Good fences and screening plants make good neighbors

Homes in suburbia are getting closer together. Lot sizes are shrinking, and houses

are getting bigger. Space is limited, and privacy is at a premium.

Using screens can maximize space and privacy. Screens block views and can be created by the proper placement of any object or plant. Walls, trellises with vines, buildings, fences and hedges can be used as screens.

Screens have many uses. A fence, hedge or wall can be constructed at the edge of a yard to delineate the property line.

A screen can block an unwanted view of your neighbor's home and can block unwanted viewing of your home by your neighbor. Have you ever been inside your neighbor's house and discovered you can look down from the second story right into your own bathroom?

A screen can make a small yard seem much bigger. By blocking views from certain vantage points, the yard can be made to feel like it is bigger than it really is. Try strategically placing a hedge or a fence in direct sight of a window of your home or from the porch.

Forcing people walking through the yard to maneuver around a single fence panel or shrub increases their travel time and distance, making the space seem larger.

Walls and fences can be made from many different materials. Wood slats, preconstructed wooden panels, metal panels, vinyl and brick can all be used to construct fences and walls for screens.

Fences and walls can be covered in vines to soften their look. Lately, rolled reed mat fencing has become popular.

My favorite materials from which to form a screen are plants. Not all plants make good screens, however, and some plants that form nice screens rapidly get diseased and die. Remember the Red Tip Photinia? One of the most common mistakes I see today is the overuse of Leyland cypress as a screen. Leylands get really big!

The largest one in the world is well over 100 feet tall and nearly 50 feet wide. The tree has many fine attributes, such as rapid growth, easy propagation and inexpensiveness. It could be a terrific plant for screening because of its rapid growth.

Unfortunately, people plant them too close together, and we are starting to see some serious problems associated with this popular plant.

The best plants for screens are evergreen plants such as hollies, Osmanthus and magnolia. "Nellie R. Stevens," "Mary Nell" and "Emily Bruner" are three hybrid

hollies and are great in full-sun areas.

All three grow rapidly, form dense screens when planted as hedges and bear beautiful red fruit. Bracken's Brown Beauty, Little Gem and D.D. Blanchard are good magnolias that make very effective and attractive hedges.

In shade, Osmanthus x fortuneii makes an excellent evergreen barrier.

Evergreen vines such as Carolina Gessamine and English Ivy cover walls and trellises and are attractive screens.

Screens are an essential part of any suburban garden. Privacy is invaluable and worth the investment.

Stephen D. Pettis is an agriculture and natural resources agent with the Gwinnett County Extension Service. He

can be reached at 678-377-4010 or Steve.Pettis@