Help with tree layout for privacy border

sorkaMarch 4, 2008

We live on a 1.2 acre lot. The lots behind us, to the south, are about to built on. We'd like to add trees to create some privacy. We'd like to use Thuja GG mixed with some other sort of tree. Don't really yet know what other tree to use. Leyland's are pretty much out because they don't last long here in the Central Valley of California(Merced). And if they do, they're mature height is taller than I'd like them to be.

The photo below is an areal of my property. The red line on the bottom marks the boundery of a county drainage easment which spans 15 feet wide. The county has said I can't plant inside the easement anything that would keep them from getting equipment in there, but it's OK if branches cross the boundery.

The green line is roughly the areas that I want to plant privacy screening.

I plant to create new flower beds for the trees covering about 6000 square feet. I don't want growing grass anywhere near the trees. The length will be covered with heavy duty woven fabric, a drip line, and pebble bark mulch.

I don't want to do a uniform single row of trees because if one dies, it won't look right. But even playing around with 2 staggered rows isn't really getting the effect I want. I'm convinced that I need some sort of uniform but randomized scattered effect but I need to it narrow, especially near the lower right corner of the house which is only about 40 feet from the easment line.

Here's the areal. There's a link below it for the full sized version:

This photo taken from lower left corner of areal:

This photo taken from lower right corner of areal:

This photo taken from bottom center of areal pointing north east(up and to the left from the areal):

Any ideas for trees and layout would be appreciated. In addition to mixed plantings with the GG, I plan to buy about 15 specimen Aptos Blue Redwoods. Lowes has a crazy low price on them right now.

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Why don't you hire a landscape architect. He can provide different design schemes.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2008 at 7:25PM
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I've talked with 3 in my area and they all gave me blanks stares when I didn't want to do straight rows. Terms like staggered rows and mix plantings elicited more blanks stares and comments of "it sounds like you know what you want so why hire me".

    Bookmark   March 4, 2008 at 9:40PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Once you identify kinds of trees and shrubs you want to have you can arrange them however you like. Many offered at garden centers have suggested spacings right on labels or cards that can pretty much solve that aspect of the project for you, otherwise same information is available in books and on web sites. Sunset WESTERN GARDEN BOOK is a popular resource, stocking by CostCo stores in season, that has a plant selection guide near the front and a plant encyclopedia making up the bulk of the rest. The main thing is to identify kinds that have the attributes you want and will grow under your conditions, including soil, climate, exposure and maintenance practices. If you are going to keep on with the huge, lush (fertilized and watered) lawn that will affect what kinds of trees and shrubs will do well there - some do not like the watering and fertilization used for yearround green lawns.

Two publicly accessible places in the area where you can walk around and see labeled trees and shrubs are the University of California Arboretum at Davis and the grounds of the state capitol in Sacramento. There are also some interesting things at the old USDA Experiment Station near Chico, and the university there has some good trees, too, particularly around the museum.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2008 at 11:26PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

...what you need to learn about is planting in drifts, that may be the concept you are seeking. See what this is and how to do it in Grant, Garden Design Illustrated. Reprinted many times, last by Timber Press, it should be at a library or even a used book store near you somewhere. Have seen it at one here several times, for about 5 bucks or so.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2008 at 11:32PM
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laceyvail(6A, WV)

And I suggest thinking in terms of large shrubs with a few trees here and there. You'll have much greater interest in terms of bloom, berries and fall foliage with a mixed planting.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2008 at 6:09AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Wall of green sentinels would tend to draw attention to the fact that there was something on the other side, accenting it instead of obscuring it. Probably arborvitae is not a good choice for your area anyway, check Sunset zoning - and look around you there. It seems wherever these (arborvitaes) are possible, lots are planted. And being part western red cedar, 'Green Giant' grows into a tall tree eventually, as does the Leyland cypress, although not as rapidly. Young plants of the 'Giant' seen here are not as pretty as the native parent, so up here at least there seems little point in planting it (except as part of a collection). The appeal of it elsewhere is that it has some of the appearance of western red cedar but the Standish arborvitae half allows it to be grown where our western native doesn't do well.

Obvious choice for California is Italian cypress, that may be one of those there in the view showing the wall.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2008 at 3:14PM
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Brent_In_NoVA(z7/6 VA)

The knee jerk reaction tends to be to line the perimeter of your property with evergreen trees and shrubs. The problem that I see with this and your property is that you would be left with a bunch of odd patches of grass. Why does it need to be narrow? So you can preserve useless patches of grass that you have to mow? Areas planted with trees and shrubs do not have to be wasted space...they can be filled with paths, sitting areas, shade gardens and the such.

