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faster growing, non-invasive, tall perennials for zone 5

16 years ago

I have new neighbors who are relatively nice people but their small children are VERY nosey and talkative. I can't step out of my house without one of the dears asking "whatcha doin'?" If they aren't chatting with me, they're sitting and just staring as I do my yard work. This past spring I dug a new strip of garden space along the fence about 2.5 feet wide x 30 feet long and planted sunflowers, tithonia, "harry balls," and other tall annuals. I'd like to save myself some work this coming spring by planting 5+ ft. tall perennials, but they need to be fast growing to help block the view quickly. I'd also like to avoid anything that readily spreads. Any and all suggestions would be greatly appreciated! I'm in zone 5.


Comments (39)

  • justmetoo
    16 years ago

    Missouri Botanical Gardens plant finder search engine is one you can enter your zone, soil, sun, ect and get back a list of plant material, and then read about the root system, seeding ect. But why not just a privacy fence? By the time that you purchase perennials for a 30' length and give them time to mature, your cost of the fence and the 'instant' privacy it will bring would probably be well worth it.

    Little faces will just be peeking around maturing plantings, nothing you plant will give you instant 5 foot tall 30 foot length cover.

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  • linnea56 (zone 5b Chicago)
    16 years ago

    Asters and hollyhocks come to mind. But most probably need to be cut down in fall; you didn't need year round coverage, did you?

    One shrub-like perennial that grows at a demonic rate is Persicaria polymorpha. It starts up from the ground each year like a peony. Mine would easily get to 6 feet in no time if I didn't keep topping it. This can spread as wide as tall; but it's so easy to chop it can be shaped easily. It gets nicely bushy if you do this. It has plume like white flowers, blooms a lomg time. It has never seeded. It has attractive leaves and a nice shape. There are newer Persicarias that have been bred to be shorter; this one is the old form.

    As far as the kids are concerned, they will probably get used to you. We had neighbors like that once too. After 6 months they realized that whenever I was out there I was doing the same old thing. They lost interest. How about wearing headphones? They don't have to be connected to anything. That way you can pretend you can't hear them, maybe they would lose interest sooner.

  • laceyvail 6A, WV
    16 years ago

    I second Persicaria polymorpha, a great plant. Other very large perennials include Coreopsis tripteris (a native that gets some 6 -7 feet tall, with handsome foliage and butter yellow daisies in summer), Eupatorium 'Gateway', Persicaria 'Crimson Beauty', and ironweed (Vernonia). And then there are the large grasses, Miscanthus sp. and Erianthus ravennae.

    But a 2.5 foot bed is a very, very narrow bed, especially for a 30 foot length. I'd make your bed at least twice that at a minimum.

  • highalttransplant
    16 years ago

    As a gardener AND a mom of those little "dears", I have had this issue, and my solution was a sandbox. Once we established the fact that they COULD NOT dig in mommy's flower beds, they would happily dig in the sand while I worked in the yard.

    BTW my kids are only interested in the neighbors without children, when no one their age is around to play with. Adults really ARE boring to them : )

  • dirtdigger_2006
    16 years ago

    Heliantus "Lemon Queen". Gets tall and huge in no time flat. Mine grew to 5 feet and as wide in two years. Long time bloomer, nice yellow flowers 3-4" wide.

  • jan_wi5
    Original Author
    16 years ago

    Thanks to everyone for the wonderful suggestions so far. I'll definitely look into the plants mentioned.

    This was the second summer with the new neighbors which is why I dug the new garden last spring and planted the sunflowers, and other tall annuals. The kids have not shown any evidence of losing interest in chatting or watching but the plants afforded me some semblance of privacy for several weeks. You haven't lived until you've had 3 kids sitting on the hood of their car or standing on the bottom rung of the fence all watching your every move! As a matter of fact I was planting tulip bulbs over the weekend along the aforementioned fence and had the 4 year old talking my ear off! I don't want to be mean to the kids and would like to encourage their interest in gardening but most times I'd just like to enjoy the peace and solitude of my yard without the constant chatting or staring. The parents are VERY social and have company over 4-5 times a week so speaking to them is not an option. They wouldn't get it.

