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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Sunday - March 30, 2008

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Privacy Screening, Shrubs
Title: Noise buffering by native plants in Austin, TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I live in Austin in a neighborhood that is bordered on one side by highway 183 and on the other by MoPac and the train tracks. Even though I am least a three blocks from the closest highway, the traffic noise is horrific on all sides of my house, even at night. What might the best native plant or plants to put near the house to mitigate the noise coming inside and to plant around the perimeter of the property for the same purpose? I have a large yard, which I like, but I notice that the smaller properties, with smaller yards and close-by houses on all sides, are quieter because the buildings shield each other from the noise. Thank you for any suggestions.

ANSWER:

How refreshing, to not be asked for a deer-resistant plant, in the bargain. Perhaps the deer don't like the noise any more than you do. You probably already realize the mature, evergreen trees are probably the best noise buffer among plants that you could have. If you have large trees already on your property, coddle them. If you don't, although you could plant some, it would be years before they would get big enough to do you any good. So, we have selected some evergreen bushes, most of which are moderately fast-growing and dense. Take the links to each plant page and read its characteristics and see if it would fit your requirements in terms of placement, sun requirements, etc.

Several of these plants also have berries that will attract birds. You should be aware that the seeds of Sophora secundiflora (Texas mountain-laurel) are very poisonous.

Leucophyllum frutescens (Texas barometer bush)

Mahonia trifoliolata (agarita) - a very stickery bush, will also keep joggers from cutting across

Rhus virens (evergreen sumac)

Sophora secundiflora (Texas mountain-laurel) - slow growing

Morella cerifera (wax myrtle)

Ilex vomitoria (yaupon)

These shrubs will all do nicely in creating a perimeter hedge for buffering the noise. They are all native to Central Texas, and should do well with not too much maintenance in the Austin area. They could also be planted closer to the house, even in front of the windows, but this is going to cut out the interior daylight, which you probably don't want.

We are not in the business of recommending products, especially products that are not plant-related, but have you considered replacing your windows with double-paned windows that can more effectively shut out the sound? We understand that this is an expensive proposition, but in your location, it might be worth it. Here is an article on the advantages of double paned windows.


Leucophyllum frutescens

Mahonia trifoliolata

Rhus virens

Sophora secundiflora

Morella cerifera

Ilex vomitoria
 

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