How to Grow Your Own Privacy Screen

by Fern on September 20, 2010

in How To,Popular,Privacy

Post image for How to Grow Your Own Privacy Screen

I’ve written a lot about privacy, in part because when you literally share walls, ceilings, and floors with other people, you become obsessed. At least I am. In the past I’ve written about reducing noise pollution, using physical objects to create privacy, and a DIY screen of small wooden planter boxes. Today though, I though I would talk about how to make the simplest privacy screen of them all: large planter boxes with bushy plants.

When planning on making a privacy screen on your balcony, you have four things to consider: The amount of light your balcony gets, the amount of headroom your balcony has, planter boxes, and the evergreen plants that will work in the first two situations.

Assessing The Amount of Sun on Your Balcony

As with any new plant you consider bringing on your balcony, you have to consider the amount of light your balcony actually gets. A lot of times people are interestes in creating a privacy screen on their balcony because the building that faces your balcony is thisclose. Well, those situations are often part-shade or full-shade, so make sure you pick a plant that likes the kind of sun you’ve got.

Considering Your Balcony’s Height

Another thing to consider is the height of your balcony. Many times, you’re upstairs neighbor’s balcony is directly overhead. It might feel claustrophobic if you pick a plant that will grow to touch the ceiling of your balcony. Remember that you’ll be planting your privacy screen in a container that is probably about 18 inches off the ground to begin with, so don’t forget to add that number on to the mature height of your plant to determine how tall it will actually be.

Planter Boxes

When it comes to creating a privacy screen, I think you’ll be happier with planter boxes. They will help create a uniform look, and can provide more growing room for your shrubs without adding ridiculous amounts of extra weight to your balcony. Plus, they’re frost hardy. I recommend either buying planter boxes with wheels, or adding them, so that you can periodically rotate your boxes and help your plants get even amounts of light.

Great Privacy Screen Plants:

  • Podocarpus - I really love Podocarpus, so long as it isn’t sheared into some sort of horrible shape. Leave them alone! They form such nice, airy, well-behaved shrubs. A particularly beautiful variety is Icee Blue Yellow-Wood (Podocarpus elongatus ‘Monmal’), that has blue-silver leaves.
  • Holly – If year-round interest is important to you, or attracting wildlife, then Hollies are a great bet. There are many attractive varieties with variegated leaves, and they have red berries in the winter for your feathered balcony guests.
  • Bamboo – Some bamboos have gotten a bad name because they can take over through spreading rhizomes. But that’s not really a worry for us container gardeners. Pleioblastus chino vaginatus variegatus is a beautiful option with variegated leaves that will grow to about 6 feet. Sasa palmata is a great option for cooler climates or balconies without much sun; it grows to about 6 feet.
  • Gardenia – In a small space, I demand that plants serve more than one purpose, and Gardenias are definitely up to the task. They have dark green, glossy leaves, and are easily maintained as privacy hedges. But they also have glorious flowers that smell divine. I saw Monrovia’s Everblooming Gardenia at the Garden Writers Symposium. It wasn’t in bloom at the time, but supposedly it has huge flowers and will bloom from Spring to Summer.

Have you ever created a living privacy screen? Share your tips and nosy-neighbor horror stories in the comments!

PrintFriendly and PDF

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa Ueda September 20, 2010 at 4:54 pm

Bitter mellon is commonly grown as a privacy screen in Japan and parts of asia. Edible too. Even off the balcony, privacy can be at a premium, no one wants their neighbors in their business 24×7


T September 21, 2010 at 4:50 am

We’ve always used morning glories in large boxes with a trellis for summer privacy. They look great at Halloween when they are all drying out and looking ratty…..spooooky! I love your idea of year round plants and will be checking into some holly, though. How pretty would that be with some Christmas deco all around? Thanks for the ideas, Fern!


Paul Riddell September 21, 2010 at 11:00 am

Having done this with several apartments, I can also recommend luffa squash. It grows ridiculously well in warmer climes, thrives in heat that kills most melons and squashes, doesn’t need much room, and produces beautiful (and edible) yellow blossoms. Getting actual squashes, either for eating or for scrubbing, are problematic in container gardening (they need a lot of root space and quite a bit of fertilizer to produce more than one or two), but as a privacy screen during the height of the summer, they’re wonderful.

Along that line, I can also recommend Passiflora, particularly cerulea. Passion flowers will take over fences and windows before you know it, and they take very well to containers. Best of all, if you live in a place where freezing is a major concern, you just trim the plant about six inches above the soil line and put it in a cool but not freezing space for the winter. Come spring and all threat of frost is gone, bring it back out and let it take over again.


~fer September 24, 2010 at 7:44 pm

Great advice!
In Mexico bougainvillea is widely used for some privacy, it can get a very dense foliage with some thorns that help too, also it gives beautiful flowers all year long. It can stand living in an average sized container, and if taken good care can last years.


delilah September 27, 2010 at 4:54 pm

passion flower all the way! my little 2′ starter is over 20 ft and is doing great for making shade on the hot stairs.
PS we need to talk chica!!


Alicia @ tales of an urban gardener May 25, 2011 at 12:06 pm

I never thought of using bamboo as aprivacy screen. I just moved into a place with a first floor patio hat faces a sidewalk so I have been looking for natural ways to maintain a little privacy without secluded myself or ruining my ability to see out. Thanks for the great suggestion!


Rebecca June 8, 2011 at 11:33 pm

I ran a morning glory creeper along the railings and now have a beautiful, inexpensive privacy screen. Took 4 months to grow the complete screen. I live on the 7th which is the topmost floor.


Cara February 27, 2012 at 8:27 pm

I too, am obsessed with privacy on my balcony. I made a 6 foot long container out of Cedar, and had Ah-mazing success with morning glories. Like, I tied string from the corners of the railing to a support near the ceiling, and they grew gangbusters all summer long. It was like sitting in a treehouse!


Susan Bragg March 20, 2012 at 3:33 pm

You grow podocarpus on your balcony? How many did you use as a screen? I have 2 Wilga trees (Australian Willow) that I thought would do well, but they really want to be in the ground. Anyway, now I have 2 large pots (22″) that are available for something new … hmmm. Also have a 16″ pot available … maybe I’ll try a Gardenia in that one. Just bought some Morning Glory seeds for my side wall trellis … will let you know how that goes. Thanks!


Mistress Gardener August 29, 2012 at 7:39 am

You are so right about the sun! The first thing I did after buying my seeds and starts was to let them sit. I decided that I needed to know where my AZ sun was strongest, and with patio walls, narrow beds, and a large ‘gum’ tree as complicating factors, I needed info on narrowing down options for different plants. People kept asking about my garden at first, but I waited awhile so that I could precisely map the sun (and the spread of the water in the pre-installed irrigation system).


Tim September 18, 2012 at 12:23 am

This is agreat point to bring up. I offer the thoughts above as general inspiration but clearly there are questions like theone you bring up where the most important thing will be working in honest good faith.


Anonymizer | Anonym your Links September 24, 2012 at 2:42 am

Hi, i feel that i noticed you visited my blog thus i got here to go back the desire?.I am trying to in finding issues to improve my web site!I assume its ok to make use of some of your concepts!!


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: