Grow privacy with well-planned landscaping

May 20, 2011 

No one likes the feeling of being watched or having our life at home on display. Yet many houses are built so close together, some next-door neighbors can have a conversation without even going outside. And if you have a pool, that’s all the more reason to plant for privacy.

Privacy plants come in many different sizes and shapes; some grow thick, some more see-through; some grow quickly, some less so. Right now is a great time to get started, since plants grow faster in warm weather. Consult your plant nursery for personalized advice on what to buy, but here are some great plants to consider:

Shrubs you can trim to 4 to 6 feet (or more for some): powderpuff, knock-out rose, bush allamanda, green arboricola, hibiscus, azalea, viburnum odoratissimum, Cape Tecoma honeysuckle, coco plum, nandina.

Shrubs you can keep 5 to 8 feet or more: eugenia, wax myrtle, bush (“Red Cluster”) bottlebrush, jatropha, ligustrum, buttonwood, mirror-leaf (“Awabuki”) viburnum, bougainvillea, oleander, golden dewdrop.

Other tall plants: wild coffee (grows to 12 feet, shadier areas), white bird-of-paradise (20 feet), false aralia (15 feet, part shade), schefflera amate (15 feet or more), selloum philodendrum (8 feet), and bamboo (many varieties and sizes).

Clustering palms: cat (6 to 8 feet), areca (20 feet), fishtail (18 feet), lady (7 feet, shade), arenga “Dwarf Sugar Palm” (9 feet tall and very wide).

Trees: canopy trees like variegated mahoe, weeping bottlebrush, drake elm, weeping podocarpus, and Shady Lady black olive, and upright ones like Japanese blueberry, Leylandi cypress and Florida red cedar.

People often feel guilty about planting a tall hedge because they genuinely like their neighbors. Here are more neighborly ways to landscape an area for privacy:

Target the exact location you want to screen, such as your neighbor’s second-story window view into your first-floor master bedroom. Plant a large shrub, tree or clustering palm that will block the view at that exact point. Remember to allow for growth -- will the plant eventually grow out of the privacy zone it was planted for?

You can grow a ‘friendly fence’ by evenly spacing several tall specimen plants or small trees with lower hedge plants in between, or create a few strategically-placed planting areas, each anchored with a tall plant. Arbors or trellises with vines might accomplish the same thing.

What if you need privacy but have a beautiful view? If your pool cage looks out onto a golf course, for example, you might plant something like white fountain grass all along the back of the cage … the grassy base grows about 4 feet tall with plumes adding another foot of height. Once you’re in the pool, the base of the plant shields you from view. If you’re sitting in a chair, you can see through and over the plumes, but you’re still pretty much out of sight. If you don’t like grasses, try airy shrubs like ligustrum sinensis, thryallis, snowbush, plumbago or ruella. Use “see-through” plants like a weeping hibiscus tree or good-sized pygmy date palm on each corner. The cage sides can be more private using hedge plants. The privacy created is partly illusory, but you’ll feel more comfortable and can still enjoy your view.

Books by Chase Landre, “Snowbird Gardening” and “Design Your Own Landscaping,” are available at local garden centers and businesses. For more information, visit Her gardening column runs twice a month in Neighbors. Meet Chase from 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays at Burnett’s Nursery, 4808 18th St. E., Bradenton.

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