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How to Plant a Living Privacy Screen

This Old House landscape contractor Roger Cook helps a homeowner plant a living privacy screen.


  1. Set the potted yews, lilacs, and ornamental grasses in place randomly along the inside and outside of the fence line. Leave room between the plants to accommodate future growth.
  2. Use a pointed shovel to cut a circle into the lawn around each potted plant.
  3. Next, use the shovel to remove the grass from within each circle, then dig planting holes that are two to three time wider than the containers. Shovel the soil onto plastic tarps.
  4. Use a three-tine cultivator to scratch loose the matted root balls of each plant.
  5. Set a plant into its hole, making sure the top of the root ball is slightly above grade. If it’s sitting too low, add more soil to the hole.
  6. Rotate the plant so that its best-looking side is facing forward.
  7. Mix loam and compost in a wheelbarrow.
  8. Mix some loam-and-compost mixture with the excavated soil, then sprinkle on some starter fertilizer.
  9. Use the shovel to mix in the fertilizer, then backfill around the plant. Don’t put any soil on top of the root ball.
  10. Repeat the previous steps to plant the remaining plants.
  11. Use the end of the shovel handle to poke holes around each plant, then thoroughly water all the plants. Water once a week until the plants are fully established.
  12. Spread 2 to 3 inches of bark mulch around plants.