Questions landscape designers ask to find the perfect privacy plants

Your ideal backyard oasis is not complete without careful consideration given to privacy and using plants to create that privacy is often the best solution, but how to choose the right plant or plants?

Let’s look at some of the key factors that will drive the design process and lead to the right plants for privacy

Growing plants

What are my site conditions?

The first step in any planting design project is analyzing the site conditions to understand what plant groups will thrive.

This becomes especially important in choosing privacy plants since they’ll need to thrive in order to create the privacy you and your family desire.

You’ll need to ask yourself:

  • What plant hardiness zone do I live in?
  • What are the sun/shade patterns for this area of the yard?
  • How is the soil? (pH, texture, nutrient levels, moisture levels)
  • Are there any issues with a prevailing wind?
  • Does the existing topography create erosion or moisture retention concerns?

Your options for the best screening shrubs will be dictated by the answers to these questions, do not skip this step! Note that some things can be changed, you could amend the soils or change the topography, for instance, but you’ll want to plan for this before making your privacy plant selections.

Image of private garden thanks to privacy plants

How much space do I have?

Arguably the most important question to answer after site conditions is going to be this, what kind space can I allocate to privacy plantings?

The more space, the more options, but don’t count your narrow yard out either. There are plenty of plants that have columnar or upright habits.

Take into account the length, width, and height that the plants will be occupying. If you have the space, don’t be afraid of trees, it is well documented that mature trees in the landscape increase a home’s value anywhere from 3%-15%. Also large-medium shrubs alongside well placed trees can offer a layering of textures and greenery that not only increases home value, but privacy and aesthetics as well.

So, what kind of plants fit into what kind of backyard space? Generally consider:

  • Narrow Space – 1’-3’ wide – upright/columnar shrubs, some hedges, vines if a structure can be utilized, some bamboos.
  • Average Space – 4’-12’ wide – above plus: larger shrubs, some columnar trees, most hedges, more options for layering, more bamboo choices.
  • Large Space – 15’+ wide – above plus: some full form trees, large shrubs, more layering.

The key difference maker between an impressive and private backyard, and a ho-hum yard is the effective layering of plant material.

Deciduous trees

Should I Use Any Deciduous Plants?

The short answer here is, it depends.

Since broadleaf evergreens are rare in many parts of the country, you may want to use deciduous plants to help create varied texture.

If you have enough space, yes you could sneak some into the scene to add color, change, and interest throughout the year without sacrificing too much privacy. However, if space is limited and privacy is a top priority, stick with evergreens whether broadleaf or coniferous.

If you simply must have some escape from the evergreen, some specific considerations will be helpful:

  • Choose tree and shrub varieties whose leaves fall late in the season and regrow early.
  • Use in areas where winter privacy is not required.
  • Use species that have a dense branching structure, prune to promote this.
  • If possible, plant in front of other evergreen screening plants.
  • Plant in clumps or groves so trunks, stems, and branches provide screening.
Pool surrounded by excellent privacy plants

Do The Plants ‘Fit-In’?

Finally, you should consider your neighborhood and the style of your home.

While plants don’t go in and out of style to the extent that clothes do, they will still adhere to some basic stylistic tendencies that the best backyards will have picked up on.

Think about it, you wouldn’t want to plant bamboo in front of the Neoclassical architecture of the White House (even if it were a variety hardy enough to live there) nor would you plan the ornament of a cottage garden to accent the minimalism of a modern home.

In the same way a neighborhood can have a particular vernacular that you’ll want to consider when choosing your privacy plants. This is a more subtle and nuanced detail, and could be debated from person to person and place to place, however you know it when you see it, whether done right or done wrong.

Conclusion

Take the time to carefully consider your conditions, space, needs, and overall aesthetic before making your final choices about privacy plants.

Once you have completed this pre-planning, you can next find the genus and species of plant that will fit the bill, and give you and your family a private sanctuary in the comfort of your backyard.

For more help, contact us

A lifelong Oregon resident, Drake has been passionate about plants since childhood, beginning with propagating and growing flowers at his grandfather’s nursery. He opened Drake’s 7 Dees in 1974, while earning degrees in Business and Horticulture from Oregon State University. He later expanded into the design/build side of the industry, allowing him to combine his passion for plants with his love of family by maximizing the quality of family time spent outdoors.

Drake is co-founder of the Oregon Landscape Contractors Association and is a Landscape Industry Certified Manager (LICM)—a designation that less than two percent of landscapers have attained. Additionally, Drake serves on the Board of Directors for the Portland Japanese Gardens, widely regarded as one of the seven best Japanese gardens outside of Japan.

Drake is married to former Oregon Speaker of the House, Lynn Snodgrass. Together, he and Lynn received the Farm Bureau President’s award in 1999 for their service and dedication to agriculture in the state of Oregon. Drake and Lynn have two wonderful daughters, two talented son-in-laws, and seven grandchildren. In his spare time, Drake enjoys camping, water and snow skiing, reading, and of course, gardening.