Privacy hedges make a good alternative to fencing. Many shrubs--both deciduous and evergreen--are dense enough to provide privacy and can withstand constant trimming or shaping. Most shrubs selected for privacy hedges require little care once established, have green foliage and compact habits. Some flower or produce berries, adding an extra dash of color to the landscape.
Boxwood (Buxus) is an evergreen shrub that is hardy to -20 degrees F and requires little care once established. The green leaves on this plant are small and round, ranging in size from a 1/4 to 1 inch around. Boxwood is well suited to be a hedge or edge plant and may be pruned or left to grow wild. Hardy in all but the coldest USDA plant hardiness zones, boxwood thrives in sun or shade and prefers regular watering but can survive with less. Japanese boxwood (B. microphylla japonica) can be easily trimmed and performs well in temperate climates; leaves may shrivel in colder climates. Korean boxwood (B. m. koreana) is more cold-hardy.
Ligustrum is a popular and sturdy hedge plant used in the southern U.S., with dense foliage that is deciduous in colder climates and evergreen in warmer areas. Ligustrum can grow to about 12 feet and responds well to pruning and shaping. Plants left unpruned will bear fragrant clusters of cream-colored flowers in late spring to early summer, while clipped hedges bear fewer blooms. The amur privet (L. amurense) variety is deciduous in colder areas but may be used as a hedge or privacy screen. Japanese privet (L. japonicum) is popular as a southern hedge and is easily pruned and shaped. In general, ligustrum thrives in full sun to part shade in hotter climates and requires regular watering.
Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) is not really bamboo at all but does resemble bamboo with its cane-like stems and delicate foliage. This plant will grow to 10 feet and may be pruned. The foliage is clusters of small oval leaflets (up to 2 inches long) on alternating sides of a branch. When young, the leaflets are pink, red and finally light green, though they may turn purple or bronze in fall in colder climates. A good hedge plant, heavenly bamboo provides privacy but is a bit more casual than traditional hedges. It produces a cream-colored bloom in late spring, and if more than one plant is in the area, the bloom will be followed by red berries. This plant is hardy in zones 6 to 9 and thrives in full sun with moderate water. Heavenly bamboo will tolerate shade, but color will not be as vibrant.
Holly (Ilex) has dense foliage and, as an added bonus, bright red berries, which make for a colorful privacy hedge. Holly is available in many varieties and can grow to 50 feet if left untamed, but it responds well to pruning and shaping. Hardy in most zones, holly has glossy green foliage, which may be smooth-edged or thorny, and thrives in slightly acidic, well-draining soil. In general, hollies should be planted in full sun to part shade and require regular water.
English holly (I. aquifolium) is the most well known, but it should only be planted in temperate climates, as it cannot withstand heat, high humidity or excessive cold. Chinese Holly (I. cornuta) can better tolerate heat.