What Are the Best Living Fence Plants for Your Yard?

well landscaped lawn with border hedges

A low-maintenance living fence provides all the same benefits as a man-made fence while inviting a healthy relationship with local wildlife and the environment. From deciduous to evergreen, spiny to fruit-bearing, read on to discover the best plants for your living fence.

What is a Living Fence?

Living fences invite harmony with nature, creating a complete ecosystem. The natural barriers of a living fence comprise trees, shrubs, or vines instead of traditional materials like wood, chain-link, or wire. 

Trees or shrubs interlock, undergoing the self-grafting process of inosculation, to create complete privacy screens and natural windbreaks. Known as a living fence, agricultural fence, natural fence, or hedgerow, all of theseprovide the same benefits as a traditional fence with added greenery and require minimal maintenance once they mature.

Living fences offer many benefits to homeowners, including:

  • Reduced maintenance costs
  • A balanced ecosystem inviting beneficial pollinators
  • Natural wind and noise reduction
  • More nutrient-dense soil
  • Better outdoor living

Best Shrubs for a Living Fence

Shrubs make great choices for a living fence. These plants range in size from 3 to 15 feet tall and benefit small yards. Depending on your needs and climate, deciduous, evergreen, and coniferous species are available. Many shrub species require only annual trimming, making them a great low-maintenance option. 


boxwood bush

Photo credit: PxHere / CC0

Species: Buxus sempervirens, evergreen shrub
Appearance: Small, leathery, dark green to light green, oval-shaped foliage with dense branches
Height: 5 feet
USDA hardiness zones: 5-9


✓ Thick, durable branches for increased privacy
✓ Easy to prune into intricate shapes
✓ Very hardy
✓ Green year-round
✓ Drought-tolerant


✗ Slow-growing
✗ Susceptible to blight


Lilac bush
Photo credit: Famartin / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Species: Syringa vulgaris, deciduous shrub
Appearance: Fragrant, multi-stemmed shrub with clusters of white, light purple, or dark purple flowers in spring and dark green leaves
Height: Up to 15 feet
USDA hardiness zones: 3-8


✓ Fast-growing while young
✓ Can survive winter in most northern states
✓ Flowers invite pollinators and birds
✓ Aromatic


✗ Requires regular pruning
✗ Bare in winter


Photo credit: Famartin / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Species: Forsythia spp., deciduous shrub
Appearance: Rough, brown wood branches with small yellow blooms in early spring and pointed, yellow-green foliage
Height: 3-9 feet
USDA hardiness zones: 5-8


✓ Fast-growing at 2 or more feet per year
✓ Dense and flexible branches for easy weaving and privacy
✓ Low-maintenance
✓ Cold-hardy
✓ Salt- and drought-tolerant


✗ One short bloom per season
✗ Very common in landscaping
✗ Provide no advantages for local wildlife
✗ Bare in winter


close-up of holly bush
Photo credit: David Wagner / PublicDomainPictures.net / CC0

Species: Ilex aquifolium, evergreen shrub
Appearance: Glossy and spiny green leaves with red berries; white flowers bloom in spring and early summer
Height: Up to 15 feet
USDA hardiness zones: 5-9


✓ Moderate growth rates
✓ Dense foliage and branches for privacy
✓ Responsive to pruning
✓ No loose foliage or needles so great for pools and trafficked areas
✓ Red berries welcome birds and local wildlife
✓ Green year-round


✗ High maintenance to control height


Photo credit: Prahlad balaji / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Species: Euonymus japonicus, evergreen shrub
Appearance: Broad-leafed gold and green variegated leaves with yellow markings; small star-shaped white flowers bloom in midsummer; produces small pink fruit in midfall
Height: Up to 8 feet
USDA hardiness zones: 6 and 7


✓ Hardy
✓ Low-maintenance
✓ Tolerates low-quality soil
✓ Green year-round
✓ Summer flowers invite pollinators
✓ Responds well to pruning


✗ Prefers warm temperatures, cannot grow in dry cold climates
✗ Will not produce fruit when planted in shade
✗ Fruit is toxic to humans and pets


bench in a park in front of a hedge border
Photo credit: kaboompics / Pixabay / License

Species: Ligustrum spp., semi-evergreen shrub
Appearance: Small, glossy, oval leaves in shades of green or yellow; white flowers bloom in spring and early summer
Height: 10-12 feet
USDA hardiness zones: 3-8


✓ Fast-growing
✓ Dense, flexible foliage creates a natural privacy fence
✓ Hardy
✓ Blooms attract pollinators


✗ Semi-evergreen: can lose its leaves in the cold winter months, leaving dense branches
✗ High maintenance compared to many natural privacy fence options requiring regular pruning
✗ Best for warm climates
✗ Poisonous to humans and pets
✗ Invasive species in some areas

Best Trees for a Living Fence

While shrubs make great living fences and natural boundaries, trees provide more privacy. A natural fence grown from trees is a sustainable and eco-friendly alternative to traditional privacy fences. 