What if you started first by defining exactly where you wanted your lawn to be and what shape made sense and then filled the rest with trees and shrubs? Based on looking at a few pictures and applying my needs I see...mostly grass with maybe one or two trees and a few mixed beds in the front...a nice sized patch of grass in the left corner that is lined with some shrubs/small trees...a patio out back surrounded by plantings...killing off all the grass in the triangle area at the bottom right and planting trees along with the kid's playset and areas to explore.

- Brent

    Bookmark   March 7, 2008 at 11:31PM
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Landscape designers who only do straight rows and say "sounds like you already know what you want" do not sound like any professional designers that I know. Any professional designer is going to be a facilitator to get your vision, taste, and lifestyle to match up with the realities of the site. I would suggest that you are either not talking to very professional people, or the values that you are transmitting are making them want to move on.

If you are not getting good professional designers, it might be because you have not looked hard enough, or it might be that you do not place a high enough value on their services which will limit you to the "not so professional" designers.

Part of facilitating as a designer is to interact with your clients and get a sense of their values. The interaction generates a great deal of understanding very quickly. You might be presenting a set of values that does not match very well with what is necessary for a designer to do business with you. They have to have something for you to buy in order to make a living. That could be their time, or a plan, or project management services, or actual materials. If you do not demonstrate a willingness or need to buy any of those services, there is no point in a professional designer to spend any more time with you. That is nothing against you, but it needs to be understood why a designer would be short with you.

Part of being a designer is to read people's values in order to make a design that is truly suited for those people. However, being skilled at reading people from years of experience of having to do it for design purposes tells you other things as well. When I see "Crazy low prices at Lowe's", "it sounds like you know what you wantso why hire me", a nice house in a high end neighborhood, and posting for free advice on a website, I'm getting the distinct impression that you do not truly place much of a value on this.

I'd sum it up by saying "you know what you want, so you don't need me" and I'll move on.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2008 at 8:03AM
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Or, after reading that last post, you might realize that you value this whole process more than you are transmitting. If that is the case, you might re-evaluate how you are presenting yourself and this project in order for the people who are capable of helping you to not misinterpret the value that you place on this project so that they don't misread you in the same manner that I just did.

Now that you probably hate me, I'm actually trying to help you, believe it or not.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2008 at 8:14AM
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Brent_In_NoVA(z7/6 VA)

Sorka: I wonder if you would have more luck if you stepped back and talked to a landscape designer with the idea of developing an overall plan for your yard that included privacy. Privacy is just one aspect of a design but you have already picked out the tiny details (landscape fabric and mulch).

- Brent

P.S. If you are interested, you can search this forum and the Internet for opinion on landscape "pebble bark mulch" made of rock or bark...rock mulch tend to not get favorable reviews either.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2008 at 3:36PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I don't really agree with how negatively Laag has interpreted your query, but I think he is onto the keystone of your dilemma: you want to use the type of plant that people use in rows, and you want the privacy effect of rows, but you don't want rows because of your fear of one plant dying. I suspect that is why the local people weren't responsive either - you are putting out a mixed message, and you may be allowing your fear of a hedge with a hole in it to prevent you from your objective of having a hedge.

It sounds to me that what you need is not so much a different idea as a strategy for repairing a hole in your hedge if one appears.

Having said all that, my own approach to your design challenge would be to plant groves of various trees, but all natural forms, not cultivated varieties that look kind of fake, and look bizarre when placed in natural arrangements or when combined with natural trees.

You've got so much space IN the yard I see no reason to plant just around the perimeter.


    Bookmark   March 10, 2008 at 4:35PM
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pondwelr(z5 WI)

You are right Sorka, you need some random plantings and groups of trees and shrubbery for a natural look. Also right that it should not be in straight rows. So that leaves curvy planting beds. Dont worry about anything being too wide; not with that huge yard! Big swooping beds that vary from 30ft and narrow to 6ft, (or less or more) will look wonderful. I also urge you to use as much variety as possible in your tree choice, sticking with what is native or hardy to your zone. Think about providing not only privacy, but food and shelter for birds and other critters.

My own small ½acre lot is very private because of the perimiter plantings I put in only 9 yrs ago. I have maples, oak, birches, many virburnum, bottlebush buckeye,
juniper, cedar and other small stuff, all jammed into my perimiter beds that are raised and mulched.

Go with your instincts. And garden the way you love--extravagantly!

    Bookmark   March 13, 2008 at 4:19PM
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I understand the concept of "beds" tying all the trees and shrubs together, but recognize the upkeep issues that can go with "sweeping 30 foot wide" beds --need for lots of weeding while establishing a groundcover and/or using truckloads of mulch at least annually. Or, planting types of things--including the shrub choices-- that will naturally sort of shade out competing weeds. I would not want a huge bed with scattered shrubs and rock or red bark mulch and landscape fabric that looks like a commercial office landscape, but that's a personal issue. If you're cool with regular large applications of mulch then you will have more options, for sure, to create large cultivated areas in the lawn.

