Plants provide both environmental barriers and benefits
Posted at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, August 25, 2022
As the houses are built closer to each other, it is often difficult to find privacy. But homeowners can plant shrubs that will quickly become a barrier screen to block neighbors or a busy road.
Vegetation screens also provide curb appeal and environmental benefits such as noise reduction, erosion control, and habitat for wildlife and pollinators.
“Most people, when they want some type of screening, they want something that’s evergreen,” explained Laurie Fox, horticulture specialist at Virginia Tech’s Hampton Roads Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Virginia Beach.
Evergreens, like the versatile American holly and the fast-growing green giant arborvitae, provide a year-round display while being low-maintenance, hardy, and suitable for many landscapes. Hollies can be trimmed into hedges or allowed to grow up to 40 feet tall, and the feathery branches of giant green arborvitaes add unique texture to a landscape.
Little Gem magnolias add drama with large, glossy leaves and white flowers and grow well in full sun and well-drained soil. The Japanese Pittosporum shrub is also known for its fragrant flowers and dense branches that provide shelter for nesting birds. The bayberry is a native semi-evergreen shrub with waxy, silver-gray berries that add interest.
While evergreens are popular, homeowners should also consider growing a mix of plants, advised Mark Viette, a Central Virginia horticulturist and host of “In the Garden” on the Virginia Farm Bureau’s Real Virginia TV show.
“By using different plants for your screen, you’ll have different sizes and colors to look at, providing something appealing instead of what you’re trying to block,” Viette explained.
Creating a mixed plant screen by incorporating deciduous trees like dogwoods, red buds, and oakleaf hydrangeas along with other plants creates a more natural, layered canopy look. A mixed screen also “increases wildlife biodiversity and can give your planting better resilience to environmental factors such as drought, excessive rain and cold,” noted Ed Olsen, a Virginia Cooperative Extension horticultural officer in Henrico County.
“If you have something like a tall holly or one of the hopped laurels, then you need 10 to 12 feet or more in width,” Fox advised. “If you’re only 3 feet tall, you may need to go for something very narrow and not invading the space, like a vine on a trellis. You don’t want to be up there and have to prune it several times a year.
As with any landscaping business, Viette said homeowners should consider available space, plant growth needs – both vertically and horizontally, and mature height, and site conditions. , including moisture, drainage and light.
It is also important to think about maintenance. Planting trees and shrubs can reduce lawn maintenance, but some require trimming and clearing if they drop leaves, cones, fruit or berries. A more formal hedge will require frequent shearing compared to a natural or informal planting, Fox noted.