Nosy NeighborsNeighbors are great!  Let’s face it, we have all had to borrow eggs, milk or sugar from time to time, and I love to share landscape tips or plant cuttings.  I will  gladly take care of their pets and plants when they’re out of town.  Getting to know your neighbors helps keep neighborhoods safer and just makes for a better community.  However; no matter how much you love your neighbors, do you really want to see them 24-7?

Most people live in subdivisions that have neighbors on all three sides and sometimes they feel close enough to reach out and touch.  A privacy fence can only provide so much privacy and what is it they say....good fences make good neighbors!!!!!!  First thing in the morning I just love to sit out on my patio, and yes, I still have my jammies on, drink coffee and read the morning paper. The last thing I want to do is get dressed.... just in case the neighbor from the two story house wants to say good morning.  That’s where plants come to the rescue.

I am going to show you how landscaping can completely change the environment of your backyard just by adding plants. And let's face it; no one wants to look at an ugly old wooden fence.  And any landscape improvements made will only increase the value of your home.

A few issues to consider when planning your fence line landscape are:


First decide how much privacy you need.  If you live with a two story home behind you then you will need plants that will grow 20’ tall or more. Or maybe the two story house is off to one side or the other like this example.  Then use taller trees in those areas. However, if you have a one story home than use plants that get 12’ tall.  The homes seen from this backyard are both a one-story and a two-story home, but the house directly behind is a one-story home.

This design will need plants that will get around 15’ tall.  Of course we want to install evergreen plants.  Remember, evergreen plants are plants that keep their leaves year around, this will also provide privacy year around. Use trees to block certain views, like the windows on the neighboring homes.

By strategically placing plants you are able to create the privacy you seek by just adding three trees. Adding more trees will give greater privacy but it will also add several hundreds of dollars to your budget.


The second issue plant placement.  What is happening on your neighbor’s side of the fence will determine what happens on your side of the fence.  If your neighbor has planted trees or shrubs that will grow up and over the fence, than try to work around them.  There is no reason for both of you to install shrubs and trees that will compete for the same “air-space”.

Third issue to consider is how much space you have for landscaping.

If you have a backyard that is very shallow then there are a few possibilities to consider. There are several plants that grow quit tall without having a substantial footprint, which allows you to add additional plants to your landscape area.

The Italian Cypress tree is narrow and tall and will get about 35’ tall and 4’ wide.  This tree is rather slow growing but if limited space is an issue than it is a good choice. This plant is an evergreen plant which is a must if you want privacy year around.  Another plant that has a narrow profile is the Sky Pencil Holly. This plant will only get about 12-15’ tall and about 3’ wide; however, it is much faster growing than the Italian Cypress.  The only downfall to using these plants is that you will need several to provide a “wall of privacy”.   If you have a space of 80' you will need 20 of either the Italian Cypress or the Sky Pencil Holly.

Depending on the size you buy, this can get rather expensive with larger sizes costing several hundred dollars each. By choosing a Multi-Trunk Ligustrum you will only need 5.


Most of the evergreen trees like the Ligustrum are much faster growing and will provide a solid screen in a much shorter time period.  Crape Myrtles are also a good use, although not an evergreen tree, they will provide coverage for several months of the year and have great summer color and fall foliage.

You can use a combination of both.  It's best not to use more than two different types of trees or get too “cutsie” with the patterns.

Use the Ligustrum Tree in the center and the Crape Myrtles on the side.

I added Crape Myrtles on the sides for color in the summer months and great fall color.  If privacy is an issue, than I would continue with the Ligustrum trees up the sides of the fence.


In this design I used the Multi-Trunk Ligustrum tree to provide a solid screen or a “wall effect” from the neighbors.

I don't know about you, but I would much rather look at this beautiful landscaping instead of an ugly old fence. And hey, if you want to visit your neighbors..... well can always borrow something!

Let’s first start by defining foundation plantings.  These are the shrubs that are planted next to the foundation of a home, the row of plants closest to the home.

Dated Foundation Plantings

I always try to use evergreen plants in this area because through the winter months the home will have some landscaping that looks good.  And just in case you don’t know what an evergreen plant is…it’s any plant that keeps it leaves during the winter months.

This crime scene is so typical of homeowners that want landscaping but don’t know what to do so they plant a straight line of trimmed boring shrubs.

The good news is these foundation plants make a great starting point.  I always like to use evergreen plants next to the house.

I do this so that there is something that looks good year around.  It’s just that this look, trimmed shrubs in a line, dates a house.

Over the pasted 15 years I have specialized in taking dated projects, mainly apartment complexes, and updating them.