That's why can be helpful to get LD or LA input on the more generic issues, as Brent encouraged, so you can see whether you could achieve some privacy with things you can still mow around (means choosing root systems and shade issues + what kind of grass you have, etc) vs. how much of a true "bed" you want and how to factor in maintenance.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2008 at 12:30PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

If you have a good design with interlocking drifts of shrubs those will be the groundcover in time, and if many the kinds used are tall-growing more effective at shading the soil and suppressing seedlings than more conventional low carpeting groundcovers. Of course, in naturally wooded areas particularly there will be certain kinds of trees, shrubs and climbers that are good at insinuating themselves into even a shrubbery and fighting there way up - many plantings require at least a little occasional weeding for an indefinite time.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2008 at 7:02PM
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debinca1(zone 7 CA)

Look into Deodar cedars, they keep their low branches even as they mature. but keep in mind that their mature size is pretty large. One trick to making a new planting look more natural is to plant various sizes.

For example, dont plant a row of 15 gallon trees, but one or 2 larger 24" box trees, some 15's and a few 5's staggered in, mixing both tree species and sizes will give a very natural look.

PS any designer even a nursery floor sales person should have mentioned this.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2008 at 1:15AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Mature size of typical seedlings is more than pretty large, it's enormous. However, this does take some time*. And there are scarecrow-habit cultivars available (usually sold and grown incorrectly as weeping forms of Cedar-of-Lebanon), that are skinny and open in growth, probably wouldn't be as likely to produce huge spreading limbs. However, being open they would screen more by distraction than blockage.

*One planted in Sacramento during 1871 was 101' tall with a trunk 17' 9" around by 1989; wild deodar cedars have grown as tall as 250', some producing trunks as much as 50' around

    Bookmark   March 19, 2008 at 3:18PM
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debinca1(zone 7 CA)

BB, you are so correct............ but I will be dead by then. OK, OK I am kidding, dont add my name to the snotty designer list.

I almost didnt respond with my answer because of their mature size. But, seriously, the thing about them is that they fit his requirements, and you are correct a LOOONG time to get that big. The golden varieties are supposedly smaller, but I suspect that to be a sales gimic and only time will tell. I should have pointed out that a mix of different trees not all deodars.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2008 at 11:53PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Hmm. Wonder whether the OP is even still here! We've certainly all enjoyed the thread anyway, and perhaps it's been of use to someone else.


    Bookmark   March 20, 2008 at 11:37AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

I've seen skyline-height 'Aurea' here in the PNW, really doesn't seem to be affected much by being partly yellow. But various other yellow cultivars do have reduced vigor. Thing is, desire in this situation (as is so often the case) is for a living fence, something that will shoot up and obscure the offending view as quickly as possible yet not overwhelm the site. Bamboos are good for this kind of use as the culms grow to there full height the same year they emerge and then do not grow any taller.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2008 at 11:59AM
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debinca1(zone 7 CA)

Ack!! I have spent the day hacking our wayward Black Bamboo, it was supposed to be a nice contained planting for privacy, but has breeched the barriers ( UMMM 3 years ago, did anyone notice?) What a horrible job, and today I think its a horrible, but seductively beautiful plant.

No, dont plant it anywhere near that lush lawn.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2008 at 4:01AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Black bamboo is a running bamboo. Not all bamboos run. Some kinds grow in tight clumps on their own.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2008 at 2:46PM
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kendal(8 PNW)

All that beautiful land wasted with water guzzling grass and all the chemicals that go into keeping it green. I hate grass; to me where there is grass something beautiful was stripped to make room for it. If that was my property it would be gone and a forest planted. I love woodlands and I live in one of the most beautiful places in the country (o; Seriously you want privacy then don't just go for trees along your property line just go wild with trees of all sizes. Cryptomeria radicans are fast growing and I love not only the feathery branches but the reddish bark too. Not sure if it's an option for where you live but there are plenty of evergreens that will. If you must have some grass just keep some around your house. IMO CA is the worse place for grass, too many people that need their pools and grass then you want our water (o;b Before you blast me for being a California hater the white Irish side of my family were born and lived in Ca since the first settlers went there. We used to own most of all what is Healdsburg now. I've lived here in WA for many years now and will never move back. The rest of my family is in Healdsburg, Santa Rosa and Paradise.

I just finished landscaping at my last place in time to move to a new house; the old one is being torn down. I'm taking as much stuff with me as possible, and so I will start again. Cryptomeria's will be planted, the mossy grass that was left by the last owners will be destroyed and a forest will go in it's place (o:

Whatever you do I hope it turns out beautiful; imo anyone that plants trees is only improving the planet, so even if you don't take up most of that lawn the trees you add will make that drab acreage shine! *G*

    Bookmark   March 25, 2008 at 10:47PM
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