Plants for Privacy.

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Creating Privacy with Plants, the Good and the Bad.

As Austin becomes denser and homes are being built closer together, privacy becomes a concern. You can use plants to screen off those open views to your home, but here is some advice to do it right.

First, estimate how tall the plants need to be and how much room you will have as some will get wider as they get taller.

Here are some GOOD choices for our area:

Cherry Laurel ‘Centre Court’ - A dense evergreen with glossy, green leaves. Tiny white flowers appear in dense, fragrant clusters followed by small, black cherries. A low-maintenance plant for sun or shade. Grows to 30 feet with a 15 foot spread. Zone 7, Sun. This plant takes cutting well and can also be used as a hedge.

Clumping Bamboo - One of the most popular choices, but be certain that it is a clumping variety, not a runner. We have many choices of clumping bamboo that grow to different heights, have different and interesting shapes, and colors of culms. Come by and get our great handout that shows all the clumping varieties that do well in Austin. We caution our readers to not plant a running bamboo as it is terribly invasive and hard to kill once it has become established.

Evergreen Sumac - A native shrub or small tree, from 8-12 ft. in height with spreading branches. Its shiny, evergreen foliage is tinged with pink in early spring and maroon after frost. This native evergreen shrub thrives with very little care or attention. Gets very bushy in full sun, more open in part shade. Blooms small but lovely, creamy white flowers that attract bees and the red fuzzy fruit is loved by birds and other wildlife. We humans can enjoy them too. It needs virtually no supplemental irrigation once established, and no fertilization at all. However, it is not deer resistant.

Little Gem Southern Magnolia - A dwarf form of the popular East Texas native, though it still gets to 30’ tall by 25’ wide. It’s not a fast grower so start with the largest size you can afford. Likes full sun, but can tolerate some shade. This selection tolerates alkaline soils better than most.

Loquat - A versatile, evergreen, attractive large shrub or small tree that gets 15-20’ tall and wide. White fragrant flowers in fall followed by juicy, delicious fruit in spring. Prefers Sun and is drought tolerant once established.

Sweet Viburnum - Fairly fast growing evergreen shrub makes a terrific hedge or small ornamental tree, reaching 20’ tall and wide. Low to medium water requirements and full sun to part shade make this an easy choice. Fragrant spring flowers that become red, followed by black berries. Deer resistant, and rarely bothered by pests or disease.

Texas Mountain Laurel (Sophora secundiflora) - A slow growing but tough evergreen shrub or small tree typically reaching 10-20 feet tall, but up to 30 feet in optimal conditions. In spring, it is covered in purple, wisteria-like, fragrant blooms that have a grape soda scent. Soft, velvety seed pods are poisonous. Sun or Shade.

Yaupon Holly ‘Pride of Houston’ (Ilex vomitoria) - An improved selection of this very popular native holly. Growth habit is more uniformly upright with better branching and heavier berry production than regular Yaupon Holly. Matures at 15 feet tall by 8 feet wide. Sun to Part Shade.

Plants to avoid.

Some plants should never be planted for privacy. Here are the worst and why.

▪ Running Bamboo, specifically golden bamboo. This plant is on steroids. It’s strong, and it’s invasive. If you plant it in your yard, neighbors two doors away will loathe your decision. It takes a front-end loader to remove it physically. I’ve even seen it crowd out eastern redcedar, and most of us would have thought that to be impossible. Just say no to running bamboo.

▪ Leyland cypress. It’s a gorgeous large evergreen shrub or small tree, but that’s only until Phomopsis blight hits. It causes large branches to turn brown as black ooze trails down the trunk. Just when the plants start to get pretty, they start to die an incurable death.

▪ Japanese ligustrum, also commonly called Japanese privet. At first blush you will love this plant. Handsome, evergreen foliage. Attractive flowers (that don’t smell especially good, but that bees love). Big clusters of pretty purple berries that birds love in the winter.

Therein lies the plant’s curse: Birds ingest the seeds and “sow” them by the millions. And every one of them germinates — millions of them, and they overtake our stream banks and woodlands.

▪ Redtip photinia. Overused by the tens of thousands for several decades, until it all finally caught up with us. Back in the 1980s (or earlier), a fungal leaf spot called Entomosporium started to hit redtip photinias. It starts with maroon freckles, but it quickly proceeds to yellowing, then dying branches.There is no prevention or control for it, and it’s now spreading to Indian hawthorns though not as pervasively. Avoid redtips entirely.

▪ Wax myrtle. Does great in East Texas, but not the best choice for us in Central Texas. Look in neighborhoods around you. You probably won’t be able to find a 5-year-old planting that’s still providing privacy. The plants die out one trunk at a time. We would recommend a different plant.

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