What Plants Make A Good Sound Barrier? (Noise Cancelling Plants)


If you have loud neighbors or live near a busy street, you might be looking for ways to block some of the noise.  Using plants as a sound barrier is a good way to keep things a little more quiet.

A good sound barrier has a combination of ground cover, shrubs, and trees to block noise.  Creeping juniper or ivy make for good ground cover, while holly or laurel make good shrubs, and fir or pines make good trees for noise cancellation in a sound barrier.

Of course, there are lots of other plants you can use in a sound barrier to help cancel noise.  According to this article on ResearchGate, each plant has its own unique noise-reducing spectrum.

So, your best bet is to combine a few different plants for optimal noise reduction.  This has the added benefit of making your yard look great!

In this article, we’ll look at some of the best plants to use as sound barriers.  We’ll also talk about how to arrange things to get more sound protection in your yard.

Let’s get started.

What Plants Make Good Sound Barriers?

Plants act as sound barriers by absorbing and deflecting sound waves coming from cars on the road or from noisy neighbors.

Plants that have the following traits will make the best sound barriers:

  • Thick, dense foliage (big leaves that are packed close together, or closely spaced needles)
  • Lots of branches (ideally found both high and low on the plant)
  • Rough bark (coarse surfaces are better at absorbing sound)
  • Tall (these will block more noise as they grow)
  • Wide (so you can block more noise with fewer plants)
  • Evergreen (these will block noise in all seasons, since they don’t lose their leaves in winter)
  • Fast-growing (so that your privacy hedge will grow to full size much sooner)
hedge
An ideal sound barrier plant will have thick, dense, evergreen foliage to provide year-round sound reduction.

It’s hard to find plants that have all of these traits, so you’ll have to decide what is most important to you.

However, before you get started with choosing plants, it is important to prepare the site for your sound barrier.  A good first step in your plan is to add a berm.

A berm is just a mound of soil.  In this case, you would build it up along the length of your yard wherever the sound barrier would be planted.

Since you are going to be planting in the berm, you want the soil to support plant health.  Don’t use “dirt” or sand from a construction site.

Instead, use healthy topsoil from a garden center, or from elsewhere in your yard.  If you sift the debris out of the soil, the roots of your plants can grow without running into rocks.

Just be sure to consider drainage when adding a berm to your yard.  If you make it too tall, the resulting drainage might make it hard to keep plants properly watered.

You can plant any combination of noise-cancelling plants to create your sound barrier.  I would focus on these three main components:

  • Ground Cover (plants that stay short and crawl along the ground)
  • Shrubs (plants that have thick foliage and grow to a medium height)
  • Trees (the tallest plants in your sound barrier, which block sound that gets over shrubs)

Each type of plant can block noise at a different height level.  For added noise protection, you can add two layers of plants if you have the space.

Now we have an idea of the general setup – but what types of plants should you use to build a sound barrier?

What Can I Plant Outside to Reduce Noise? (Outdoor Plants for Noise Reduction)

There are lots of options for plants to create your sound barrier.  Depending on the look you are going for in your yard, you can choose a combination of trees, shrubs, and creeping plants that works best with your existing landscaping.

Let’s start off with the ground cover plants.

Ground Cover (Low Height)

These plants won’t grow too tall, but instead they will grow along the ground, creeping and crawling along to cover a large area.  That’s exactly what you want, since this will help to block noise that would otherwise travel under the branches of shrubs or trees.

  • Creeping Fig – also called climbing fig or fig ivy, ficus pumila has flowers and is a member of the mulberry family.  You can allow it to climb up trees or walls, or just restrict it to crawling along the ground.  As an added benefit, you can keep a creeping fig as a houseplant if you like.
  • Creeping Juniper – this cone-bearing plant is native to North America, and it grows only 4 to 12 inches tall.  However, it can spread out to 15 feet wide or more! 
  • Hosta – also called plantain lilies, these plants will tolerate shade.  This makes them ideal companions to shrubs or trees in your sound barrier that may block their sunlight.  They are easy to propagate (multiply) by splitting and replanting, so you can have the ground covered with hostas in no time.
  • Ivy – hedera is the scientific name for this well-known vining plant.  They are evergreen, and only grow 2 to 8 inches tall.  However, ivy can climb up walls, fences, or trees to amazing heights.  Their flowers will attract bees, which can help your vegetable garden or fruit trees if you have them.  Just be sure to keep the ivy trimmed, or it will grow out of control.
  • Siberian Cypress – this cone-bearing plant only grows 8 to 20 inches tall, but can spread up to 16 feet wide!  It can tolerate both drought and cold, making it ideal ground cover in colder northern regions.
creeping fig
You can let creeping fig crawl along the ground or encourage it to climb a fence to create a living wall for a sound barrier.

Shrubs (Medium Height, Less than 20 Feet)

These plants grow a bit taller than ground cover, but they won’t spread as far as creeping plants.  However, their taller height means that they will block some noise at a medium height.  You can match shrubs with ground cover and trees to get a landscape that provides both quiet and aesthetic appeal.