    If some other perennials (or shrubs) pop into mind, please let me know. Thanks.

  • leslie197
    16 years ago

    How about clematis? Maybe one of the hardy quick growing ones like Sweet Autumn or a tangutica (with little yellow lanterns) or maybe both, & or add a few more viticellas (lots of small dark purples, or pale bells, or deep rose) for additional color and create a green summer wall all along the fence. All are group 3, Hard Prune in late winter-early spring, and not tempermental at all.

    Sweet Autumn along the fence, another further down. Vine gets 20-30 ft long. Picture taken 9/19/06.


    Red one is Madame Julia Correvon, pale white & mauve is Betty Corning. (The Knockout Rose would work too in your space.) These were in full bloom on 6/18/06. These are only 6-8 footers, but very quick growers, long bloom period, & Betty can put out a lot of growth.


    Clematis tangutica - blooms all summer long, but seedheads put on quite a show too. 10 footer. Glows in the low sun of fall.


    Polish Spirit - another fast grower, this picture was taken in its 2nd year. Long blooming.

  • terrene
    16 years ago

    I second the Helianthus "Lemon Queen". I planted one this past Spring, it was a couple feet tall by June and I pinched the growing tips (so it would be more compact and hopefully wouldn't flop). By the end of August, this baby was 6 feet tall by 6 feet wide.

    I would go for a mix of shrubs and perennials so that you have instant privacy as soon as the leaves come out in the Spring. But I agree with laceyvail that your border is too narrow for most shrubs and large perennials.

    Tall ornamental grasses, especially the cold season ones like Calamagrostis "Karl Foerster" grow quickly in the Spring. Perhaps you could mix in some columnar evergreens like Arborvitae "Emerald Green". They are relatively fast growing too.

    Here is what my Lemon Queen looked like on August 31:


  • jan_wi5
    Original Author
    16 years ago

    I too agree that my border is a little narrow and will probably enlarge it about another foot or so. It was dug rather quickly last spring just so I could plant SOMETHING between me and the kids to get a little privacy. Because my entire lot is only 40 feet wide x 135 long I don't want to go too big but I can certainly spare another foot or two.

    Has anyone any experience with Boltonia?

  • linnea56 (zone 5b Chicago)
    16 years ago

    The Sweet Autumn clematis is a great plant. I had a couple that covered an arbor in a few years. The scent was heavenly. But it can only grow as tall as the fence. How tall is your fence? If the fence is wood you could nail on a wire mesh support to raise the range, but hardly for the whole length.

    terrene had great suggestions about mixing shrubs, perennials and grasses. Go for things you can shear or shape so they don't spread into your yard too much. When you widen the strip they will be a great background for shorter perennials.

    I can see why the kids have not given up. Their parents are talkers, too!

    I think boltonia is floppy, I don't have it but saw it in the botanic garden.

  • jxa44
    16 years ago

    jan, I just want to say i totally understand your situation. I have a very similar situation with my next door neighbors and children. my husband built me a wooden fence on the side of the property that we share with these neighbors -- the children haven taken to walking around the fence to the front side of the property and yelling to me from the street. I've got to get a better paying job so that I can afford to pay for the rest of the fencing :-\

  • michael_in_chicago
    16 years ago

    I second the clematis ideas. They can take up little ground space, and especially Sweet Autumn clematis can grow monstrously quickly.

  • Marie Tulin
    16 years ago

    If they were your own kids, you could say "I need some alone time" In any case, hinting does not work with kids. They do better with concrete statments. I guess if they brought that message back to their parents, it might well be misunderstood.

    I'll just second the observation that you need mass and height, and some early bloomers for privacy in the spring. Butterfly bushes (buddleia) may get winterkilled in your zone, and not reach full height until mid summer, at earliest. A factor to keep in mind in your design.

  • jan_wi5
    Original Author
    16 years ago

    jxa44, you hit the nail right on the head! No matter what, these kids will do ANYTHING to socialize. (Did I mention the trampoline they jump on so they can get high enough to be able to talk to me OVER just about any barrier I could put up?) I also have the problem of lack of funds to put up a proper 6 ft privacy fence along the entire 100 ft length of my lot that borders them. I'm not sure I could handle the claustophobic feel of a privacy fence anyway. That's why I got the idea of a "living fence."

    I like the clematis idea. I already have some that I can transplant in spring. Those, along with one or two other perennials and the replanting of sunflowers (perennial ones as well), tithonia, etc. should work again next year.

    linnea56, my fence is only 3 1/2 ft tall, sort of a split rail type. And now that you mentioned terrene's grass suggestion again, it reminded me of some I have planted behind my garage! Got it from a friend a couple years ago and at the time, didn't know where else to put it. But now I do!

    My juices seem to be flowing with all sorts of plans/plants for next spring! Thanks everyone and keep the ideas coming. MANY heads are better than one!

  • mnwsgal
    16 years ago

    Terrene, is that Helianthus 'Lemon Queen" just one plant?
    I have some seed to plant next year and don't need too many of those beautiful huge plants.


  • anna_beth
    16 years ago

    I will not suggest a perennial for your space but a fast growing, inexpensive hedge, such as privet. It would be there to screen you year round. It would require pruning though. You might find it less claustrophobic than a wooden privacy fence. Or an evergreen hedge - more costly and slower growing. If you like the loose, informal look of a perennial border, you could still have it in front of a formal hedge.

    I have loud neighbors, too, and when their child was young I practically stopped using my garden because of their constant yelling. And they were outside all the time from early morning till dusk. They did "get it" after a couple of years that they were a nuisance but those years were wasted for me. So if both you and your neighbor do not intend to move in the foreseable future, perhaps it would be a good idea to invest in something longer lasting than perennials? If you can afford it, do not wait until they "grow out of it" - they may - but years from now - or, more likely, they may not.

    I have a tall, informal spiraea vanhouttei hedge planted but it would too big for your lot - it is at least 5' wide. It works very well screening the property from the street.

  • jackied164 z6 MA
    16 years ago

    You will be somewhat challenged in spring through early summer with just perennials so maybe some shrubs would help. I have a border with many tall perennials and have often thought they could be a hedge. In this is a very vigorous shasta daisy that gets over 5' that would make a good hedge. In fact the way it grows I could create one next year from the 2 plants I bought 3 years ago. These plants have been split into 8 clumps that will need to be split again next spring. My phlox David gets well over 5' and is also very healthy and vigorous. From 3 little bare root plants 2 years ago I have a clump that is about 6' across. Joe Pye is a great huge perennial. Mine was over 7' this year. I also have a very vigorous monarda that gets nearly 6' high and may take over my whole yard. I also have a tall helenium that flowers in August when most plants are taking a break and boltonia which flowers a little later and before the asters. Both of these grow over 5'. Lilys can also get this tall if given rich soil. You could also consider hardy hibiscus although the flowers are so huge the pesky kids no doubt would be asking you about them. Annuals that could also help are cosmos and cleome. After a couple of light frosts mine are still standing tall and flowering.

    Good fences do indeed make good neighbors. I know I would consider putting a tall one in. The expense may seem worth while after being able to garden in peace.

  • laurelin
    16 years ago

    There have been a bunch of great suggestions here already, so I hesitated to put in my two cents, but why not? Ideas are inexpensive ;-)

    We have VERY loud neighbor kids behind us. Really, no single planting will damp down the noise. But a mix of perennials, annuals, grasses, and columnar shrubs (if you like their formal shape and can work them into your design) might give you the feeling of privacy.

    Some of the more upright grasses (Calamagrostis 'Karl Foerster,' any of the taller Miscanthus, some of the taller Panicum species) might work for you. There are strongly upright hollies and Arborvitae, small fruit bushes (blueberries, currants) that can be pruned to stay modest in size, dwarf lilacs (like 'Little Boy Blue'/'Wonderblue,' 'Tinkerbelle,' 'Miss Kim'), dwarf hydrangeas ('Pee Wee' is very nice), Rose of Sharon shrubs ('Blue Bird' is lovely) - there are many fine options.

