There are many reasons to consider adding a fence around your garden or even your home, including privacy, wildlife exclusion, reducing foot traffic, reduce wind or noise, or general aesthetics. Just as there are many reasons to consider installing fence, there are many fence options including living fences! Living fences can also be used to design secret gardens, and quiet spaces within your property. Some locations may be restrictive of fencing such as HOA’s or deed restricted communities, so be sure that this is taken into consideration during your planning process.
When planning for a fence, be sure to start with a defined purpose such as privacy from a street or roadway. From there define the boundary or location you want to place the fence and determine the length and desired height to achieve your goal. If you are considering the addition of a man made structure such as chain link or privacy fencing, consider the addition of vines or shrubs to soften the appearance. Vines to plant on fences include the cross vine, blue sky vine, coral honeysuckle, and passion flower (maypop). Additional vine options can be found at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/MG/MG09700.pdf If you have pets or young children be sure to check plant toxicity prior to purchasing. Here is a list of toxic plants: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00000155/00001
Don’t forget to check for buried utility lines, call 8-1-1 before you dig. Check for overhead power lines, and underground irrigation heads and lines. If you haven’t had your soil tested for $2 you can get a soil pH test at the UF/IFAS Extension Marion County Office which can help you with plant selection and success. You also need to know the specific growing conditions for your plants, how much light and moisture will plants receive.
After drafting your plan and evaluating site conditions, you will need to select your plants… living fences are usually long rows, so it is important to consider mature height and width for proper spacing and prevent problems down the line. Don’t forget that tree and shrub roots may extend 2-3 times the dripline at maturity, so don’t plant too closely to structures, sidewalks, or pools. Some options for living fence options include bamboo, hollies, viburnum, and the native Simpson’s stopper. Other plants for living fences: pineapple guava, podocarpus, clumping bamboo, lady palm, and dwarf Walter’s viburnum.
Here are some good examples of options for living fences. If you are looking for a medium sized tree to create cover, consider the southern red cedar. It is drought tolerant, tolerates high soil pH, and over 50 species of birds, including bobwhite, sharp-tailed grouse, pheasant, mourning dove and cedar waxwing use it as a food source. The tree provides nesting material and cover for wildlife.
Sweet viburnum, Viburnum odoratissimum, is a fast growing shrub with large, leathery, dark green, glossy leaves with clusters of small, white flowers covering the plant in springtime. It grows six feet or better, hot sun and poor soil is not a problem. It is important not to let sweet viburnum go, as it will tolerate heavy pruning but will be take time to recover from over pruning.
Ilex species (hollies) are another personal favorite as they are low-maintenance, and come in diverse sizes, forms, and textures. Many are valued for their colorful berries, which provide food for birds which brighten the winter seasons and several are native to Florida. If you enjoy wildlife, birds, or butterflies be sure to select an option that produces berries or flowers.
Remember, just like any other plant in your yard, your living fence will need to be watered until it is established and pruned correctly to achieve the look and coverage you desire. Beware some species are less dense than others, so if you are trying to block a view select plants that are thicker or have better leaf coverage. Think twice before adding shrubs that are thorny, you may need to prune them occasionally and those thorns will not be your friend. Lastly, some plants are invasive and will take over more area than you might like, for this reason, I would not recommend running bamboo. To check the invasive status of a plant prior to planting it, see: https://assessment.ifas.ufl.edu/assessments/