  • Camellia – this flowering shrub is native to Asia, with hundreds of species and thousands of hybrids.  The plant can grow quickly, gaining 1 foot of height per year.  Its flowers can be white, pink, or red.  It does best in acid soil, and it needs lots of water.
  • Holly – this slow-growing, flowering plant is best known for its red berries, which bring to mind Christmas decorations.  Holly can be evergreen or deciduous (loses leaves) depending on the variety.
  • Laurel – English laurel or cherry laurel is an evergreen species of cherry which can grow quite tall over time.  The dark green leaves have a shiny appearance and a leathery texture.  They can survive dry or shady conditions, and can be pruned to whatever shape you like.
  • Photinia – this plant is in the rose family and is related to apples.  Most species are evergreen with shiny leaves.  They produce fruit which may attract birds.
  • Viburnum – this plant produces flowers and fruit.  There are deciduous species that do better in cold climates, and evergreen species that do better in warm climates.
viburnum
Viburnum is a shrub that has some evergreen species to provide for year-round noise protection.

Trees (Tall Height, Over 20 Feet)

These plants will be the tallest ones in your sound barrier.  Their trunks can help shrubs to block noise at a medium height, and their branches will help to block noise at taller heights.  They are hard to move once they get going, so make sure to put them in the right place!

  • Arborvitae – also called Thuja, and technically a type of cedar.  These coniferous trees are evergreen, making them a good choice for a year-round sound barrier.  The leaves are thin and flat, almost like needles (but not as thin as pine needles).  These are very common in landscaping for their use as privacy hedges.
  • Bamboo – this plant is native to Asia, and is technically a member of the grass family.  The stems are hollow, and the plant grows fast.  In fact, bamboo can gain 3 feet of height in 24 hours, making them one of the fastest-growing plants in the world.  Just be careful about planting them where you might not want them.  Clumping bamboo is fine, but running bamboo is considered invasive.
  • Fir – a type of evergreen coniferous tree, which is related to cedar.  (Note that Douglas firs are not true firs).  Firs can grow to heights of over 250 feet, and the trunks can be 1 to 13 feet wide.  White firs and other first may have problems with caterpillars, which feed on the foliage.
  • Pine – these trees are conifers whose leaves are thin, green needles.  The wood of this tree is often used as lumber, but it can also serve a role in your sound barrier.  Like firs, pine trees can grow to 250 feet tall, and they can live for many years.
  • Spruce – another evergreen coniferous tree with needles, found in temperate and taiga regions.  They can grow up to 200 feet tall at maturity.
pine trees in winter
Pine trees have dense, thin needles, and can provide sound protection year-round.

What Else to Consider for Sound Barrier Plants

When choosing which plants to use for a sound barrier, you will also need to consider the following:

  • Zone Hardiness – Can the plant survive and thrive in your climate?  More specifically, can the plant survive in your yard?  Think about soil type, water and drainage, and sunlight.  This resource from the state of Maine has some information on plants and where they grow best.
  • Cost – How much per plant? Can you get a discount if you buy in bulk?)
  • Effort – How much work will it take to build the sound barrier?  If you hire help, it will cost a lot more.
  • Time – How long will it take to build the sound barrier?  Once it’s built, how long will it take to grow to full height and width?
rocky soil
Think about how much cost, effort, and time it will take before embarking on a project to build a sound barrier.

Just remember that installing a sound barrier today might not mean complete peace and quiet tomorrow.  According to the Oregon State University Extension:

“With proper planning and care, it takes approximately 4 to 8 years to establish an effective hedge.”

https://extension.oregonstate.edu/ask-expert/featured/whats-fast-growing-tree-privacy-screen

However, as the old saying goes, “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.  The 2nd best time is today.”

If you want more peace and quiet in your yard, don’t wait to put in a sound barrier!  It will give you comfort and improve your life, even if the payoff is a few years away.

The addition of a sound barrier can also add to the beauty of your yard, as long as you maintain it well.  In fact, a sound barrier may even add value to your property, offsetting some of the cost to install it.

Other Ways to Reduce or Block Noise

I understand that you might not want to wait around for years to get some relief from the noise around you.  In that case, you can try some of the following methods to provide peace a little sooner

Living Wall on a Fence

Plant some ivy, creeping fig, or other crawling vines along a fence.  Then, let them grow all the way up the fence and down the other side.

The result is a “living wall” that can serve as a temporary sound barrier for a few years until your shrubs and trees gain some height.  If you don’t have a fence, you can also put a long trellis against a stone wall or solid wooden fence to encourage the vines to climb.

Just be sure to check local bylaws to find out the maximum height for a fence before you build one.  If you cannot find the information online, call the Town Hall and ask.

Water Features

Water features may not block noise, but they can make it more bearable.  Some examples of water features are fountains or ponds with running water.

The sound of running water is relaxing and can take the edge off at the end of a long day.  Combined with a living wall or sound barrier, it can make you forget that you live in a noisy area close to a street.

Check out my article for more information on ways to reduce traffic noise in your garden.

Conclusion

Now you have some ideas about what types of plants you can use to create a sound barrier.  You also know what to look for to find plants that will survive and thrive in your climate and in your yard.

I hope you found this article helpful.  If so, please share it with someone who can use the information.

If you want to read some of my most popular posts, check out the “Best of GreenUpSide” page here.  Enjoy!

~Jonathon

jonathon.david.madore

Hi, I'm Jonathon. I’m the gardening guy (not guru!) who is encouraging everyone to spend more time in the garden. I try to help solve common gardening problems so that you can get the best harvest every year!

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