    For perennials, I'll second/third/fourth the clematis idea - they make a great fence cover. I've got 'General Sikorski' on a partly shaded fence, but it wants more height than your average fence can provide, so I had to add bamboo trellis above the fence to accomodate it. I know there are shorter clematis varieties. Maximillian sunflowers (spelling?) get tall, and spread. Baptisia is almost a shrub by itself. Tall phlox, tall rudbeckias, tall asters (like 'Bluebird') for fall color. . . .

    Annuals can make a great quick screen: sunflowers you've already used, amaranth ('Hot Biscuits' will grow 6-7 feet tall, and quite dense), cannas (any taller variety will work), zinnias (some of the heirloom varieties are VERY tall). Again, many choices.

    You might also consider pole beans (don't laugh!). I use the heirloom variety 'Trionfo Violetto' to cover a short stretch of chain link fence. It's leaves are dusky dark greenish purple, the flowers are violet, and the beans are dark purple and quite tasty. It's a gorgeous plant, and makes a thick screen by mid-summer. You could grow tall snap peas, all kinds of beans, small gourds, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes - all kinds of veggies can be easily grown on a fence.

    Let us know what you think you might try next year - problem solving is part of the fun of gardening.


  • jan_wi5
    Original Author
    16 years ago

    laurelin, I really appreciate your ideas. One can never have too many. I did plant mini pumpkins and scarlet runner bean on two trellises along the fence last year. They worked out well. This was the first time I ever saw hummingbirds in my yard! What a treat!!!

    As for next year's plans... I think I'd like to try the perennial Helianthus Lemon Queen (anyone know where I can get some seed?), and some sort of clematis. I have one I can transplant from another fence but may get another variety. Then there's that miscanthus behind the garage than can be moved too. I also have a neighbor who is more than happy to share her Boltonia with me. I also have seed for butterfly bush that I bought last year but they don't seem to be reliably hardy up my way.

    I think I'm well on my way but please don't anyone think I wouldn't appreciate MORE ideas!

    Thanks to all!

  • zephirine_lyon
    16 years ago

    May I aslo suggest a NON-invasive bamboo?
    Fargesia muriellae is a zone 5-er, I think...
    Good luck with your game of hide and seek with your neighbours!

  • goodhors
    16 years ago

    I would second the fence. There are some fairly inexpensive wood panels that you could use. Sometimes you can find fence that is being removed or in the FREE section of the paper. Just haul it away. Even with the trampoline, you can smile and wave, then don't make eye contact while wearing a headset. Maybe a repeating tape in the player, "I am calm, enjoying my garden, smell the breeze" playing!!
    We have a 6ft privacy fence, have been enjoying it for quite a while. It really was worth the work and money. Removes visual distraction of the neighbors moving about, bounces their noises BACK at them. Best of all, it is a GREAT backdrop for all my plants!! I have a variety of Clematis, flowering plants and shrubs along the face of it to enjoy. I don't feel constricted with it, or closed in, but feel it is my basic blank slate to draw on. Everything contrasts nicely in front of it, so you can blend, add or contrast the plants to each other. At six feet, it holds up a huge clump of the Autumn Clematis, bright green all season till Fall bloom. Spring has the pink and yellow flowering Clematis going for weeks. Butterfly bushes are getting bigger and better blooming each year. In front of them are all the shorter height plants, blooming in their seasons. I added a bunch of annuals in the front row, kept the color going all season.

    An unmentioned suggestion were large Annuals. Yes more work, but HUGE reward in bulk pretty quick. Elephant Ear plants, Canna in all colors, Castor Oil Bean, all have great, full leafed foliage. Locally we are seeing more Hyacinth bean, grows tall on pole, trellis, LOTS of flowers. Could be a good filler until Clematis get going well.

