warm your deck and allow sunlight to reach inside your home. Mixing evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs together gives you the best of both worlds.
You’ll find many species of trees to fill the role of sentry beside or within your deck. Even a small tree, one that matures at 10 to 20 feet, makes a spot feel people-sized and offers shade. Keep in mind that deciduous trees shade outdoor rooms in summer, and lose their leaves in fall. In winter, they allow sunlight to reach the interior of your home, brightening and warming it.
When planting new trees near your deck, select a species that matures between 30 and 35 feet tall or less. Trim the lowest branches of mature trees, allowing a minimum 6-foot clearance so you can walk under them without getting poked in the eye. Look for hardwood species that don’t drop messy fruit or twigs. Avoid planting too close to pavement; tree roots can buckle it.
Position trees where they’ll frame (not block) views and protect your home from winter winds as well as summer sun. Good deck species feature neat and trim silhouettes that suit confined spaces.
Be sure to include a variety of trees and create a landscape that offers beauty and a haven for wildlife year-round. Choose trees that thrive in your area. Look around your neighborhood to see which trees appear to be thriving in the climate. Then visit a local nursery and consult the experts; verify the hardiness of your favorite trees before you make final selections. A little homework goes a long way toward avoiding costly mistakes.
Vines add leafy layers and colorful blossoms to posts, arbors, and trellises. Plant vines at the base of posts and let them grow up and over your deck. Plant them in ample containers, taking care that their roots have plenty of room to grow. Use fast-growing varieties, such as trumpet vine and clematis, to provide a quick umbrella. Some vines offer greenery year-round; others lose their leaves in autumn, letting the warming sun reach the interior of your home during the colder winter months.
More for the money
When you use plants to increase your privacy or help create a sense of enclosure, you’re making a practical investment and a design statement. Plants can help soften the hard edge of an overhead structure. Leafy canopies offer pleasant, dappled shade, whether you opt for a vine-covered pergola or the stately shelter of large trees. Mature shade trees in the yard spread a generous, high-domed canopy over an outdoor room. They define the upper limit of the outdoor ceiling, filter sunlight, and offer a sense of protection. Their size creates a sense of stability.
Plants of a smaller scale work too. Look for smaller trees to set beside your deck or vines that will scramble over the top of an arbor. Small trees will grow in pots, and you can train potted shrubs into the shape of small trees. Be sure to select dwarf-type plants that will grow slowly and remain smaller than standard varieties. These plants shouldn’t outgrow the space you allot for them.