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Looking for best rapid privacy options! Please help!

7 years ago
last modified: 7 years ago

First, please no rude or unproductive comments .. things along the lines of "you just bought the wrong house" or "move if you dont like it", etc.. etc..

Apologies if this is longwinded. Id rather have more detail than not enough.

Ok, so in a nutshell, we've lived in our house for 2.5 years. It fits 95% of our needs. Our neighborhood is a mix of ramblers and two stories. We have a rambler that sits lower while our back neighbors have higher ramblers and multi-level's. Unfortunately this leaves us with a "fishbowl" for a back yard. Three of our neighbors have back patios that overlook our backyard.

Dont get me wrong, I do like my neighbors and we get along swimmingly, but we do sure enjoy privacy when relaxing or entertaining out side.

We received advice the first summer here from local landscaping company and went with Red canadian chokecherries lining our back fence. Last year we got a couple more lining our side fence. Unfortunately these chokecherries have been very little help in offering privacy. Additionally, i've noted other mature chokecherries within my travels and observed some can grow relatively thick/full, while others can be sparse and thin their entire life.. Im concerned about waiting years only to get sparsely leaved trees (which is what they look like now).

Some ideas i've had have been to line the fence with green giants or arborvitaes, but i worry that if i have 20 and 3 die in a few years, then there'll be a gap and it'd just look "off".

My latest thought is a variety of trees that can tolerate being clustered. I am thinking a mix of deciduous and evergreens (blue spruces, arborvitaes, etc..). Id like to make it dense then prune it down later. Maybe a pergola or two and some vines.

Ultimately looking to net as much privacy now with mix of trees. I understand that fast growing trees are typically garbage and the best screens might be moderate-growing trees, which is fine, but time is a concern. Considered fast growing trees now with moderate/slow trees then in a few years, removing the fast/garbage trees when the better trees are bigger.

Are there any trees that can be clustered densely and mature fine?

What would you do?

THANKS in advance!!

Although they're not the best, here are pics of my backyard:

Comments (28)

  • 7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    To know what would grow well for you, we need to know your planting zone. (Obviously someplace where it snows - hence the pictures taken from INSIDE the house haha.)

    In other words, snowy gardens in Alaska are not the same zone as snowy gardens in Vermont or Iowa or Ontario.

    bigjimcfh thanked littlebug zone 5 Missouri
  • 7 years ago

    Thanks! Per (Utah) looks like I would be in zone 7a.

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  • PRO
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    By the urgent tone of your plea, I suspect that you may be inclined to overdo it now and regret it later. In the pictures, it doesn't look as dire as I thought was going to be the case. Fortunately you have a decent sized yard so can plant some things. And the surrounding houses are not horrendously tall compared to your yard. I realize there may be surrounding windows that don't show up in your pictures. Frankly, I would supply better pictures in order to make sure that the advice you get is not compromised by the fact that you're not letting us see the real problem. All you need to do is step outside, next to the back wall of the house, and aim the camera at the far left and then, without moving locations, continue snapping slightly overlapping pictures until you have captured what is at the far right. That way, we can see the whole surroundings in a half dozen contiguous pictures. It does not matter that there is snow.

    bigjimcfh thanked Yardvaark
  • 7 years ago

    Thank you. Understood -- i am a worried about overdoing it. Would much rather do as much as possible that is ideal and makes most sense vs going nuts in excess trying to fulfill the desire of privacy.

    On the pics, admittedly I know they could be better. They are a couple months old and it was just laziness on my part. :) I will snap better pics tomorrow since it's dark now. Fortunately the snow is gone. :)

  • PRO
    7 years ago

    Let me re-emphasize ... keep the camera location the same for all pictures. Just pivot.

    bigjimcfh thanked Yardvaark
  • 7 years ago

    How important is privacy in the winter? Would you be happy with a screen that was effective from whenever the chokecherries leaf out until they are bare? I'm not suggesting you not add depth to this existing border, just that it may not need to be an evergreen wall. Also, where and when do you want maximum privacy? Do you need to keep the yard as open as it is now? Would you be happy with a very private sanctuary in one part of it, and an airier screen elsewhere? Finally, do you know what your neighbors have planted on their side of the fence? It appears to me that they have as much of a fishbowl problem as you, with all of their windows exposed.