“Green Giant” Arborvitae

“Green Giant” Arborvitae
Photo credit: Beatrice Lotesoriere / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Species: Thuja occidentalis, coniferous evergreen tree
Appearance: Soft, flat, needle leaves ranging from dark green to golden yellow; small rose-bud-shaped cones emerge in early summer
Height: 20-40 feet
USDA hardiness zones: 2-7


✓ Fast-growing
✓ Soft and dense foliage makes an excellent privacy screen and windbreak
✓ Cold-hardy
✓ Beneficial to local wildlife
✓ Low-maintenance
✓ Green year-round


✗ Most suited to larger yards
✗ Low salt and drought tolerance
✗ Overused in landscaping design
✗ Not suitable for areas with deer


Yew tree with small red berries
Photo Credit: GlacierNPS / Flickr / Public Domain

Species: Taxus, evergreen tree
Appearance: Straight, dark green leaves with small needles and red-brown bark; produces red berries in spring
Height: 8-12 feet
USDA hardiness zones: 4-8


✓ Low-maintenance
✓ Dense privacy screen
✓ No seasonal differences in appearance
✓ Hardy
✓ Customizable, responsive to pruning


✗ Slow-growth habit
✗ Female trees contain highly poisonous red berries

Weeping Willow

large weeping willow tree
Photo Credit: Terrence Hatch / PublicDomainPictures.net / CC0

Species: Salix babylonica, deciduous tree
Appearance: Long, narrow, light green leaves on sweeping branches; produces yellow flowers in spring
Height: 35-45 feet
USDA hardiness zones: 6-8


✓ Considered one of the fastest-growing plants, growing up to 6 feet per year
✓ Reaches mature height in 5 years
✓ Pliable branches for weaving and increased privacy
✓ Tolerates moist conditions and winter temperatures
✓ Dense foliage for natural windbreak
✓ Provides food and habitat for local wildlife


✗ Can grow up to 75 feet tall if improperly spaced
✗ Requires a lot of water
✗ Invasive roots will seek moisture if not sufficiently watered


close-up of Juniper berries
Photo Credit: Alexey Kurilovich / Unsplash / License

Species: Juniperus communis, coniferous evergreen tree
Appearance: Needle-like, blue-green leaves and aromatic berries; blooms from late winter into early spring
Height: 15-40 feet
USDA hardiness zones: 3-9


✓ Hardy
✓ Heat- and cold-resistant
✓ Dense growth for living privacy fences
✓ Narrow form makes planting in a line easy
✓ One of the top 10 plants for wildlife


✗ Develops bare spots if improperly pruned
✗ Attract insects
✗ High sap content

Leyland Cypress

Leyland Cyprus
Photo Credit:  busypix / Canva Pro / License

Species: Cupressus x leylandii, coniferous evergreen tree
Appearance: Soft dark green to blue-green needles set in sprays; produces small, half-inch cones in spring
Height: 40-60 feet
USDA hardiness zones: 6-10


✓ Great for large backyards
✓ Fast-growing
✓ Extremely dense foliage and branches block wind, snow, and noise
✓ Adapted to hot summers and dry climates
✓ Responsive to pruning, many owners prune to 10 to 15 feet


✗ Shallow roots are susceptible to root rot
✗ Can encroach on neighboring properties quickly
✗ High maintenance

Other Plants to Consider for a Living Fence

You can use many plant types to create a living wall, including a combination of species. Some homeowners liven their outdoor spaces by covering existing, man-made fences with greenery to create a more eye-pleasing fence line. 