    I have some hardy Chinese Rhubarb, great foliage filler in early season, BIG. Both pink and white flowering stalks. Mine are in semi-shade, so mostly gone by July. Do like a drink or damp soil. Rhubarb would work to let some of the Annuals fill in for later in season. Silver Lace Vine grows rapidly, very full with lovely flowers all season, hardy, not annual. However it can grow tremendously, may need pruning often to keep from taking over, needs a fence support.

    Personally, I would skip the grasses except as accents. What I have seen is leaf fullness down low, with stalks making the height. Stalks with seeds above are thin, airy, not a big blocking-sight-off, plant. They can add movement, are pretty, just not a fencing plant.

  • jannoel_gw
    16 years ago

    I'm zone 5. I "third" the idea of Sweet Autumn Clematis. I would also like to suggest Rudbeckia nitidia. It grows fast, has big leaves, blooms for most of the summer, and gets about 5 1/2 feet tall. I think the common name is something like Mexican hat.

  • shapiro
    16 years ago

    Privacy is a very important aspect of gardening. Nobody enjoys gardening in a fishbowl. I recommend a fence made of lattice on which you can grow tall things that block the view. While the perennials and roses are getting established, fill in with annuals like morning glories, etc.

  • vtandrea
    16 years ago

    Noisy neighbors with barking dogs and active kids can take the joy out of gardening. Our neighbors put up a fence shortly after moving in, but it isn't tall enough to block out either visual or auditory distractions. However, we've got a row of about 7 Tardiva Hydrangeas that have done a great job of "fencing" out all view of their yard along part of our border, and farther down, we have a line of lilacs, then a border of mixed grasses, then a row of spireas closer to the street. Now there's only one section where we have to see what's going on in their yard. I will have to figure out something for that part. Last year, one of the kids actually started to climb over the fence to retrieve a ball and would have landed in the middle of a clump of chelone if I hadn't stopped him. Hate to be scrooge, but there's a limit.

  • terrene
    16 years ago


    Yes that is just one plant! It got enormous. It was in a 2 gallon pot, I think. Great growth for a first season.

    I even pinched about half the shoots in June so it would be stockier, worried that it might flop over. But it didn't need any support at all.

    here is a closeup of the flowers - which the bumblebees love to pollinate. Hey that's an idea - maybe if you grow flowers the bees love to be around, the kids will stay away! ;)


  • jan_wi5
    Original Author
    16 years ago


    You did say that was a PERENNIAL Lemon Queen sunflower, right? I can't seem to find mention of it in any seed catalogs or plant sellers. Can you tell me where you purchased it?

    I got a couple of seed catalaogs over the holiday weekend and while perusing them had a thought. I found some blueberry bushes that reach 5-7 feet! Sounds like a yummy way to block the view. There was also a black sambucus Beauty Berry that looked quite nice. While this is a perennial forum, does anyone have any thoughts on these bushes? Thanks.

  • jan_wi5
    Original Author
    16 years ago

    Oops! That sambucus I was referring to in my previous entry is actually Black Beauty Elderberry.

  • terrene
    16 years ago

    Yes, it is a perennial sunflower. Here is a link to that gives you a summary of the plant. Says it is hardy to Zone 4. You can purchase it there too.

    I bought it in a 2 gallon pot, already started, at the local Mahoney's Nursery in the Boston area.

    I didn't save any seeds, not sure about starting it from seed. I only have room in the garden for one anyway - because I don't have a lot of full sun garden space.

    Here is a link that might be useful: Helianthus 'Lemon Queen'

  • mamasam60
    16 years ago

    Late in the game here. I would definitely stick some shrubs in there to fill in more quickly in the spring. I am also Zone 5, and my new favorite shrub is Ninebark (Physocarpus). Diablo and the smaller Summerwine both have lovely burgundy leaves and creamy white flowers in early summer.

    As far as discouraging the kids without being rude, have you considered arranging some kind of signal for the times you want to be left alone? Stick out a flag, or wear a hat. Call it your "quiet hat." Tell them it's your secret signal, and they might think it's a game. And as long as you don't wear your "quiet hat" every time you go out, you could have the best of both worlds.

