Sharing a Privacy Fence
We just bought a house on a large lot (over an acre), and it has chain link fencing around most of the yard. I'd like to have more privacy, but the "privacy slats" for chain link fencing that they sell at the hardware store will get too expensive for the entire lot. I've considered planting bushes for a privacy screen, but the lot is large and we live in the desert, so the water bill could get expensive. What other frugal options are there for making chain link fence into a "privacy screen"?
Kit in California
Your privacy screen could be oleander plants. You can spread them out and they work. Start where it is most important to you and slowly add the plants you need for the rest of the yard. Put them on a drip watering system and you can save bucks on the water bill. Another plant could be a bougainvillea or a wall of flowers. Sunset books have some wonderful suggestions and show you how to care for the plants. But, the one thing that is really good to conserve water is a water system that waters only that individual plant.
Try aluminum venetian blinds and use the strips to weave in and out of the chain link. I used off-white venetian blinds I purchased at rummage sales and garage sales. I wove them into an art deco diamond shape leaving open areas for the breeze. It took almost a year to find enough blinds but am very pleased with the low-cost result.
Consider sunflowers or morning glories. Most sunflower varieties are pretty tall. They are very easy to grow, relatively low maintenance, take very little water, are hardy in lots of conditions and provide a great screen/fence against neighbors. I would suggest the sunflower called Autumn Beauty. It gets very bushy as it grows and gives off dozens of blooms. Plus if you take the time you can gather seeds from the first blooms (wait till the blooms start to fade before picking for seeds) to resow next year. If you want to try this with only one packet of seeds on a small area of your fence this summer, then that one packet will give you enough seeds through the flowers for the whole fence next summer. Plus sunflowers are very pretty when they start to bloom!
Morning Glories are the same way. They will cover your fence in pretty leaves and every morning you'll wake up to beautiful blooms! And like sunflowers they are hardy, easy to grow and you could get enough seeds from one packet after blooming to cover your whole fence the next summer.
We had the exact situation that you have described. The best decision that we made was to hire a landscape designer from a local nursery. He charged $40 to plan an entire privacy backyard with trees, shrubs and perennial plants. He concentrated his design to the fence line and created a wonderful atmosphere with curved lines and layered color.
Our initial investment was both hard work and some money to prepare the soil and purchase enough mulch for the fence lines but it was all worth it. I took advantage of an AWESOME catalog/online plant store www.jungseed.com and got most of my large shrubs at Kmart with a 20% spring sale. If I had purchased the plants at the local store, the total cost would have been 85% higher.
We lucked out with a great designer who gave us variety in plants and seasonal colors to add excitement to the yard. I purchased smaller plants with the idea that in five years the majority would be mature and I'd have a very private yard.
If you can't find a reasonably priced landscaper, then walk around public gardens and buildings to see what is planted to get ideas. Go to the library and look at landscape books for your area to find plants that won't require a lot of care and/or watering. Call your county extension office and ask for recommendations. I'm sure that they would be glad to assist you.
What about using that replacement webbing for lawn chairs? Could that be woven between the links? And does the whole fence (over one acre) need to be done? I would do the most area that is most sensitive first and work from there. You may find that some areas can be left undone.
I have the same problem until my shrubs get to a decent height. I've planted from seed morning glories all along the perimeter of the fence. Check out www.waysidegardens.com for ideas about vines that thrive in the desert. Trumpet flowers are great, too. Lots of vine selections are out there.
Kit is on the right track about planting around the fence perimeter. It will add value to the home and it is a long-term investment that provides many kinds of benefits. First, the writer needs to investigate what kinds of plants are native to the area. Since they mentioned they were from California, I suggest contacting the California Native Plant Society at www.cnps.org/.
All native desert plants are adapted to the lack of water and grow anyway. In addition, those plants provide habitat for birds, butterflies and other wildlife that need shelter from the hot sun and other resources to live. Native plants should require little maintenance after you help them the first few years. This is important to all regions of the country to consider only native plants for your garden to save money on your water bill and save the a very precious resource, water. Native plants that don't need extra water create a very low maintenance garden. Another consideration is native vegetable and fruit crops. The Native Americans grew plants in the desert for hundreds of years so you can do it as well.
You can search for fruiting or flowering vines to help cover the fence quickly, and also add native tall grasses or other native bush plants that will eventually provide more solid fence cover after a number of years. We used Concord grape vines, raspberry bushes, wild native roses and pine trees at home when I was a kid. The wild roses were an especially formidable cover as the thick mass of stems and thorns prevented any neighborhood kids from jumping our fences to cut through our yard.
If you want to go with a traditional kind of vine or food crop that you water in return for vegetables, you could grow an amazing number of plants around a fence. Consider growing cucumbers, eggplant, squash, beans, grapes and melons. There are lots of flowers that require vines as well. If you grow a yard full of cucumbers, you can always pickle them in the fall to enjoy the fruits of your harvest all year long. There may also be native varieties of these plants as well.
I also live in the desert and there are many low to near-no water use climbing plants that love chain link. Contact your local county Extension Service for all the free advice you could need on this subject. Their Master Gardeners program is staffed with well-trained volunteers just waiting for your call so they can feel useful. They can tell you which specific species of plants would work well, and how you need to go about getting them and properly installing and maintaining them. You really pay for this "free" service through your federal taxes, so might as well use it to build a better privacy fence!
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