Here are some ways to prettify a highly visible, but seemingly unsalvageable "dead wall" in your yard.

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It’s a problem that’s common to a lot of high-density residential neighborhoods: a dead wall.

You look out your window and what do you see? A concrete brick barrier about 5 feet away. Or maybe it’s a tall, wooden fence, the hind end of your garage or the bland stucco façade of the wall behind your pool. Ugh!

What can you do to prettify that highly visible, seemingly unsalvageable spot? Here are three suggestions.

1. Stack those plants

One easy solution that involves some creativity is a plant shelf.

A quick stroll through the internet reveals a wealth of options. The more difficult task is finding plants that will thrive in a very particular environment: a sheer canyon created by two buildings standing cheek to jowl, for example.

“If you have any kind of light at all you could go with ivy or spathelia,” says Kelly Dougherty, manager at The Plant Stand in Costa Mesa, Calif. “Sansevieria trifasciata, also known as mother-in-law’s tongue, works too. I would say for darker areas you should go with dracaena, ferns, aglaonema or maybe a splash plant to give it a little color.

“For larger areas especially, I’m thinking something big and tropical.”

Those plants are used to constant shade, Dougherty says. “You could do schefflera. They grow tall and big and don’t need a lot of water. They call them the umbrella plant.”

Some flowers that people assume are good in darker locations actually struggle a bit if it’s too shady. “Impatiens need at least two hours a day or more of sun, so they might not work,” Dougherty says. “Crotons need an hour at least of sun per day.”

She suggests a tried-and-true method. “Buy plants when they’re on sale and see what thrives and what doesn’t.”

2. Go green and vertical

If you’re feeling more ambitious, you might want to cover that ugly space with a living wall, a riot of plants and flowers embedded in a grid that’s fastened to the wall.

“Commercially, it’s huge, and that emergence has made them popular in homes,” says Robert Zacks, founder of Z Living Systems, which designs, makes and installs living walls.

Zacks’ creations can be fairly small — 50 square feet is a popular size for residential living walls — but no matter the size, it’s important to attach them to an appropriate surface, he says.

“There are a multitude of systems out there that weigh anywhere from 7 to 40 pounds per square foot. Some systems are made of metal or plastic; others consist of a capillary fabric. A wooden fence isn’t an appropriate surface for a living wall.” A fence made of wood could support a smaller DIY green wall, though, Zacks says.

Most plants in your garden also will grow in a living wall, he says. But the same rules of heat and shade apply. Succulents won’t thrive on a cool, shady, north-facing wall, and petunias will wither in the full heat and light of a south-facing wall.

“Almost every living wall has some type of drip irrigation system on a timer,” Zacks says. If your living wall is relatively small — say, 8 feet square or less — you can tap in to your existing irrigation system. Any bigger, Zacks warns, and it needs a dedicated line.

Maintenance can be fairly easy depending on how you want your wall to look. “Think of it like your lawn,” Zacks says. “If you like things manicured, then you need to tend to it once a week. If you like things a little more unruly and wild, then once a month will do.”

The cost depends on many factors, including location, shape and materials. “The bigger you go, the more cost-effective it is,” Zacks says. His prices range from $80 to $150 per square foot.

3. Picture this

If plants aren’t your thing, how about covering an ugly wall with a pretty picture?

Wall Sensations offers hundreds of images for clients to choose from: lush landscapes, rugged mountains, desert scenes, paradisiacal beaches, golf courses and waterfalls. They can be attached to a variety of wall surfaces, from brick to concrete, wood, fencing or metal. The chosen image is blown up without losing its fidelity and reproduced on supermesh, a heavy-duty fabric made of vinyl mesh that’s lightweight, flame-resistant, waterproof and fade-resistant.

“The resolution is extremely sharp,” says Wall Sensations co-founder Paul Guthart. “Our average dpi (dots per inch) is about 50. Even when you’re up close you won’t see the pixilation.”

Wall Sensations’ outdoor photo murals can cover a wall up to 10 feet high by 150 feet long without a seam. Once a customer decides on a photo, Wall Sensations sends an associate out to measure the wall and get the exact dimensions. The company also uses a custom-made app that can do instant mockups so you can immediately see what the wall mural will look like.

“We like to hand-hold our clients because it’s a personal statement and a custom piece of work,” Guthart says.
The cost depends on the size of the job. Outdoor heavy-duty vinyl mesh ranges from $7.50 to $12.50 per square foot. The price includes professional installation.