But before I use the existing plants in the new landscape, I make sure they are healthy and not more than 10 years old.  Most shrubs have about a 12-15 year life expectancy, so make sure you don’t have to pull these existing plants out in a year or two.  I know it‘s hard to look at a plant that is still alive and remove it, but you don’t want to have to remove it later and disturb all your new plants.


So what’s next on this project… always start from the back and move forward. You want to have plenty of room to move around without disturbing existing plants.  I would add plants that would provide height and any object like boulders that are heavy or difficult to place.

The second layer of plants can be plants that are not evergreen like roses or perennial.  Just make sure you add plants that will contrast with the first row of plants.  The second roll of plants should also be a little shorter.  I would recommend that the home owner let the first roll of plants grow up to the lowest window sill.  That way the roses would be a little shorter and you began to get the “stair step affect”.  Stair step affect is tallest to shortest from next to your home out.  After that you can start to fill in the  areas next to the roses and in front.  Now this is the fun part.  Add plants that have colors that you like or use plants with contrasting leaves or leaf shapes.

So start with good foundation plantings and add the layers one at a time and soon you will have a landscape that not only is beautiful, but will look updated and add curb appeal.

wrong plant wrong placeThe crime is… not knowing what your plants will grow up to be!  Most of us buy our plants in their infancy and we forget they will grow up!  This is where good planning comes into play.  We all go to the garden centers with great aspirations of being the "Yard of the Month".  We buy these cute little plants in one gallon or three gallon containers and forget to read the fine print of the plant tag.  Small containers do not mean small plants.   All plants start out small, even trees.  But they all grow and some much bigger than you thought.  So the first recommendation is...

Know how big your plants will be at maturity. For most shrubs, maturity is going to be three to five years from planting.

wrong plant wrong place 3

So under the window we will need 4-5 plants that are 3’- 4’ tall and 2’- 4’ wide.  The height and width of the plant will be on the plant tag. If the plant grows 3’ tall and 3’ wide,  than 12’ divided by 3’ is 4 and that is how many plants we will need for under the window.

The rest of the bed is 12’ long with no windows. You will want plants that will grow taller.  Based on all my experience, most shrubs that get tall also get fairly wide. Depending on the plant you select you may need 2 or 3 shrubs.

This is a good start to your design and the foundation plantings will provide a good background for additional landscaping.  If you decide to add a second roll of plants, figure out how tall the plants need to be so that they don't grow taller than the plants behind them.  This next row of plants under the window should mature at 2' tall. These two shrubs form a stair step landscape - biggest to smallest.

So remember, have a list with the number of plants you need and plant criteria for your new bed.  Have specifics when you ask for advice from a salesperson. "I need a plant that is evergreen and will grow no taller than 4'." "My space has full sun and this bed is 12' long." "I want to use a shorter plant in front." The salesperson should be able to show you four or five good plant choices.  Using specific information about your area will help eliminate plants that do not fit into your specific criteria.

wrong plant wrong place 4finalIn order to enjoy your landscape use the proper plants in the proper place and you will reduce the amount of time you spend on maintenance, which means more time to enjoy all the fun things in life.

Before you buy your plants, spend time and read as much information about these plants and you won't have to spend time and money redoing your landscape in the future.

Spend a few minutes getting information and read the plant tags, you will not install the wrong plants in the wrong space and this design crime will be prevented.

Lack of Contrast 1 mylandscapedesign.comWhen I begin a new landscape design, one of the things I consider is what colors can I use to enhance the home's curb appeal.  The design crime committed here is too monotonous.  In other words, too much of the same color.  The main reason you want to use contrasting colors is so that all your beautiful landscape stands out and enhances your home.  With this home everything just blends together and where the plants stop and the home starts is hard to tell.  On the other hand, you don't want to use colors that clash so I would never use red or even a bright pink on this home.

Lack of Contrast 2 mylandscapedesign.comGood colors would be white, pale pink, yellow or purple.  All of these colors would work well together with the background of the home.  But for now let's start with just the back row of plants and see what a difference using plants that add contrast makes.

Already you can see that by using a Crape Myrtle (tree with white blooms) and the Indian Hawthorn, (plant with the white blooms) you began to highlight architectural features like the windows and the pitch of the roof.  You don't want to hide the home with plants but enhance your home. And that is the secret to a good landscape design.

Lack of Contrast 3 mylandscapedesign.comOnce you have your basics or the foundation planting decided on, then you can start to incorporate the next row of plants that could be perennials and/or boulders.  Notice how I have used plants with a similar color as the brick.  This works because of the foundation plants provide the contrast and now you can see plants with a similar color.

So as you begin your design process, remember what colors will contrast and what colors will clash.  Knowing this will help you eliminate plants that will or will not work and that makes the design process, and the color choices much easier.

Design Crime Prevention Tip.... Always use plants with a contrasting color for your foundation plants.  Avoid like shades of plants and avoid plants that will clash.