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10 Ideas for Landscaping Property Lines

Helping You Select the Right Plants and/or Hardscape for a Boundary


What is it that you're hoping to accomplish in landscaping your property line? Once you answer that over-arching question, many of the details will fall into place (with a little aid from the ideas I present here). As you'll see from reading the information below, deciding on how to landscape a boundary largely comes down to sifting through your various options. You'll be eliminating some as unsuitable for your circumstances, while ranking the remaining choices according to how well they meet your needs.

Perhaps the most common goal people have in landscaping property lines is creating privacy. But based on your other aspirations, you'll have to decide whether a privacy fence is right for you, as opposed to a border planting (some opt for both). Either way, we also have to figure maintenance into the equation (neither all plants nor all fences are created equal in this regard). Another consideration you may wish to factor in is security. While plants hold the promise of a beauty that hardscape cannot hope to offer, nothing beats the proper kind of fencing for security.

Or maybe you don't place a premium on security, per se, but are seeking a border planting that would discourage trespassers? Or perhaps the "trespasser" you're most worried about is the wind; planting a windbreak along your boundary may be the answer for you. Yet another reason for landscaping property lines is simply to create a line of demarcation along a boundary, so that it's always clear where your land leaves off and the neighbor's begins. I discuss all of these aspects of boundary landscaping below.

Before landscaping property lines, always make sure you know precisely where the boundary lies (if unsure, hire a surveyor). While you're at it, research the possible existence of any easements. And if you decide on a fence, check to see if you need a fence permit.

1. A "Golden Touch" for a Property Line

Gold Mop picture. An evergreen shrub with awl-shaped needles, Gold Mop (or "Mops") bears gold leaves
David Beaulieu

It's not difficult to see why evergreen shrubs would play a critical role in landscaping property lines. By definition, evergreens provide foliage to admire all four seasons of the year. And that same trait enables them to offer something else: year-round privacy.

Just because they go by the moniker, "evergreen," however, don't think that you're restricted to the color, green with these landscape workhorses. Some offer a glaucous color; but in this article I discuss some shrubs that will make your yard shimmer with gold.

Depending on your tastes and goals, evergreen shrubs (or deciduous ones, for that matter) can be planted in hedges that will be trimmed, planted in rows and left untrimmed, or grown in mixed borders (see below).

2. Fast-Growing Shrubs to Inject Quick Color, Screening Along a Boundary

Mock orange picture. The flowers of mock orange bear a citrusy smell.
David Beaulieu

Most people who are landscaping to achieve privacy are in a hurry for that screening. Who wants to wait forever to screen out prying eyes, right? That's why many of you will wish to pore over the examples of fast-growing shrubs that I present in this article.

The article supplies information on both evergreen shrubs and flowering shrubs, such as mock orange (picture), that grow quickly. When color takes precedence over privacy along a boundary, you can't beat flowering shrubs. Not that the two categories are mutually-exclusive: some broad-leaved evergreens also flower colorfully and profusely.

3. Mixed Borders for Privacy on Property Lines

Picture of a mixed border of shrubs, perennials, annuals and tropical plants.
David Beaulieu

My remarks so far may leave you with the question, "What about mixing evergreen and flowering shrubs?" And indeed, a mix of some sort is probably optimal. If done right, you can achieve both privacy and a great-looking boundary. You can grow enough evergreens to block the public's gaze, while injecting enough color with flowering shrubs to keep your own eyes constantly stimulated. Nor do you have to stop at planting shrubs, alone. Why not mix in long-blooming perennials and other plants to create a feast for the eyes?

Explore some options for mixed shrub borders in this article.

4. Mix Tall Ornamental Grasses Into Your Border Planting

Picture of ornamental grass blowing in the winter wind.
David Beaulieu

Stir up the pot in your mixed border even further by using some tall ornamental grasses. Two of the best are:

  1. Maiden Grass
  2. Zebra Grass

An added bonus with tall ornamental grasses for you Northerners is that they will add interest to your border planting during the winter months, too. Another benefit is that they're low-maintenance.

Bamboo is also a member of the Grass family. Increasingly, I see Northerners landscaping property lines with it, as it's great at providing privacy. But you have to really know what you're doing with bamboo. Read my article on bamboo plants to find out which types are invasive (and which types are tamer).

5. Holly Shrubs: Trespassing Deterrents

Photo of evergreen holly with berries.
David Beaulieu

A hedge of holly shrubs won't keep a serious robber off your property. But the barbed leaves on many hollies aren't exactly comfortable to brush up against. The discomfort level should be sufficient to keep all but the most determined of would-be trespassers at bay.

This piece introduces you to a few of your choices among the holly shrubs.

6. Border Wars: Oh Deer!

Picture of caryopteris shrub with bee.
David Beaulieu

But no matter how great you think a shrub will look in your border, and no matter how much privacy you think it would afford, all sorts of challenges can rear their ugly heads and dash your best-laid plans. That's why, when engaging in plant selection, while you can let your dreams inspire you, always come back to reality at the end of the process and make an evaluation based on practical considerations.

