Landscape the Fence Line

Whatever your reason for putting a fence along your property lines, there are plenty of reasons to landscape along the fence

Landscaped fence by Midwest Gardening.jpg

We install fences for privacy, for security, and sometimes just to add interest to the landscape. But there is no reason not to make the structure interesting and pleasing. Landscaping along the fence can be simple or elaborate. First you need to decide what you would like to accomplish.

  • Camouflage a dull or unsightly fence

  • Soften hard lines

  • Accentuate and draw attention to an interesting or dramatic fence

  • Add to, enhance, or introduce a garden style

Or like some of us obsessed gardeners, maybe it’s just another excuse to dig up some grass and grow new plants! Whatever your reasons, it is important to not only consider your options, but to carefully plan. Plunking in a line of plants along the fence will undoubtedly give you headaches later on for a variety of reasons. The functionality and maintenance is very important and must influence every decision you make about the plantings, but start first with a vision of what you will find pleasing aesthetically.

  • A white picket fence can be enhanced with cottage garden plants and style

  • A rustic wooden picket fence can be enhanced with simple meadow flowers and plants

  • A dramatic or interesting fence may only need simple punctuation to draw attention

  • Formality can be invoked for a front of the house fence

  • A tall, dull privacy fence can be hidden with tall narrow shrubbery, evergreens and ornamental trees

  • Privacy can be added to short fences with tall plantings

  • What is on the other side of the fence? Your plan can include both sides but consider use and abuse on a street side.

Whether you have specific design objectives or not, there are certain thing that should be considered from a design standpoint. Keeping basic principles in mind will help create an integral part of your landscape rather than further setting apart the fence as a “property separator”.

  • Your fence planting and design should be unified with the rest of your landscape and garden design.

  • If your fence encloses a very large area, your design may create distinct functional areas

  • Plant for all seasons. Even if your space is minimal, make use of evergreens for winter interest and perennials or flowering shrubs for summer beauty. Annuals popped into the design can keep the planting bed lovely all year. Larger areas can include spring and fall bloomers or bulbs, ground covers and shrubs with texture and color, or deciduous plants with interesting or colorful bark and twigs.

You can accomplish your design objections by employing certain design principles.

  • Repeat plants and colors from your current landscape

  • Maintain continuity by repeating color and plants within the fence line planting and minimizing the number of plant varieties.

  • To separate functional areas of a large enclosure, make subtle changes in the plants, colors, height and or density. Or simply install identical design or combinations with minimized transitions along the fence such as bare but interesting mulch matter or low growing ground cover to tie areas together.

  • Create interest on a tall dull privacy fence by using small ornamental trees, vining plants on trellises, suspending hanging baskets full of annuals, or displaying a collection of colorful birdhouses on the fence.

  • Formality at the front of the house is easily created with simple straight lines with a shearing hedge, or repetition of a single plant. Boxwood, cotoneaster, yew and privet are good selections to consider.

  • Very contemporary landscapes can be created by repeating one or three simple plants such as tall grasses, globe shrubs and ground cover with textural interest.

  • If space allows, layer your plants with loose groupings of tall, medium, short.

  • Use graceful flowing lines when cutting in and edging the beds to counter the angular lines of the fence. Create a deep corner which will allow layers that you may not have room for elsewhere.

Beyond design, critical planning is necessary for proper placement and maintenance.

  • As always, consider sun, shade, temperature, moisture, soil, air circulation and exposure to wind. Your fence will create different micro-climates on both sides and in different exposures around the perimeter. Your plant design, placement and repetitions will be affected by the different conditions.

  • What is your fence made of? What are the maintenance requirements? You need to be able to easily access the fence for painting for example. Allow plenty of distance to work between the fence and full size plants.

  • Allow plenty of space for the full size of the plants. Nursery tags indicate the “mature” size of plants, not the eventual size. Maturity often occurs in 5 to 10 years but shrubs and trees continue to grow for many years, far exceeding the mature size.

  • Allow plenty of space for pruning, refreshing mulch and applying granular fertilizers.

  • Vines are fabulous for hiding a chain link fence, but makes maintenance of a wood fence impossible.

  • The “other side” of the fence may require at least a minimal treatment if you are unable to fully landscape both sides. Consider that the other side must at least be trimmed with a weed whip, so a narrow mulched strip can make that much easier. Plants can spill between pickets, so a narrow mulched strip can also help protect those plants from mowers and trimmers. If the other side is close to the road or sidewalk, do consider using tougher plants that stand up to the abuse of dogs, kids, bikes and road salt.

Other side of the fence by Midwest Gardening.jpg

Take your time to plan things well. Refer to the other design articles in this section. Make sure you have good transition from the fence, or trees at the fence line, to the garden space and lawn. Where you have room, particularly in corners, Trees or ornamental trees with shrubs in front and/or in between with groups of low growing perennials or annuals that coordinate with existing plants is always wonderful. It doesn’t have to, and in some cases should not be, overfull. Sometimes a smattering of groupings is more than enough to create a natural looking property barrier.

Sharon DwyerComment