Photo Credit: Pixabay / Pexels / License

Species: Bambusoideae, grass plant
Appearance: Light brown to greenish-yellow cane stalks with long, slender leaves
Height: 10-50 feet
USDA hardiness zones: 6-8


✓ One of the fastest-growing plants, some varieties grow to maturity in a few months
✓ Extremely low maintenance
✓ Full foliage makes a good privacy screen


✗ Some varieties are invasive
✗ Spreads rapidly risking encroachment on neighboring properties

Japanese Laurel

Japanese Laurel
Photo Credit: u_kwwz368rmx / Pixabay / License

Species: Aucuba japonica, evergreen plant
Appearance: Leathery, bright green variegated leaves with yellow and brown markings; small, dark purple flowers and red berries bloom in spring
Height: 4-16 feet
USDA hardiness zones: 7-10


✓ Hardy, grows in all environments
✓ Thrives in conditions with high air pollution
✓ Salt-tolerant
✓ Flowers invite spring pollinators


✗ Red berries are poisonous to humans and pets
✗ Slow-growing
✗ Attracts deer


close-up of cacti
Photo Credit: Mikes Photography / Pixabay / License

Species: Pachycereus marginatus, cactus plant
Appearance: Dark green, columnar structure with spines; pink or green flowers bloom in spring, leading to yellow-red fruit
Height: 15 feet
USDA hardiness zones: 10


✓ Extremely low maintenance
✓ Natural wildlife deterrent


✗ Only grows in a few states
✗ Slow-growing

What to Look for in a Good Living Fence Plant

A strong natural fence relies on the trees, shrubs, or plants holding it together. Growing a living fence requires a little labor and a lot of patience. You can make the process easier by selecting the right type of plants for your new fence. 

Consider the following factors when making your selections: 

1. Go Native

You cannot go wrong selecting native species for your living fence. These plants support local wildlife, are not invasive, and grow well in your climate.

Ask yourself the following questions to help narrow down your choices:

  • What will the plants look like in your existing landscape? 
  • What type of soil do you have? 
  • Is your soil well-drained or wet?
  • Is your yard and climate shady or sunny? 

If you select plants outside of species native to your area, ensure they grow in your USDA zone.

2. Consider Purpose

Consider the purpose of your living fence. If it is purely decorative and a simple boundary marker, select any type of plant. If you need a natural deterrent from local wildlife like deer or coyotes, select plants with thorns or spines. 

If you need year-round privacy coverage, opt for evergreen species with tight, dense branches and foliage. For quicker results, select a faster-growing species. 

Many homeowners select a combination of species for their living fences. Evergreen trees make an excellent base. Plant faster-growing ornamental plants alongside for immediate coverage.  

3. Maintenance

Even the slowest-growing plant needs trimming eventually. When making your plant selections, consider the time you can dedicate to pruning your new fence. Low-maintenance varieties require only annual pruning. 

Ensure your living fence will not block traffic sight lines or encroach on neighboring properties by considering the height and spread of the species you select. Ensure your selections thrive when planted close together. 

FAQ About Living Fences

Is my property right for a living fence? 

It doesn’t matter how small or large your property is. If you have room for a man-made fence, you have room for a living wall. Simply select plants, shrubs, or trees native to your region in a size that works best for your yard — bushes for small yards, and taller, sprawling trees for larger properties.

When should I fertilize my living fence? 

Unlike many garden plants, trees do not need to be fertilized regularly. Fertilize the soil with a nitrogen-rich mixture before planting your seeds or saplings to ensure a healthy start. 

How fast will my living fence become a privacy screen?

Many fast-growing species can grow as much as 3 feet per year or more. However, all plants grow differently. Your unique climate, water, soil, and average sunlight will affect your growth rates. If privacy is your primary concern, consider planting fast-growing ornamental grass at the base of your living fence for increased density.

Looking for Living Fence Ideas?

Every outdoor space benefits from greenery and DIY landscape design. Privacy hedges create a natural living wall, providing many benefits while remaining low maintenance and aesthetically pleasing. 

If you need help selecting the best plants for your new living fence, Fence Gnome connects you to the best living fence pros near you to discover which hedge plants or trees are your best options.

Main photo credit: Max Rahubovskiy / Pexels / License

Kimberly Magerl

Kimberly Magerl is a writer and data analyst specializing in home improvement, DIY, roofing, and solar technologies. She enjoys growing vegetables in her garden, getting outdoors, and transforming her space with DIY projects. A resident of Texas, when she isn't gardening, Kimberly enjoys trying new recipes and cooking with her home-grown herbs.