Organic borders can create privacy, add texture to landscapes

by Dan Holland

Organic borders, such as trees, shrubs and grasses, are a visually appealing – and often less expensive – way to create a natural fencing between properties or even within a yard. Local landscape professionals said what plantings work best depends on the yard and the homeowner’s ultimate objective.

For areas with a thriving deer population, Bob Martin, landscape manager for Rice’s Tree Service & Landscaping in North Royalton, recommended the green giant arborvitae to create a privacy row.

“They’re pretty deer-proof, and there is a dwarf version available as well,” he said.

Junipers, he added, make a good mixed border for general plantings.

“The pencil point or upright Wichita blue junipers are very popular,” he said. “Those are pretty good choices as the deer won’t browse them because of their prickly texture.”

Rows of spruce trees and other evergreens are another popular choice.

“I highly recommend Norway spruce because it is such a hearty variety that will grow in all kinds of soil and light conditions,” said Martin.

He also suggested concolor firs and the black hills spruce, but he cautioned customers to allow adequate space between the trees.

“Rather than planting them in a row, you can stagger them in a diamond pattern,” he said. “But you have to be careful not to plant them too close together. A lot of people want that immediate impact of a green barrier and don’t give them space to bush out. I tell customers to look about 10 years down the road to when the trees will mature.”

Rob Cowie of Suncrest Gardens in Peninsula said he asks customers a few pre-qualifying questions prior to making recommendations on plant borders.

“We ask how much space in their yard they can consume and what width the plant is going to take up,” he said. “If they want evergreens, how quickly do they need a screen, and do they plan on staying in that home forever, or are they just staying there for a couple of years?”

A mixture of plantings can include arborvitae, spruce and ornamental grasses, said Martin.

“The ornamental grasses give it a little bit of texture and layer it,” he explained. “It all depends on the space you have available. The arborvitae and spruce trees are fast growers; they will fill out the space and give you what you need within three to five years.”

Martin recommended planting varieties of blue spruce only if they can be placed in direct sunlight.

“There was a blight that went through about three years ago and killed off about a quarter of the stand of blue spruces in Northeast Ohio,” he said. “They prefer full sun, but a lot of people try to tuck them into a shaded area where they don’t do well. I’ll use the globe spruce and bird’s nest spruce in a blue variety just as an accent and texture addition to a landscape.”

Cowie also recommended white pine as an option when customers are looking for a larger species.

For deciduous trees, Martin recommended a variety of maples and pin oaks as popular choices. He will occasionally plant a tri-color beech, which is a specialty item. Cowie also recommended river birch and European hornbeam along with viburnums and forsythia – both flowering shrubs – in a mixed border along with deciduous trees.

For smaller flowering trees, Martin also likes Kwanzan cherries, dogwoods, redbuds and bloodgood Japanese maples. He said the latter two, however, are “deer candy.”

Three common deer-proof shrubs Martin often recommends includes boxwood, gold mop cypress and barberry.

“I accent those with some perennials to get the different colors and textures and add ornamental grasses,” he explained. “You can layer those and space them to where you can do a lot with a little.”

Martin added that he tends to stay away from annuals, saying they tend to be “hit or miss with the deer.” ∞