Your backyard is a multipurpose part of your environment. It should be a place for fun, solitude, recreation, peace, and gathering with friends and family. Perhaps you eat meals in your backyard. Maybe you have a backyard pool. How you use your backyard will impact how much privacy you will need and what type of privacy.
Step 1: Survey your backyard.
First, take a look at your backyard. What surrounds it? Does your neighbor have a multilevel home with an unobstructed view into your entire yard from his upper floor? Does the deck you built for your above ground pool put you in clear sight of all your neighbors?
Then, take a look at your landscaping. Are there existing plantings, trees, or shrubs that can be incorporated into the new landscape or provide a starting point to build from? What hardscape exists in your yard? This includes any paved paths, patios, decks, a pool, a hot tub, retaining walls, and garden sheds.
Step 2: Make a plan.
The next step to improving your yard and providing privacy is to draw a plan of your current yard as close to scale as possible. Include a compass so you will know what areas are likely to be shady and where your yard is in full sun. Put everything on your drawing from the info you gathered. This map is for both long-term and short-term planning.
If the retaining wall is serving no purpose and you want it gone, still put it on your plan with a notation to remove. If the shed is great but not in the current location, put it on your plan in its current location with a notation to move it and where you want it to be in the future.
Next, make notations of what surrounds your yard. If you have a view of a mountain range or the lights of the city at night, and that is important to you, put it on your plan so you don’t forget and plant a tree in the middle of your view. This is also where you note the neighbor’s house that overlooks your backyard pool and patio.
Step 3: Prioritize your to-dos.
Now that you have a plan for your yard as it is, it’s time to make two lists. The first list the things you want to be changed right away. Maybe you just had an above ground pool installed, and you need to complete the installation with landscaping. Next, you want privacy from that nosy neighbor we’ve been talking about. Just picture your spouse and you lounging in the pool with your floating drink holders, relaxing the stress of the day away, and you see your neighbor peeking out of his upstairs window. Definitely not ideal.
Second, list your long-term goals. If you are a golfer, your dream backyard might include a practice green. Even if you can’t have it installed right now, the future location needs to be planned for. Maybe you want to have a small orchard with apple and pear trees. It might make more sense to plant the fruit trees to provide privacy. If you plan on a family in the future, how will that affect your plans for your yard? The more information you have to start with, the more likely you are of having your backyard turn into the private retreat you envision.
Step 4: Start transforming your backyard.
First, decide if you are going to hire a landscaper or if this going to be a DIY project. Many garden centers will discount or even eliminate the fee for the landscaper’s plan if you spend a certain amount on the plants at their garden center. Once you have met the amount, the plan is yours, and you can purchase the rest of your plant materials anywhere or take advantage of sales.
The advantage of hiring a professional is the knowledge they have of what grows successfully in your area, what the mature size of the tree or shrub will be, and what fits with your level of skill and desire. If you like a more formal look, and you are ready to prune your shrubs regularly throughout the year, the plant selection is likely different from the person who is willing to water occasionally, but that’s it. That person may be better off with a planting style which is more informal and natural.
If you’ve decided this will be a DIY project, check out your friends’ and neighbors’ yards. If a tree or shrub does well in their yard, it should do well in yours. If someone’s yard really appeals to you, try to achieve the same look in your yard.
In the north, your pool and patio are under two feet of snow during the winter, so a shrub that loses its leaves in the winter might be acceptable. In the south, the plants and trees you choose need to provide privacy all year round. Here are some suggestions for plants that will be attractive and provide privacy. Check with your local garden center to see if these plants will thrive in your climate and zone.
Euonymus. This shrub grows tall and full and can have green leaves or variegated. It can also be pruned if preferred.
Red Twig Dogwood. This shrub can be left natural or be pruned. This shrub is loved in the north, as it drops its leaves in the fall and shows off the bright red branches against the snow for winter interest.
Holly. This is a dense tall shrub that will provide privacy as well. Holly is evergreen, so it is a good choice if you need a year-round barrier. There are numerous varieties of holly, and some have a softer leaf than the traditional sharp tough leaf.
Arborvitae. Arborvitae is a columnar evergreen that makes a great choice for a year-round privacy hedge, This is an easy-care shrub that can grow in less than optimal soil, and it will remain cold tolerant. Different varieties are available which will determine the height of the plant and how closely together you should plant them to create a privacy screen.
Maple trees. This is a beautiful tree for the backyard. If you have a backyard pool, plant this tree well away, as it will drop its leaves in the fall. Maple trees also come in many varieties, and the leaves are thick on the trees. The added bonus of the maple is the fabulous fall color of the leaves before they drop.
Ornamental grasses. There are multiple varieties of ornamental grasses available to add a more unconventional bit of privacy to your pool. The added bonus is that they are not messy. The gentle drape of the leaves over the edge of the pavement also helps to soften the look of the pool deck.
Areca palms. These palms are great as hedges. They are easy to control, and they give your yard a more tropical look—perfect for backyards in the south.
Podocarpus. Also known as Japanese yew, this is a very low-maintenance shrub that grows all different sizes, including 50 feet tall, making a great privacy screen. Note: This shrub should only be used in dog- and cat- free homes, as it can be toxic to them if they like to chew on plants.
Royal Poinciana. This tree is also known as the flame tree because of the bright red flowers in May and June. Some consider this the most beautiful tree in the world, and it deserves a spot in the southern backyard.
Schefflera. Light and leafy, this is a fast-growing plant that makes a thick hedge. Best of all, it does well in shade or sun.
There are thousands of trees and shrubs to choose from. Check with your local garden center for advice on which plants do best in your area.
Author bio: Chris Hoffman is the founder of Backyard & Pool Superstore currently based outside of Dallas, TX. Backyard & Pool Superstore is an e-commerce leader in backyard, pool, spa, grill & patio products. Before starting Backyard & Pool Superstore, Chris has had 10 years of retail, construction, manufacturing and distribution experience in the swimming pool & spa industry. When Chris isn’t working, he moonlights as baseball coach, dance recital standing ovation specialist, husband, and German Shepherd enthusiast.