    Always the optimist,

  • donna407
    15 years ago

    Trust me, I know where you are coming from. Try wearing an IPOD. When you notice the little darlings, point to the earplugs and mouth "sorry can't hear you" even if you have no music on. They learn quick.

  • susan926
    15 years ago


    I'm in the far northwest suburbs of Illinois, Long Grove to be exact and I have lots of cup plant which is a native. It grows upwards of 12 feet including the flowers and the leaves are massive. If you would like some seeds in the fall email me. We are not too far away from each other.

  • covella
    15 years ago

    By now you may have solved your problem, but the idea of shrubs would appeal to me. Use a thuja or 2, some chamaecyparis, and let the type 2 clematis run through them. They won't be strong enough to hold up the type 3 viticellas or sweet autumn. But you could have sections of fence for that. The problem with perennials is that you'll have kids talking to you and not enough plant material between you in the busiest gardening times of the year - spring and early summer. There are some great viburnums that you can prune. V.rhytidophyllum is even evergreen in mild years. Then there are the dwarf lilacs, weigela's, alberta apruce, hemlock which can take a lot of pruning to keep it small.

    At my house we have a row of lilacs between our driveway and the neighbors back yard that I keep at about 7 feet tall. Even in winter with no leaves on there is a natural fence with the trunks and branches.

  • katefisher
    15 years ago


    What did you do to amend this situation? I would like to hear your solution.

    On the fence note we have a neighbor who every single time she heard me walk through the rock in the end of our back yard would run over and jump in the swing and simply would not leave. At first I was nice until I realizeed she had nothing to do but watch me garden. This year we finished the fence in back and added a large locking gate. Finally I have a little solitude again. I realize that might sound terrible but if I want company, I will go over to her house and yard.

    I'm curious after reading all the posts to see how things turned out for you.


  • paulallen
    15 years ago

    Butterfly bushes helped me with a similar privacy problem. No luck with clematis. Artemesia, (wormwood), are mixed with the butterfly bushes. Good luck.

  • jan_wi5
    Original Author
    15 years ago

    I received 3 helianthus "lemon queen" for mother's day. Unfortunately 2 of them didn't make it, but the 3rd one did... just barely. Seems, as the plant was just taking off, a ball from over the fence broke most of it off. It has since regrown but hasn't bloomed yet. I also just received 2 replacements from the company my daughter bought the originals from and will plant them as soon as it stops raining. (I may just have to build an ark if it doesn't stop soon!) I've also acquired some Boltonia from a neighbor and bought a black sambucus. Let's see... from seed I started some perennial sunflowers and heliopsis. Most of the new perennials did pretty good this first year but I imagine they'll do even better in the coming years! In the meantime, to fill in the gaps until the perennials fill out I planted tithonia, annual sunflowers, along with scarlet runner beans. Next spring I'm going to transplant a clematis too. All in all it was a successful year keeping the little darlings at bay. They've also made friends in the neighborhood and, now that they're a little older, mom lets them go to the friends' houses so most of the time they're gone. Peace at last.

    Thanks to everyone for their suggestions!

  • 34eddddddddddddrs_gmail_com
    12 years ago

    Hi Jan,

    I was looking for some tall perennials to block an unsightly fence and I came across this thread. I see it's been over 4 years since you originally posted but I'm just wondering how things have developed. Would you mind posting a picture of your garden so we can see what it has evolved into?

    I enjoyed reading everyone's comments here.

  • pumpkin2010
    11 years ago

    I second Kitt's post. I also just found this thread, and I have the *exact* same problem as Jan, except it involves a fence-height trampoline and constant, loud, kid activity plus balls flying over the fence on an almost daily basis.

    I planted two Yellow Groove bamboo last fall and am looking forward to what they will do this spring (if they'll even make it), but I'm already realizing I need more height and screening ASAP. There were some great ideas presented above that I'll be looking into, but I'd love to hear an update on what you did and how it worked out. :)

  • Linda Hollander
    5 years ago

    arborvitea-shrubs that are year round and can be shaped.