Below I discuss one of them: pollution. Here are some other practical issues to put on the front burner:

  • Is the boundary a predominantly sunny or shady area?

  • Does the soil there stay on the wet side, or does it tend to be dry?

  • Could the plants you've chosen (tentatively) for your border be favorite foods for Bambi (assuming that deer pests are a problem in your region)? In the absence of evidence to the contrary, you have to assume that deer will eat your plants.

The article featured here deals specifically with deer-resistant plants, such as bluebeard (picture). But to delve into all these matters and more, see my help on what to grow where.

7. Hedges: Green Walls

Privet hedge photo.
David Beaulieu

So far, in considering options for landscaping property lines, I've dealt with plants. Below, I'll be presenting some choices for hardscape walls. While hedges are still "plants," a nicely-trimmed hedge represents something of a middle ground. Properly manicured, they form a partition that's as close to being a "wall" as plants possibly can be.

Thus a hedge can be viewed as something of a compromise solution. Do you crave privacy but despise fences? Do you like the neat appearance of straight lines and even surfaces? Then a hedge can satisfy all your needs. It's a plant-based solution that -- unlike the mixed borders discussed above -- gives you all the formality and crispness of a hardscape feature.

If you're going to be especially fussy about the way your hedge looks, though, that could mean a lot of shearing. Are you prepared for that much maintenance? You can lower maintenance some by using a power hedger (as opposed to trimming manually); lower it further by using a cordless hedge trimmer. My experience, at least, is that the job goes a lot faster if I don't have to worry about plugging in a cord, keeping it out of my way while shearing, then storing it away afterward.

8. Pollution-Tolerant Trees, Windbreaks

Picture of Sunrise thornless honeylocust.
David Beaulieu

In addition to shrubs and ornamental grasses, a popular plant choice in landscaping property lines is trees. Not only can trees offer privacy, they can also form windbreaks. If you live in a windy area, planting a windbreak on your boundary may be eminently practical. An example of a good tree for windbreaks is the Colorado blue spruce tree.

To be an effective street tree (which means almost any tree planted on a small plot in an urban setting), a tree must also be tolerant of pollution; examples are given in this article. One form of pollution is road salt, which is why you'll also want to learn more about salt-tolerant plants.

Remember, some trees become quite large at maturity, so consider what impact this will have -- not only on your own property, but on your neighbor's. Bushes and dwarf trees might be a better choice in certain cases. Some trees are also messier than others, which increases yard maintenance requirements (including raking leaves). Even underground growth is something to which you should pay heed; for example, some plants are good around septic tank drain fields, while others are strictly taboo in such areas because of their invasive root systems.

9. Good Fences Make Good Neighbors?

Picture of a privacy fence with balusters.
David Beaulieu

The poetic interpretation of Robert Frost's famous dictum, "Good fences make good neighbors" is more complex than its pedestrian interpretation. But the latter serves my purposes just fine in talking about privacy fences, specifically. Indeed, whether the poet felt this way about it or not, the maxim contains much wisdom. Most all of us need our privacy, on some level. Without it, we become grumpy -- and perhaps even bad neighbors.

You have numerous fencing options from which to choose when landscaping property lines, assuming you can absorb the installation cost. Your final selection will depend on what you wish to achieve. The photo gallery linked to here will supply you with a sampling of fence styles.

Some styles are geared to privacy, others to appearance, and still others to both. Then there are those that may afford neither privacy nor good looks, but they serve another function. For example, see why chain-link fences make the best security fences. And sometimes you get a two-for-one deal; for example, noise barriers will exclude both unwanted sounds and unwanted glances.

Remember that if you go with a wooden fence, there will be some upkeep involved in the form of periodic staining. An alternative that will minimize maintenance is a PVC vinyl fence.

In addition to mixing shrubs, ornamental grasses, trees and other plants, you can also mix fences with plantings. A fence can serve as a nice backdrop for plants, even furnishing them with a microclimate. If you contain the planting with landscape timber edging, you introduce yet another element. At our house, we have just such a combination. A stockade-style privacy fence separates our land from the neighbor's. We planted shrubs and perennials on our side of the fence. Later, we provided the bed with landscape timber edging for a more finished look.

10. Mark Your Boundary With a Stone Wall

Picture of stone wall with winter snow.
David Beaulieu

Finally, as noted earlier, the objective for some of you in landscaping a property line may be simply to draw attention to a boundary, as a way of saying, "This is where my kingdom begins and ends." All options are on the table here, theoretically, because the objective in this case is so broad. The winnowing process may begin by disqualifying some choices (too high-maintenance, too costly, etc.) and end by arriving at an optimal selection based on your aesthetic tastes.

I, for one, love the appearance of a stone wall. If you agree, then the decision-making process is over. Well, almost over. All that's left is to decide whether the stone wall should stand alone or be complemented with a planting. For example, a planting of vines could be allowed to scramble over the wall. Personally, if the stone wall is particularly well made, I would be loath to cover it. I'd rather reserve a space somewhere else in the yard for my vines.

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