Privacy. It’s a hot commodity in a world where we’re pushed ever closer in proximity to one another. It almost seems like a diabolical developers’ cruel joke to see how many houses they can cram onto a couple of acres.
You don’t have to put up with feeling like you live in a fishbowl as there are a number of creative landscaping techniques that, in some cases, provide almost-instant privacy. If you do your homework before choosing landscaping materials you can get the solitude you crave for your Scottsdale house and keep the work on it to a minimum.
Baby steps to privacy
One of the first things you need to determine is if your Homeowner’s Association has landscaping rules. Many of them do, so dig out the paperwork and pore over the CC&Rs to figure out what you can and can’t do with your property.
Next, determine the amount of privacy you desire. Dense privets block most prying eyes, whereas a mix of trees and tall perennials provide a lighter touch and look more natural. The size of the space you need to fill plays a large roll in what to plant, so take measurements before heading off to the nursery,
Finally, make sure that the plants you purchase are suited to our United States Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zone (9b), and Sunset Climate Zone 13. While the USDA zone lists the coolest temperature at which a plant will survive, the Sunset zone takes into account the timing and amount of rainfall, the length of growing season winter low temperature and summer highs, wind, and humidity, which are probably more appropriate to Scottsdale homeowners. There is little we can’t grow here, but it’s smart to make sure.
You're always safe going with native plants that are adapted to our part of Arizona and typically require less maintenance than the non-natives. The Arizona Native Plant Society suggests you consult this list to determine what will grow best in and around Scottsdale.
Landscaping narrow side yards
Newer homes in some of our Scottsdale subdivisions tend to have tiny slices of vacant property between houses. There may or may not be a fence. If you don’t like looking at your neighbor as you wash the dishes, choose some fast-growing columnar trees to fill the space.
Although it isn’t an Arizona native, Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) is the ideal plant for this situation. It grows quickly (up to 3 feet per year), remains slender and requires little maintenance. It is hardy to both our USDA and Sunset zones and in our climate it can be planted at any time of the year. For a good, dense screen, plant the trees 5 to 6 feet apart.
Landscaping front yards
If the front of your house is open to the world you have options to provide privacy. Privet hedges are commonly used to screen out prying eyes, but they require a good deal of trimming and pruning to keep them in shape. Instead, consider planting evergreen shrubs and trees. Brush cherry (Prunus caroliniana) is ideal for Scottsdale landscapes as it grows quickly and may reach 30 feet in height, they tolerate both sun and partial shade and are drought-tolerant (although here in the desert you’ll need to provide more water in the summer).
This is a dense shrub so it will provide maximum privacy along with its ornamental value.
If you must use deciduous plants, the experts at Colorado State University suggest you choose those with lots of stems and branches to help provide a screen even after the plant loses its foliage.
Plant the trees closer to the house with the shrubs in front. To make a more natural vignette, throw some low maintenance perennials in front of the shrubs. Ideal choices, according to Richard Jauron of Iowa State University’s Department of Horticulture, include butterfly weed or salvia for sunny locations.
Blocking the view From above
When your neighbor has a bird’s eye view into the home or onto your deck or patio, privacy landscaping becomes a bit trickier. Large deciduous shade trees with broad spreading canopies should provide enough cover. In Scottsdale, the Arizona ash also known as Modesto ash, (Fraxinus velutina) is a winner for this use.
An arbor, or overhead latticework allows sunshine to penetrate but blocks most of what the neighbors might be able to see. For better coverage and to soften the hard lines of the structure, plant a vine at the base and allow it to grow up and over it. Consider bougainvillea (Bougainvillea spectabilis) for color (see a photo here), cat claw (Macfadyena unguis-cati) if you’re looking for a fast-growing vine and cape honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis) to attract hummingbirds.
While it may be true that good fences make good neighbors, privacy fences make good neighbors disappear – at least from sight. And that is a good thing.