    The Canadian Red is a pretty small tree, I think maxing out around 12-15 feet? How will that fall in the various sightlines you are concerned with?

    bigjimcfh thanked kitasei
  • 7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    i completely understand your dilemma. and i feel your pain. we built our house & when they bulldozed, everything was taken out except for vines, ramblers in the back. although the vines add some privacy (especially when the climb up) they are a nuisance & will climb on everything. we can't take it all out bc of a limit of clearing placed on our lot. anywho...

    what i mean is, my view is almost identical to yours! and i like my neighbors too (one a great deal more than the other) but i like to be left alone in my garden. the guy directly behind me rents out his house & we are tired of seeing surfers changing out of their wetsuits into their birthday suits on their deck all the time!! besides, i like to sit on my deck, watch the birds & dream away not have my son see surfers naked. my one neighbor (long story short is a bit of a stalker, and watches me, no not making that up) from her deck (that sits much higher than ours. ... yes the fish bowl effect)

    my "nuclear" option was thuja green giants & river birch trees. both grow very fast & in 4 years we now have 'some' privacy. we planted double the amount of thuja greens because the nursery made a delivery mistake & doubled our order to correct it. honestly i think we will only end up w/ half of the trees in the end.

    just to say ... i feel your pain & no you are not wrong for feeling the way you do about craving privacy.

    bigjimcfh thanked alexiebalexie
  • PRO
    7 years ago

    How much are tickets to those surfer shows?

  • 7 years ago

    Yardvaark- LOL!!

  • 7 years ago

    I'd consider a mixed shrub border with some taller conifers included in the mix. Shrubs tend to have a much faster rate of growth than most trees and many will achieve heights necessary for providing privacy. The biodiversity of a mixed planting will encourage birds and other wildlife while reducing disease issues and you can add plants that have more visual appeal than just conifer needles.

    In your zone I'd consider laurels, hollies, viburnums, Hydrangea paniculata, ninebark, and lilacs to start. Toss in a few conifers of your choice and you have privacy :-)) Not immediately of course, but in 3-5 years even small sized shrubs initially will have made a significant presence.

    bigjimcfh thanked gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
  • PRO
    7 years ago

    My next door neighbor had a similar problem about 30 years ago, and she planted a stand of hemlock along the back fence. Then, over time, she added to it. Subsequent owners allowed the other things to die, but the hemlock is now huge and gives excellent privacy cover.

    bigjimcfh thanked Anglophilia
  • 7 years ago

    What a crazy day. snapped some new pics of back fence view and just now getting to uploading them.

    Not terribly concerned about the neighbors to the east. More so about the neighbors to the north east, north and west.

    Chokecherries are budding already. Im willing to yank out the chokecherries for something more dense.

    @kitasai - Agreed on the canadian red - I wish i had researched more instead of taking the advice of a youngin at the local nursery. Lesson learned, which is why i havent planted anything else yet.Im considering pulling all grass in front of the fence and willing to do shrubs/trees/evergreens, etc.. anything thats dense... I could go a couple layers if needed. Preferred the entire yard to be the "private santuary" but i understand where you're going. I think initial key points for privacy would be where each others decks are in view. Then move to block out windows in another phase. :) Winter privacy would be cool, but i realize id need to go mostly evergreen route. Not opposed to straight wall of evergreens such as thujas or arborvitaes, but worried about having some not survive and leaving gaps. Thought going with a dense variety might allow me some buffer should a tree/shrub die and i need to replace at a later time.

    @AlexieBalexie - I'm so happy someone can relate.. I mean, its unfortunate, but im happy there are folks that understand. Within my searches for ideas, can you believe I've been chastised for by more than a few for 1) completing the fence in my north-east yard and 2) having the audacity to desire privacy and being accused of not being neighborly. :) I'm neighborly, but having a get together or trying to relax on the patio and having a neighbor or two out on their patios at the same time pretending each other isnt there and catching glances or them staring is awkward at times. :) Considered going as you put it, "nuclear" with anything with roots that gets 15'+. Fortunately i've not had to deal with any creeper/stalker types. 15' of cinderblock wall might be in order and i'd take my chances with code enforcement. :)

    @Anglophilia - I'll look into Hemlock. Although, 30 years is a bit of a steep timeframe. :)

    @Gardengal48 - I dont mind the mixed shrub border. I think i'm aiming for 15' in height for whatever i go with. 15' and dense. :)

    @Yardvaark - Heres the pics - I can repost larger if needed.

    Thanks everyone!!!

