Privacy has become increasingly valuable as urban, suburban and even rural areas become more crowded. Although good fences do make good neighbors, a fence is not always desired or allowed. However, with a little planning you can make wonderful privacy screens using hedges, shrubs, trees, and other plants. They can bloom in spring and provide fall color, offer shelter and food for songbirds and other wildlife, and still protect your patio from your nosy neighbor's gaze.
Determine the issues a privacy screen will address. A light, airy screen may be useful in front of windows or sheds while a dense, evergreen screen will be better along high-traffic areas like roads and public sidewalks. If security is an issue, a plant with a dense branching habit or thorns may be chosen, such as a rugosa rose (Rosa rugosa). Plants that drop fruit and leaves, or bloom heavily, may foul a nearby pool or patio. Select plants based on both the area's needs and the plant's characteristics.
Communicate with neighbors, city or neighborhood zoning departments, and any existing homeowner's association (HOA). Making your plans clear now will prevent many problems later. A HOA may have an approved plant list, and zoning departments often restrict plant height near streets or in easements due to line-of-sight issues. Agree who will be responsible for trimming on the neighbor's side (if necessary).
Call the phone, power, water, or natural gas company to mark underground lines if you're planting large plants or planting near utility easements. Most areas have a single company that will mark all utility lines, free of cost, for homeowners.
Hammer one wooden stake into each end point of the planting line. Tie the twine securely around one stake, removing slack when tying to the second stake to create a straight line. Do not place the planting line directly on the property line; a current neighbor may approve but a future neighbor may not.
Lay out the planting holes. Using the planned plants' mature width as a guide, set the screening plants, still in the containers, alongside the straight twine. Formal hedges that will be pruned regularly may be planted closer for rapid cover. Stagger various plants for an informal look, always keeping the taller plants to the back. Adjust the plants as necessary, mark each plant's location, and move the plants aside. Remove the stakes and twine once each planting hole is clearly marked.
Dig holes in the marked locations, saving the soil. You might want to place a tarp or plastic sheet on the ground before you begin shoveling, and place the removed soil on the sheet. Place and level plants, packing the existing soil firmly around the roots. Add amendments only if required. Water deeply, but do not over-water. Spread 3 to 4 inches of mulch around the new plants.