Fencing hacks: Secret ways to put up a fence without actually putting up a fence

Updated Oct 12 2015
meggyfin
What that? That's not a fence, that's just my cactus garden! (Photo by: Boris KasimovCC BY 2.0)

We featured a fabulous post about how to create a safe space for yourself when you're living in an un-safe environment. One of the issues was that of not being allowed to put up a fence, when you desperately need one — to discourage neighborhood dogs from overrunning the yard, to keep weird neighbors from invading your privacy, or even to keep your own dogs (or kids) from joining said neighborhood pack.

Offbeat Homies to the rescue! So many of you suggested awesome non-fence-type fencing that I thought I'd share the good advice…

For visible fence hacks

Could you plant trees like cypresses to make a virtual fence in your backyard? They grow quickly, and a leyland cyprus would block the view. Prickly plants like roses would work for the front yard and still would look pretty while keeping the pups out. –Chrissy
With shrubs, run wire as fencing inside the bushes that your neighbors can't see, but that will keep invading animals (or people) out! My mom did this in her shrubs to keep the water company from walking through — and killing — her shrubs to check a meter (the opening in the shrubs is less than 10 feet away.) –Dootsie
There are certain plants that people plant beneath their windows that offer mild view obstruction, and can deter criminals — big rose bushes, cacti, crown of thorns (bonus for being pokey and poisonous), etc. -Cass
I would also recommend large cacti as fencing. This was actually used around General Vallejo's fort in the area I grew up in. And while they might be expensive to buy, over time they create an excellent and scary barrier no fence can compete with. -ZsaZsa
My grandma had a 'wall' of cacti around the chicken coop to fend off strays and predators. It worked. I also recommend bamboo: yeah it spreads like a weed, but if you build boxes/barriers for it, it will become a tall and thick wall of sorts soon. -Tiffany

For invisible fence hacks:

As a professional gardener, I'm always looking for ways to keep pests out of yards. I'm going to try a vinegar fence. Essentially, pour a bunch of vinegar in a perimeter. Apparently dogs hate it. It'll mess up your grass, but no more than dogs already do. -Sara
Or, if the vinegar doesn't work, how about a motion activated sprinkler? -Jamie
[To keep dogs in] what about the virtual dog fences like this one. -Aldebrana

Keep 'em coming, kids! What other secret fencing hacks do you have in those brilliant noggins?

  1. If you are going to use plants as a barrier, consider using native plants (like cactus in the southwest US). Wind can spread invasive plants, like bamboo or arundo, which in turn, can outcompete native plants and wreak havoc on the local ecosystem.

    • Squash plants. Seriously, Pumpkins with their HUGE leaves deter dogs so much that my parents planted them all over the yard. Also, prevents the grass from getting as tall as quickly…

    • If you are in America, there are native cacti in almost any state. I would go to a local greenhouse and ask what grows in your area.
      I grew up in Michigan, and one house down the street had its entire front yard covered in cacti. I always marvelled at how it could survive the winter.
      Or think about plants like nettles and thistles, which grow just about anywhere.

  2. Perfect timing for me, I am planing to start my privacy fence this year!!!! Just a warning, unless you are willing to have a bamboo fence professionally instaled stay away from it, it is more invasive than anything you are most likely growing and not only it will take over your property (which you might be ok with) but it will also invade all your neighbour's yards! And law is on their side (recently read abou a case where property owners had to pay for removal of all invasive plant from the neighbourhood and also cover damage it caused- in Virginia….). As much as I love bamboo it is scary 🙁

    • We recently bought a house with bamboo in the yard. It's lovely where it's supposed to be, but it is EVERYWHERE. It's obvious that whoever planted it originally tried to put a barrier around it, but it must not have gone deep enough. All we can do at this point is mow over all the new stalks that come up in the lawn–and those suckers grow fast! I can only imagine it's all over the neighbors' yards too. Hopefully we're safe from lawsuits since we didn't plant it ourselves?

      All that to say: for the love of god be careful with bamboo.

    • Seconding this. The house I grew up in had bamboo along the property line on one side. My parents tried everything to try to get rid of it, and nothing worked. Even some not so environmentally friendly methods. One of my twice weekly chores was to pick the new shoots that ended up on out side before they got too big and started taking over our lawn.

      • That must be what's in our yard (in southern Germany). For some reason, it stays put – totally uncharacteristic for bamboo. 😉 Our dog likes to eat it, though, and it's a very small clump….

    • I think with bamboo (at least some types, not sure if this is for all types) you need to dig down at least three feet. Three. Feet. Times the width, times however long your fence will be. I'm too lazy for that kind of digging.

      If you like the idea of roses, there are some types that stay low to the ground. I had drift roses recommended to me and they're spreading nicely but staying under 18" tall. Your local ag extension may be able to help, or else you may have some local rose-specific gardening club that will have lots of knowledgeable, helpful people.

  3. When I first saw the title, I thought this was going to be about swordfighting. Not gonna lie…I'm was little disappointed when I realized it was about actual fences 😉

    • Hmm, mental picture of sword-fighting with cacti… Bringing more X-games-esque competitions to the Olympics. 🙂

  4. The "wireless" fences can work with some dogs, to keep them in. But, whether they are the *shock* style collars or the ones that make a sound or vibration, many dogs figure out they can blast past the border line and then the collar doesn't bother them any more. But it does make them less likely to come BACK to the yard when they're finished with their business, because the collar doesn't distinguish between "inside" the fence and "outside". It just buzzes, beeps, or zaps when you get close to crossing the line.

    • Actually, that depends on the kind of wireless fence. There are those where an electric cable is buried in the ground to make a perimeter, in which case you're right; once they get past the perimeter they're free. But there's also a kind that works more on a "radius". There is a base station in the house and you can set it to allow a different size radius. So if your dog goes past, say, 200 feet from the base station, they get a zap until they get back inside that radius zone….and it doesn't stop even if they move further away.

  5. Friendly independent garden center employee waving with information about bamboo! http://redwoodbarn.com/bambooallabout.html

    Also good shrubs/trees for making living fences (depending on where you are, I live in the sacramento valley) are xylosma (the compacta variety even has thorns, that'll teach 'em), oleander, pittosporum, privet (bleh I hate it but it works), callistemon, and a lot of citrus varieties if you don't mind having all the fruit. Meyer lemons and some kumquats have thorns. Pomegranate can also be used to make a screen or tall hedge and those are awfully poky too. Here's another page about good hedge/screen plants: http://redwoodbarn.com/DE_hedges.htm

    • Some grapefruit also have thorns. Big 4+ inch thorns.
      In a northern climate, you can get native locust trees which have thorns. (Although they have millions of teeny tiny leaves that are hard to rake in the fall.)

  6. What great timing… we're moving into a new rental house next month and want to do something like this. We're planning to plant forsythia down our side yard, because my mom will give it to us for free.

    A gorgeous but more permanent/time consuming option would be to espalier some trees (you normally see pear or apple trees) along the border. This isn't really something you could do in a rental.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Espalier

    • My parents' neighbors have had a forsythia "fence" for over 20 years. It is really pretty, and nicely separates the properties. But it really doesn't do much to stop any kind of human or animal.

  7. Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia milii) is totally not native unless you're in Madagascar, but it seems to grow well in planters and pots and also as trimmable hedges in warm climates, and has pretty little pink flowers and enormous terrifying spines. I live in Brazil, where it is ubiquitous in larger cities precisely because it's a pretty way to keep people and dogs out.

    • My parents have one in a pot which is kept inside (they live in upstate New York). They strategically placed the pot in front of the least secure window, just to deter would-be criminals.

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