Privacy Fence Vs. Privacy Hedge

You and your neighbors have always gotten along well,  so there’s no reason to rush. But, as the kids get bigger and the whole neighborhood seems to get noisier, it would be nice to have more privacy in your yard, to entertain or just relax. And future neighbors might not be as friendly or obliging as the ones you have now. Both a fence and a hedge can add to your privacy, but there are a number of pros and cons to consider for each one.


Privacy Fence



Done is done. A fence is a permanent improvement and needs little or no care after it’s installed. Unless you want the classic white picket wood fence, which will need painting every year or so, there are lots of fence materials like chain link, treated wood and vinyl that last 10 to 20 years without any maintenance. No watering, fertilizing or trimming.  A fence lets a busy homeowner do other things with his or her time.

The price per foot is clear from the outset, and professionals can install an average yard fence in a couple of days. You can save money by doing the installation yourself, though it may be worth the extra cost to get the job done professionally and promptly.

A fence gives your property a neat, trim look and can fit into a narrower space than a hedge. A fence works best when houses are close together or you need to follow a path to the back door. A fence also won’t extend into a neighbor’s yard the way a hedge would if placed on the property line.

Privacy Hedge



A hedge can add real beauty as well as definition to your landscape. Choose an evergreen like arborvitae at you can shear into a formal shape or a bushy one that creates a thick green wall between you and the rest of the world. A perennial bloomer like rose-of-sharon  or lilac loses its leaves in the fall but pays you back for a quiet winter with fresh green spring foliage and an abundance of beautiful flowers.  A deciduous hedge gives your yard a different look with every season.  Planting a service-berry hedge draws birds and pollinators to your yard, and there’s nothing like growing your very own holiday holly.

Hedges can reduce noise and dust pollution, filling your yard with cleaner, more breathable air. Like trees, hedging can provide dense shade, cooling areas that make your yard uncomfortable and raise your energy costs. Planting a hedge freshens your particular patch of the outdoors.

A hedge is a fence that grows, so you can save money on both plants and the labor needed to plant them by starting small and letting time work its magic. Ask lots of questions about the mature size of plants you like. Some, like juniper, cypress and yew, come in a wide range of colors, textures, shapes and mature sizes, so it’s important to know just how the variety you prefer will behave. Ask about growth rate, too. The Arbor Day Foundation offers advice for trees and shrubs: a slow-grower will add 12 inches or less to its height each year; a medium-grower, 13 to 24 inches, and a rapid-grower, more than 24. With a little extra care, you can nurture smaller shrubs into a big, beautiful hedge while saving a lot of money.

In a yard with large outcroppings or rock or slopes and bumps, digging holes for hedge plants may be a far less elaborate undertaking than trying to anchor fence posts. Creating curves in a line is much easier with plants than with rigid building materials.


Good fencing can be expensive. One home-improvement service that calculates the average costs of wood, vinyl and chain link fencing reports 2013 costs per foot of between $17 and $28, depending on material and quality. Installation costs can add between approximately $5 and $15 per foot. Unless ground is level and free of rocks, digging holes for posts can turn into a big and expensive job.  Tailoring a fence to a slope adds more challenges, and possibly more cost.

Depending on where you live, putting up a fence may require a building permit. Local codes may severely limit the height and sometimes dictate materials you can use. In the city of Fresno, CA, for example, a front-yard fence cannot be more than three feet high. Chain link or post-and-rail may be prohibited in front or back yards.  Your municipality may require a written agreement between neighbors before a fence can go up between them; conversely, there may be no municipal recourse if your neighbor puts up a fence that wrecks your view or adds shade to your flower beds. It’s important to find out the regs in your community before deciding about building a fence.


A hedge needs tending from planting through to maturity. Transplant shock can result in plants that turn brown and die or just fail to grow as well as others. Good soil preparation means a lot of digging, as does planting. New hedge plants need steady water, and growing plants need fertilizer, weeding and sometimes disease protection. Removing dead leaves, checking for insects and removing damaged branches are regular seasonal chores needed to make your new or old hedge look good.

Even inexpensive hedges aren’t always inexpensive. Bargain catalog plants may be much smaller than described, and condition may be questionable.  Local nursery plants can run from $20 to $80 apiece, depending on variety and size. You’ll need tools and supplies to take care of your hedge plants as well.

Although hedges may not be subject to the same local codes as fences, check thoroughly before making final choices. Knowing how wide your plants will spread as they grow can be critical information in the face of local rules about setbacks from the property line.  Your favorite shrub may not pass muster with local rules about pedestrian and driver visibility.

When you plant a hedge, sometimes the price of success can be as high as the price of failure. Healthy growth can get out of control when conditions are right, and your hedge may respond poorly to severe  pruning.  Keeping pace with growth can mean frequent expenditures of time, labor and/or money to keep your hedge quite literally in trim.

And Finally…

There’s an old saying that good fences make good neighbors. Sometimes those fences are better made from living material. Setting boundaries can be challenging, but choosing a material both you and your neighbors regard as a good-looking property improvement makes drawing the line easier. Paint or plant? Pound or dig? There are lots of handsome ways to solve the problem.


1 Comment

  1. Anna Picket March 1, 2016 at 1:17 am

    The fact that most fences don’t need much maintenance is a definite plus in my book. I don’t have much of a green thumb, either. While I think hedges can be pretty, I’d probably kill it off fairly quickly. Because of that, we’ll probably go with the fencing option.

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