    Facing west

    North West Corner


    North east-ish corner



  • 7 years ago

    To Yard's plan (may I call you that?), i'd suggest strategic planting along the concrete patio to give you the higher level of privacy in that area. Maybe that's where you want your pergola. I'd also like to see something soften the edge and line of the concrete. Your yard is very large. Unless you want to keep an open field for soccer, this is a good place to ask for help with a layout of its interior. You have room to wander and get lost in there eventually.

    bigjimcfh thanked kitasei
  • 7 years ago

    If you will notice Yardvaark's plan has clusters of shrubs, trees, ect. You have a line of the same chokeberries. You don't want a line of anything. If you put in all of the same thing, it will be boring and if one or two die, you can never match it.

    In Yardvaark's plan, you can add to the groupings as you go along. I really like grouping the chokeberries you already have instead of just throwing them away.

    Have you considered a trellis at the edge of your patio? You need something there as Kitasei suggested. I suggest posting another set of pictures taken from the rear of the yard toward your house. There should be something that could be added to give you privacy for this spring and summer while you are waiting for trees and shrubs to grow.

    bigjimcfh thanked Sherry8aNorthAL
  • 7 years ago

    It would be fun and productive to take long ropes or hoses and lay out a gently serpentine border for the perimeter. Go inside the house and look at it from every window and keep tweaking until you strike the design that sings to you. THINK IN 3D or use design software that can do it for you!

    bigjimcfh thanked kitasei
  • PRO
    7 years ago

    @kitasei: "To Yard's plan (may I call you that?)" A-OK by me.

  • 7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    My property is quite rural and my growing conditions cooler and wetter with acid soil, so very different from yours, but here's my mixed border of small trees, large shrubs, and some perennials. It's deeper than yours, but might give some general ideas of one kind of aesthetic since I had a tough time finding images of what I was trying to achieve. Most all the large shrubs/trees have multiples, but I didn't clump them - they are scattered along the length irregularly similarly to how the surrounding woodlands tend to be fairly mixed. There is some bloom, some evergreens, some fall color, and I tried to vary foliage color some. My goal was maximum height of around 15-20' and for me it was an alternative to a fence to block sight lines to a work area, so I chose cultivars that wouldn't exceed the desired height for 15 years or more, though many will stay within that height for their lifetime. For you a couple of staggered rows (mine is 3-4 plants deep) will create a dense screen if you can give up that amount of space. I am not familiar with what specific plants will do well for you, just floating the general idea of a mixed shrub border.

    One year after planting, looking down the length in December 2010.

    After 4 growing seasons with some added perennials but not much in the way of added shrubs it is fairly full. Late October 2013

    June 2014 looking East along the front of the bed.

    Looking down the back side as fall color is just beginning to develop - no perennials since this is the work area side. 2014

    Here's a photo in taken late November 2014 that includes almost the whole length.

    By now it has filled in enough so that there are no gaps at all during the growing season and only small ones during the winter. It does what I want it to in my setting.

    "It would be fun and productive to take long ropes or hoses and lay out a gently serpentine border for the perimeter." I found that I did more a long sweeping curve that I left as a cut in edge for about 4 years. Once I had the shape that the plants described, I made a few small alterations, but in general, I prefer a single sweeping curve to more curves. I don't have a straight fence at the back, however.

    bigjimcfh thanked NHBabs z4b-5a NH
  • 7 years ago

    NHBabs- that is lovely & well done.

  • 7 years ago

    It's always a pleasure to see Bab's border.. I agree with the long sweep principle, but because this border is at least three-sided (four if the patio is included in the perimeter scheme), it will have to make some curves unless it is to be an oval. The line will determine how the depth is distributed -- i.e., at the corners? midpoint?

    bigjimcfh thanked kitasei
  • 7 years ago

    I'd look into some holly trees. Not the fastest growing, but not too slow either- and ever green.

    bigjimcfh thanked Renee Texas
  • 7 years ago

    Fastest option is a trellis with vines. Be careful to check whatever species you chose against the state's invasive species list...lots of vines are invasive.

    Blue Spruce aren't very shade tolerant...not the best to cluster. Also may not do as well in Zone 7 as it does for NHBabs.

    Plant a mix of fast and slow growing trees...the slow growing trees will reach a good size when the fast growing ones begin to die off.

    I like American Holly for this application...shade tolerant, native, and takes better to pruning then most conifers. You can mix it with arborvitae for quicker results. Throw in a Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) for variety.

    Hemlock is great if it grows in your area...but it is being wiped out by wooly adelgid in some places and has trouble with the heat in others.

