by Bruce Gaudette and Lauri Myers
October 15, 2008

Fences are one of the most common items found in Northwest landscapes. They are used to define property lines, partition areas of different usage, and enhance the landscape. When deciding to construct a fence consider the many alternatives available to you.

Solid wood fences are probably the most common in residential areas. In fact, to those of us (Bruce to be specific) from “back east,” the extensive use of tall wood fences along property lines is quite different from either no fences, or low fences that are prevalent in New England. These fences are generally used for privacy and barriers, and often to keep pets and people either out or in.

A wood fence can be high or low. It can be constructed from solid same-size boards placed tightly together or with gaps. Or they can have boards with staggered sizes, also arranged with gaps to create interesting geometry. They can have different horizontal detailing on the top, from a scalloped edge to a lattice panel. Small wood fences can be constructed of anything from lattice panels to traditional pickets. Many styles abound as a trip to the library will prove out.

If wood is not to your liking consider a living fence, or hedgerow as it would be called even further back east in Old England. It can be either deciduous or evergreen. The plants you pick will determine the size, maintenance and effect it will have in the landscape.

Broadleaf evergreen shrubs such as English Laurel will make a dense wall in a short time, but will require a lot of maintenance to keep it from becoming a row of small trees. Smaller broadleaf evergreens such as English Boxwood and Japanese Holly require less maintenance but take longer to establish a solid hedge.

Conifers are also often used for an evergreen fence. They are hardy and will tolerate both sun and partial shade. Plant conifers that are narrow upright growing shrubs rather than trees for ease of maintenance. The most popular of these would be Pyramidalis or to those of you from the old school, Arborvitae. For shadier areas, keep narrow Yews in mind.

Deciduous plants like Privet, Weigela, Spiraea or Forsythia will make a good hedge if privacy is not an issue.

Plants can also be trained as an espalier to screen off an area or to soften a fence or wall. Pyracantha, Camellia, Roses, and Apple Trees are some examples.

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