The need for privacy is apparent with the average lot size decreasing and homes being built within feet of each other. Suddenly, you realize there is no outdoor area that isn’t visible to your neighbors. You want some privacy. That doesn’t mean you don’t like your neighbors. You may just want to have your morning coffee on your deck or patio in your pajamas, or dinner with your partner unobserved. It also goes both ways. It is uncomfortable to be out in your yard and be able to see what is going on in their yard.

When you consider some means of obtaining privacy, the first decision is how much do you want? You may only be concerned with the area right off the house, usually a deck or patio. However, you may want your entire yard enclosed. Do you want to achieve privacy by using fast-growing privacy shrubs and other plantings or do you want a fence or wall? Maybe a combination of both fits your needs best.

The first step, even before you start to design, is to check with your homeowners’ association and even the town’s laws. Some communities restrict the height of any fence. Some require approval from the adjoining properties before you can install a privacy fence. Once you know any and all restrictions, you can start to plan.

There are a few things to keep in mind when planning for privacy. If you plan on using plantings, the plants will take a while to grow to the size that you ultimately want.  Are you willing to wait?  If you live in the north, do you want year-round privacy? If yes, you will need to combine evergreens into your landscape plan to achieve winter privacy. Do you need overhead privacy? Is your neighbor’s home a two-story or is there an apartment building next to you allowing them to look down on your yard? Keep in mind that a solid fence is the most private, but may feel too enclosed and be offensive to your neighbors.

Here are some ideas to provide privacy in your outdoor space.


A pergola is the answer if you want overhead privacy on your patio. The structure itself may be enough, but you can achieve even more privacy by draping shade cloth over the crossbeams. If you are able to wait, plant a vine to cover the pergola with a living ceiling. Good choices are hydrangea vine or wisteria.


Bamboo is very fast growing, but it can be invasive. Plant the bamboo in large rectangular planters and you will have privacy while controlling the plant. This also could be a temporary planting until your shrubs and trees have grown enough to take over the privacy.

Open Weave Fence

An open weave fence is a great choice if you don’t want complete privacy. The crosshatch pattern will allow a partially obstructed view into and from your yard. It also will allow sunlight and air through. These fences come in wood as well as vinyl and aluminum. The wood fence can be stained or painted, or it can be left to age naturally. The advantage of the aluminum and vinyl fence is there is no maintenance, and it can be cleaned with a hose.

Combination Fence

If you want more complete privacy, opt for a fence that is solid with a lattice top. This will soften the look of your fence for you and your neighbor. There are also fences that have a cut-out in the solid fence. These are usually filled with lattice. They do form a “window” through your fence though. Some openings are opportunities to hang a showpiece hanging plant.


Fastgrowing privacy shrubs are ideal if you prefer a living fence. Arborvitae can grow three to five feet in one year. This plant can grow 30-50 feet, but you can shear it to keep the conical shape at the height you prefer. Arborvitae is an evergreen with foliage to the ground.

Another good choice is dogwood. This plant is covered in dense green leaves all summer but, in the winter when the leaves fall, it will expose the branches. This is when this plant really makes a statement as the bark is a bright red that stands out against the muted colors of winter. There are also varieties with yellow bark and combinations of both colors. If you live in the south, the rhododendron is a favorite evergreen shrub for providing privacy year-round and, of course, beautiful blooms in the spring.


Roses come in so many types that you are able to use them for all different purposes throughout your landscape. Roses make a beautiful hedge just on their own, but they also work well with fences. Plant a climbing rose on your open weave fence or use it to cover an ugly fence you may have inherited from a previous owner. Plant it on your patio to climb a trellis wall for privacy and then enjoy the beauty and scent as well. Plant hybrid tea roses along a picket fence or in front of your backyard privacy fence.

Mixed Border

If you are using plants to provide privacy, the fence will look more natural if you layer the plants in front. In other words, place your tallest plants, trees or shrubs at the back of the border, medium height in the middle and the shortest plants in the front. Even though the purpose is privacy, the result is a beautiful garden that will become the focal point of your yard.

Privacy can be achieved without detracting from the beauty of your yard. Take the time to plan and research what will give you the privacy you desire in the best way possible.

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