    I actually don't think chokecherries are a terrible option. The guy at the garden center could easily have given you much worse advice.

    How much yard space are you willing to lose? Planting a couple staggered rows is good design and lets you block views without crowding trees as much...if you have space.

    bigjimcfh thanked edlincoln
  • 7 years ago

    The fastest privacy screen of all is a wooden or metal screen 

  • 7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Wow! Thank you for all the great tips/advice.

    Sorry for such a delayed response; been so busy with work and family and finishing basement projects. Always go, go, go around here.

    @Yardvaark - WOW! Thank you for putting together this concept sketch! Very nice for a visual person like myself. One thing I neglected to mention was future plan (3-5yrs) to have a shop built in north-eastern corner and driveway extended. Shooting for maximum width, but the wife wants yard, so theres some debate on what the final size will be. Fact is, no matter the size, it will provide some degree of privacy. Unfortunately we'll have 3-5 years of nothing there unless we do a bunch of some narrow, tall shrubs/trees.

    Thank you again for this design. I like the idea of bunching up the Chokecherry trees. I think we might place those in a non-key spot as they may be a little sparse for some time.

    @kitasei - Thank you. Don't mind the idea of something at edge of concrete. Closer to the east, we'll be extending the driveway to go further back. Along the patio we might consider some planter type material there. For the time being we like the openness of the yard as we have 4 kids that run around playing soccer, football, etc..


    I totally understand the pitfalls of creating a line of anything which occurred to me shortly after the chokecherries went in. I have since shifted to love the cluster and variety idea. Like the trellis idea but cant commit on something, so it will take some research and reviewing of ideas to see if i can find something that "pops" out at me.

    I also dig Yaardvark's ideas with clustering chokecherries and think makes much more sense than trashing them.

    I'll capture some pics from back fence facing the house and post those. Thank you for you're thoughts!

    @kitasei - Great idea on the perimeter idea.

    I had planned on creating a border around the back yard. Wife thinks it will be too much to take care of. (weeds, etc..). We have made our other planting areas in front low maintenance by refreshing the top layers with soil-pep every 1-2 years and relying on Preen. The combination seems to keep weeds at bay. Those weeds that do pop through have such loosely packed roots, that they just pull right out.

    Ultimately, I would much rather have a variety of dense ground cover, but that will come in time. I would prefer that much more than relying on some chemical (Preen) for weed control.

    I had planned to use the soil-pep and Preen approach, at least initially, for perimeter in back.

    @NHBabs - YESSS.. I love your variety! This is exactly what I would love as long as I could use trees/shrubs hitting 15-20 ft in height in some points. I think combining what you have done and Yaardvark's awesome design would produce what I am really after. I LOVE IT.

    @kitasei - Totally agree with you on creating a border with gentile sweeps vs boring, straight runs and hard corners. Will take some effort to figure out depths at points. would like nice border to house our variety of privacy-giving trees/shrubs without taking too much from yard space. :)

    @Renee Texas

    Thank you - Will look into holly. At first thought, i suspect these can grow into dense hedges that will remain year round. They produce berries as well? Are they toxic to pets/humans? I'll need to research holly. Thanks again!


    Thanks! Trellis has definitely been on the list. I like vine idea. Will take some some planning, as you mentioned... don't want to get something too aggressive.

    There was a time where i wasn't too big on Spruce's, but i love them now. Thanks for the caution on the shade tolerance.

    Definitely prefer the variety of fast and slow growing pantings. Sort of a "Controlled forest". :)

    I'll look into Southern Magnolia, American Holly and Hemlock as options. Thank you!

    You're right about the Chokecherries. They're not terrible, but for what we were looking for, i think we've since identified better options (many of which have been covered here. :) ). Could always have been worse. :)

    It's a fine balance on space we want to dedicate to tree's. Totally understand there is a tradeoff between space and privacy. We would like to preserve as much usable yard space as possible, but privacy is, in this case, a necessity. By that, I mean a necessity to me for my personal comfort and well being (AKA Decompression zone). My wife is mixed on a private back yard. She's OK with it, and OK without it. :) She's a social butterfly whereas I can't quite say the same for myself. :)


    Yes - Totally agree on the build vs grow approach. Been kicking around the ideas. Would love to see the example you provided, but unfortunately looks like the link isn't working at the moment.

