Living fences add life to yards
A living fence can add privacy and beauty to any yard regardless of size.
By REBECCA SLOAN
If Mother Nature needed a privacy fence in her back yard, do you suppose she'd erect an ordinary blockade of wood, vinyl or stone?
Of course not.
Instead, she'd plant a graceful row of flowering shrubs that grew taller with each passing year and filled the summertime air with a sweet, gentle fragrance.
Well, folks, you don't have to be Mother Nature to build your very own living fence.
All you need is a back yard and a little imagination.
"Many people are moving toward the trend of living fences," said Philip Steiner of Mellinger's in North Lima. "With a living fence, you can enjoy privacy of an ordinary fence, but you can also enjoy beautiful greenery, attract birds and butterflies and create shade in the summer.
Here are some factors to consider if you want to plant a living fence.
Planting for privacy
"When privacy is a top priority for a living fence, people often think evergreens are their only option, but there are other options," Steiner said.
If, for example, you want privacy in the summertime but don't spend much time outdoors during winter, you don't necessarily need to plant a row of evergreens.
"Evergreens have the advantage that they stay full, lush and green for 12 months out of the year," Steiner said. "But if you don't go outside much in the colder months, privacy won't be an issue, and it won't matter if your shrubs are bare.
Spirea is one type of deciduous shrub that evolves into a good, solid privacy fence and provides an alternative to evergreens.
"Spirea keeps its leaves for seven months out of the year, so if privacy isn't an issue during winter, it makes a good alternative to evergreens," Steiner said.
If you do opt for an evergreen fence, don't forget to consider size.
"Lots of people want white pines, but they forget that white pines grow up to 15 feet wide, and many back yards can't handle a fence that takes up that much space," Steiner said.
A better evergreen choice is the Arbor Vitae, an evergreen that reaches a height of 10 to 15 feet tall but a width of only about four feet.
Other plants that make great privacy fences include:
Privet hedge: This hedge is long-lived and can grow to a height of about 15 feet.
Lombardy poplar: This hedge can grow as much as five feet per year and reach a height of 70 feet, but it has a short life span.
Chinese elm hedge: Another fast-grower, this hedge grows up to 20 feet, makes a tight privacy screen and can be trimmed for a formal look.
A flowering fence makes a lovely statement in any back yard.
Steiner recommends mixing things up a bit and planting a variety of flowering shrubs together.
"If you plant a row of shrubs that bloom at different times of the year, then you'll have a living fence that blossoms in spring, summer and fall," Steiner said.
Top candidates for a flowering fence include:
Forsythia: This springtime bloomer grows to a height of about 8 feet and lends a bright burst of yellow to back yards.
Sweet shrub: This shrub produces red flowers in springtime.
Honeysuckle: Fragrant flowers emerge in early summer.
Weigela: A vase-like shrub that produces pink flowers in summer.
Red spirea: This shrub blooms in June. The white spirea blooms in May.
Hydrangea: This summertime bloomer comes in a variety of colors and sizes.
Mock orange: A fast, reliable grower that produces fragrant, white flowers.
Rose of Sharon: This enduring favorite blooms in fall and can grow to a height of 12 feet.
Deutzia: Grows to a height of 8 to 10 feet and blooms in June.
Lilac: Grows to a height of 15 feet and produces fragrant May flowers.
Rhododendron: This popular evergreen shrub produces large, colorful blooms in spring and early summer. Can grow up to 20 feet tall.
Azalea: A springtime bloomer that produces flowers in a variety of colors. Some varieties are evergreen.
Butterfly bush: Large, fragrant flowers attract butterflies. It can grow up to 12 feet tall and 15 feet wide.
Steiner recommends planting flowering shrubs about five feet apart. Larger shrubs, such as the rhododendron or lilac, will need to be spaced further apart.
Steiner also recommends mixing the spring, summer and fall bloomers at equal distances from one another so that different parts of the living fence are always in bloom.
Remember that flowering shrubs need at least six hours of sunlight to produce blooms.
If you prefer the neat, manicured look, the privet hedge might be just what you need.
This shrub boasts glossy, green foliage all summer long, grows up to 15 feet tall and can be pruned into precise, geometrical shapes.
However, manicured looks require constant maintenance, and to keep shrubs perfectly shaped, you might need to trim them weekly, Steiner said.
It will take about four years for a privet hedge to fill out into a neat, dense wall of green.