Planting Noise Blockers: Best Plants For Noise Reduction In Landscapes
By: Jackie Carroll
The most visually appealing way to block noise is with a dense growth of plants. Noise blocking plants are especially useful in urban areas where refracted noise from hard surfaces, such as buildings and pavement, are problematic. An advantage to using plants as noise blockers is that they absorb sounds best in the high frequencies that people find most annoying. Let’s take a closer look at using noise reducing plants.
Planting Noise Blockers
You should plant noise reducing plants as you would a hedge. Space them so that there won’t be gaps between the plants when they reach maturity.
You can even install dense layers of plants to provide optimum noise protection. Begin with a row of shrubs nearest the noise and plant a row of taller shrubs or trees behind them. Finish with a row of showy shrubs that face your home or garden. Choose the inside shrubs for their visual impact, fragrance, fall color, and other desirable features. Consider how the appearance of the shrubs will complement your overall landscape design.
For best results, plant noise blocking plants on a berm. Mound the soil as high as possible with a flat top at least 20 feet (3 m.) wide. The ideal height is 3 to 4 feet (around 1 m.) with sides that slope about 10 percent. A combination of a berm and a dense planting can reduce noise by as much as 6 to 15 decibels.
Shrubs and Trees as a Noise Barrier
Evergreen shrubs make the best plants for noise because they provide year-round noise reduction. Broadleaf evergreens are more effective than narrow-leaf plants and conifers. Choose trees and shrubs with dense branches that reach all the way to the ground. Plants, such as hollies and junipers, that have thick branches at ground level provide excellent noise reduction.
Additionally, a solid wall is more effective at blocking noise than plants. Combine form and function by using plants along a wall.
When the plants don’t reduce noise enough, try adding sounds that mask unpleasant noises. Flowing water is very effective at masking unpleasant noise. A garden fountain or waterfall is well worth the time and expense of installation. Weatherproof speakers allow you to add soothing sounds to the garden too. Many are designed to mimic natural garden features such as rocks.
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How to Landscape to Block Noise
Whether you're tired of listening to your neighbor's conversations or live too close to a noisy street or market, landscaping can help you create a private, quiet outdoor retreat. To effectively block noise, the landscaping you choose should obstruct the line of sight from your living area to the noise source. For example, if you live near a busy street, your barrier should be taller than the top of the large trucks that regularly pass your home. Noise-reducing landscaping also provides privacy, which can be especially helpful in urban neighborhoods with houses built close together. No landscaping can completely block nearby noise, but there are ways to reduce it and help you regain your outdoor space.
Plant evergreen trees and shrubs, because trees that lose their leaves in winter allow noise to penetrate. Choose fast-growing evergreen trees such as a Leyland cypress, which can grow up to 4 feet per year in mild climates such as northern California. Supplement the trees with shrubs such as hardy boxwoods, to help block noise below the cypress branches. Shrubs also create a second layer of noise protection the deeper your plant barrier, the better the noise reduction. Trim cypress or boxwoods into shapes for a more finished look or let them grow naturally up and out.
Build a wall or fence of wood, stone or brick. Choose a material that works best with your property's size and design. Build a solid wall without large spaces between wood slats or decorative holes, as both allow noise to penetrate. Use a wood fence, requiring a narrow footprint, for a small yard. Build a rock or brick wall if space allows rock and brick walls are usually thick, and often thicker at the bottom to create stability.
Install a fountain close to where you typically stay outside, such as near your patio furniture. Place a fountain under or near your windows if you like to keep your windows open and noise is a problem indoors. Create a simple fountain out of a bird bath or copper spigot and small basin fitted with a recirculation pump, or buy an elaborate granite statue that serves as a focal point. The pleasant white noise of the gurgling fountain helps drown out other noises.
Your noise-cancelling weapon of choice
When it comes to soundproofing your garden from traffic noise, there are two methods that you can choose from – sound attenuation and sound deflection.
Sound attenuation is the process of converting sound into heat. In layman’s terms, attenuation functions as a sponge that absorbs sound waves, reducing their volume. This method is pretty good at muffling noise without removing it completely. An easy way to achieve that would be to position thick shrubs strategically around your garden.
Sound deflection does what the name suggests. One of the ways to reduce traffic noise is installing a tall garden fence. This way the sound waves will hit the barrier and bounce back off it. This is the superior method when it comes to blocking out traffic noise in your garden, but also the more expensive one.
Noise barrier factors that come into play
Now that you’re acquainted with how barriers work, it’s time to move on to the factors that help determine how effective they are.
- Height – It’s preferable for the height of the barrier to be around 2 meters for it to proficiently block outside noise. A tall fence is less likely to let noise roll over it. As the saying goes “out of sight, out of mind”.
- Density/Rigidity – As you might have already guessed, the denser a fence is, the less noise it will let slip through. If you’re living close to a busy street, it might be a good idea to invest in a fairly thick wall which will surely pay off down the line.
- Coverage – A solid barrier is one without any holes in the base or in the middle. If your fence has holes, those are probably letting more sound in than you might think.
- Barrier Placement – The placement of the fence plays a huge role in how effective it will be. To get maximum results, barriers should be placed as close as possible to the noise source.
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Talk to Your Noisy Neighbors
The quickest and most hassle-free way to fix a problem like this is to go to its source.
After all, not all noisy neighbors are inconsiderate or rude folk. All too often, noisy neighbors just don’t realize that they’re being noisy, or that it’s bothering you. We have different ideas of what we think of as “noisy” and it’s a little unfair to expect your neighbors to be mind-readers.
In short, if you think that there is a chance that talking to your neighbor can fix this problem, go for it!
While you should, of course, try to resolve the problem amicably, if your neighbors don’t appear to care and are often being noisy in their yards (by, say, doing housework every other day!), then calling the police is always an option.
You can also use plants indoors to reduce sound wave reverberation time and cut noise. Indoor plants absorb, diffract and reflect noise in homes and offices, according to the European Federation of Interior Landscape Groups. Using potted plants to reduce noise levels works best in rooms full of hard surfaces, such as stone floors or marble walls, and may not be as effective in rooms equipped with carpet and plenty of cushioned surfaces. Spread plants around the room, focusing on corners and areas near walls for best results.