    Thanks everyone for your help! I really appreciate all of the guidance and advice you've provided. I have some planning to do. My problem is that I have a difficult time deciding what to eat for lunch, let alone decide on what to plant for years out of fear of disappointment. Sort of like the chokecherry idea. Wish we would have planned that out a little better. Another problem I have is when i get to nursery, i get stuck on the vast selection of varieties and without knowing more about the item, I think too much about it and cant commit, so end up leaving without anything planning to do more research then life gets in the way. :) I truly understand why folks hire landscapers. lol. Although I have no problem doing the work, i just need to know what i need to buy and where to plant it to obtain my goals and you all have helped a ton with that.

    Thanks again!

  • 7 years ago

    bigjimcfh- good on you! btw i did the same thing you did, (in terms of planting all one thing)...we planted all thuja greens. when i realized (thanks to help from peeps on gardenweb that i didn't want a whole row of one thing) i just took half out, and am now in the process of adding more natives shrubs, etc. live & learn eh? it's a process. don't get discouraged, ignore the nay-sayers (it's your yard, hey it's your life!), get creative & dream and then plant, plant plant! Good luck!

  • PRO
    7 years ago

    "My problem is that I have a difficult time deciding ... what to plant for years out for fear of disappointment." ... "Although I have no problem doing the work, i just need to know what i need to buy and where to plant it to obtain my goals ..."

    Jim, you are illustrating why a person should not do any landscape work without first creating a landscape PLAN ... a paper document that spells out specifically what everything is, where it goes, and any details specific to the work. A plan also allows you to make accurate quantity calculations and plan the work. A plan does not dictate when you do the work, but what you will end up with when you finally do it. It's a way of seeing what's coming in the future. A plan is a view looking down on the yard, similar as if one were a bird flying over. It allows you to see how everything in the yard is fitting together spatially. The plan's shortcoming is that is does not necessarily do a good job of conveying what things look like as viewed from the ground level. For those things, you may need additional sketches -- elevations and section, schematics, etc. But most back yards are usually not too complicated so the PLAN is the number one document responsible for allowing the work to be done properly, and for conveying what is to come.

    So far, we've been talking about ideas mostly in words. If you were to build from this alone, I don't think anyone here has any idea what you would end up with. We've also see a couple of sketches of ideas, which might tighten up your direction considerably, though not necessarily spell it out entirely. Now, it's time to create a PLAN drawing, measured to a scale (1/10", 1/8", or 1/4" = one foot, are the most common) It's like a MAP of your back yard. The first things that would be drawn on it are the property lines and all the major existing features: house, walks, patio, etc. You can plot all of these things by measuring them in real life. Once those things are in place, you'd figure out and draw the location of the proposed shop, walkway to it and any other hardscape/utility features that are to come. Then you'd work on figuring out planting. You may decide to create some temporary planting where the shop will go and draw it on the plan as well. Since the shop building is in the future, you would make your best estimate of what it is to be. This is not to say that its shape or dimensions can't change in the future. If they do, you'll make adjustments as soon as you know about them. The goal of the plan is to minimize the need to do this. Planning is an important step and should not be shortchanged.

    One option for anyone contemplating a construction project (planting/building/hardscape/utilities, etc.) is to hire a professional designer (in this case landscape designer/architect) to do the planning work. If one doesn't want to hire such a person, then the other option is to do the work him or herself. But if one wants to know ahead of time what one is going to end up with, it's NOT an option to skip creating the PLAN. Here on the forum we frequently see people ready to go running off to buy plants just as soon as they get a half-baked idea. Instead of doing like that, I'd suggest to DRAW a plan, in the stages I've described, and bring it back here for comments and suggestions. It's actually a lot easier to critique a plan view -- because we can clearly see how things are -- than it is to critique and discuss pictures and words. BTW, I'm talking about a very SIMPLE drawing ... not a complex presentation plan like one might prepare for a client when trying to "sell" them on some high priced ideas.

  • 7 years ago

    i agree w/ what above poster said. i started by researching what is native in my area. then i thought about how i want to use the space. then i drew out the whole property & adding circles to represent shrubs & trees. once i drew (and drew and re-drew) out a plan, it was easier to think about what i really wanted, why i wanted it, and helped me take sun & shade requirements into the equation, soil requirements. then i got a measuring tape & walked the plan, turning the paperwork to "view" from other sides helped too. since privacy is main issue, planting trees strategically for optimal placement is easier to do on paper. ( i also grabbed a view from my neighbors decks & yards to see their side of it.)

    a drawn out plan really does help. but i still stand by what i posted earlier. you have to start somewhere!

  • 7 years ago