Shelterbelts: Plant Living Fences for Privacy

If you'd like a bit of seclusion from your neighbors, shelterbelts are living fences that can provide it — and potentially a few bonus edibles.

| May/June 1983

Today's world is complex, challenging ... and crowded! Space is at a premium, and new houses are typically small and close together.

Well, some people may believe that lack of privacy is the price of progress, but I don't think that has to be the case. With a little imagination, some physical labor, and a relatively small outlay of cash, almost any property owner can establish thick shelterbelts of vegetation to cloister his or her home and land, thereby shutting out unwelcome viewers, muffling offensive sounds, and adding attractive greenery that helps to mop up excess carbon dioxide and break the force of harsh winds. Furthermore, these living fences can even provide food. After all, there's no reason why they can't include trees, shrubs, and herbs that produce edible fruits, nuts, leaves, or roots.

Outlining the Project

You'll probably want to locate your shelterbelts fairly close to your property lines to avoid later arguments with neighbors. So the first thing to do is to delineate exactly where the lines are. It will also simplify matters a great deal if you incorporate these boundaries, and all pertinent landscaping information, into a ground plan — drawn to scale, if possible — from which to work. Once the borders are clear, they should be studied to determine which areas will require heavy screening (because of an undesirable view, strong prevailing winds, or proximity to neighbors, for example), and which need only a lighter, primarily decorative treatment.

What to Choose

The selection of the kinds of trees, shrubs, or vines used to fill in these areas will depend on several factors, such as the climate zone in which the home is located, the type of soil, the shape and orientation of the plot, and of course the property owner's budget! 

The following list may be of some help, but before making your purchases be sure to discuss any selections with an experienced gardener who's familiar with your specific area.

VINES. These are especially effective for quick cover and can often provide temporary shelter, allowing slower growing trees and the like time to mature. Suitable varieties include clematis, English ivy, silver-lace vine, trumpet vine, Virginia creeper, and wisteria.

Keith Karolyi
12/6/2010 12:41:14 PM

When planning privacy plantings, remember that screening your house off completely from the street and neighbors also gives cover to anyone trying to get into your home. Nothing makes a break-in artist or home invader happier than for the homeowner to give him the cover needed to take his time to work on defeating your doors or windows. Allow enough space between your plantings and window to give privacy while also allowing your house to be visible from another angle. I screened my side windows from a neighbor's window on one side while leaving the gap between my planted screen and house visible from the street. My front window has coverage from a privet hedge out near the sidewalk but that space is visible from both neighbors houses and the corners of my lot. I get both privacy and security. If all else fails, invest in some curtains or a folding screen.

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