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Keep your neighbor’s nose out of your yard with these planting for privacy tips
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There are a lot of things you can do to plant for privacy in your yard such as tall Green Giant Arborvitae trees. Correct spacing of a tree of this variety is key to making a visually appealing privacy screen. - photo by Scott Rogers

There are plenty of reasons to plant for privacy in a yard. Nathan Wilson, manager and lead horticulturist at Lanier Nursery and Gardens in Flowery Branch, said it’s something he gets asked about at least once a day.

“The whole thing about gardening is we’re trying to create a sense of place,” Wilson said. “And if you’re trying to hide some unsightly feature or hide pesky or nosy neighbors, it’s very important.”

He said there are lots of things homeowners can do to create some sort of barrier between themselves and their neighbors or those features they don’t want to be forced to look at while outside on their own property.

Planting a “screen” is the key. There are two types of screens: evergreen and psychological. An evergreen screen will be in the landscape with leaves creating a barrier throughout the year, no matter the season. A psychological screen will drop its leaves, but still create somewhat of a barrier with its branches.

Wilson said many homeowners choose an evergreen screen.

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Lanier Nursery and Gardens' Nathan Wilson visits a home in South Hall where Green Giant Arborvitae trees are used effectively as a privacy screen. - photo by Scott Rogers
He recommends hollies, which typically have prickly, dark green leaves. There’s the Nellie R. Stevens holly or the Tea Olive holly, which he said create a thick screen and is “a very fragrant plant when it blooms.”

There are conifers that put out needle-like leaves. One of Wilson’s favorites is the Green Giant arborvitae. He said it’s the No. 1 recommendation and choice when it comes to creating an evergreen screen in yards. It grows fast and is pretty large.

“It can grow up to 3 feet in one year,” Wilson said. “People used to like Leyland cypress because it grew fast, but it had some disease issues. Green Giant arborvitae, you get the same thick screen, you get the same fast growth rate, but you don’t have the disease issue.”

Another popular choice is the Japanese cedar. Wilson said it can reach 60 to 100 feet in its lifetime, so it’s a good option when planting for privacy.

Wilson also said there are things to look out for. One of the important things many homeowners don’t think about is the variety when it comes to planting for privacy. Wilson said homeowners often just want a wall and they don’t think about how it will look.

“We call it a tapestry screen,” Wilson said. “Sometimes we see the same plant material in one long row. But if you create a tapestry screen, what you’re doing is you’re using different colors, different shapes and textures of plants and creating a very pleasing aesthetic screen as opposed to a solid green wall.”

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There are a lot of things you can do to plant for privacy in your yard. This homeowner planted Green Giant Arborvitae with Nellie R. Stevens Holly trees in a row to give a variety of color and texture. - photo by Scott Rogers

One way to do that is achieve a tapestry screen is by adding in the Arizona cypress. He said it has a gray or blue tint to it, which will make the screen look much better in the yard.

It’s not as simple as planting these trees and waiting for them to grow, though. While a tree may be small when a homeowner purchases it, Wilson advises to doublecheck its mature height and width before planting, which is often forgotten.

“Sometimes, we don’t consider the width and we plant things way too close,” Wilson said. “They start to crowd each other out and if one dies out, you’re left with a big spot.”

Another habit to avoid is planting too close to the home.

“Sometimes, when you go to the nursery, you see these plants and they’re cute and little and these little fluff balls in their container,” Wilson said. “But that plant is going to become a pretty good-sized monster.”

He said in a few years, that tree could be pushing into the roof line or even “growing into your bedroom.”

There’s also the issue of planting too close to the property line. Wilson said he’s been to homes where a neighbor “shaved one side of the plant” because they didn’t want it on their property. 
Homeowners can’t forget about power lines, either. Power companies will cut limbs from trees if they’re too close.

“There are definitely a lot of good things to think about before you actually plant for shade,” Wilson said.