A living fence has only one primary function: privacy. If you’re looking for security then, unless you’re planting a thorny bougainvillea, you probably won’t find solace in a growing fence. But privacy, now that’s easy to manage.
When we’re talking about a living fence we’re basically discussing hedges but not hedges that need clipping on a regular basis – although that still does constitute a living fence.
Instead, a living fence can be any close grouping of trees or shrubs – basically any perennials – that give enough height to screen out unwanted views, or others viewing you.
And, because they’re plants there are usually little to no local regulations that limit how high you can go. Quite literally, the sky's the limit.
Living Fence vs Constructed Fence
The obvious difference is the height of a living fence. Once a constructed fence starts getting over a certain height it requires engineering plans and specifications, deeper and wider footings, and far more strengthening within the wall itself just so it doesn’t topple over with the first gust of wind that comes along.
Constructed fences also cost more than a living fence. Any form of constructed fencing will require large amounts of dollars especially if you are trying to build it for privacy purposes.
If it’s for security needs then you can almost double it immediately. On the other hand, living fences are relatively quite cheap. Depending on the maturity of the individual shrubs or trees you can easily pocket some of your hard-earned savings.
However, a living fence does have some cons on the balance sheet. Firstly, they take longer to grow. A constructed fence can be erected within a matter of days or weeks while living fences take years to grow and mature and to begin working effectively.
Plus, it’s much easier for a tree or shrub to die and much harder to replace a middle plant should it die unexpectedly.
Choosing Plants for a Living Fence
As height is the goal you want to consider plants that have a columnar or bushing effect. Plus, you don’t want to be planting deciduous trees – which rules out the beautiful birches and poplars – because they will only provide enough privacy in the warmer months.
And, you certainly won’t be interested in plants that are going to take over your garden beds – which rules out ficus’. Instead, opt for non-invasive bamboo, conifers, pittosporum or even some Australian native melaleucas.
These all provide decent height levels plus they will provide an excellent screen and aren’t easily susceptible to disease – just watch the canker issues with conifers.