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How to Grow a Hedge

Thuja hedge along a path
Thuja hedge along a path

A hedge is a living wall of continuous, close planted shrubs or trees. Hedges are used to protect and enclose a garden or as a division to set one part of the garden from another.

Hedge does not necessarily imply rigidly pruned and restrained growth, though it often is. A hedge can be formal and impeccably shaped and pruned or it can be informal, almost wild.

A pruned and shaped hedge belongs wherever a stone or similar wall might be used. An unsheared casual hedge belongs to a more free-and-easy environment—and requires more space.

Hedges are not strictly naturalistic because they are almost always composed of just one kind of plant. A natural hedgerow is commonly composed of more than one kind of plant.

Keep in mind when choosing hedge plants for any location: the untrimmed hedge can easily degenerate from a casual to untidy and wild.

Informal hedge of yellow flowering laburnum and lilac
Informal hedge of yellow flowering laburnum and lilac

Plants for Hedges

Hedges are often but not always composed of evergreen plants. Evergreens are plants that keep their foliage through all seasons. Deciduous plants can be used for a hedge, but in winter the absence of leaves will leave the hedge somewhat transparent—less of an enclosure or division.

Proportion is a consideration when selecting hedge plant material. Will the hedge be tall or short, wide or narrow? The growth habit—height and breadth—of a plant should be considered and so the size and color of leaves.

Small-leaved plants in a small or tight garden will offer an unbroken surface when clipped. Shearing or pruning large-leaved plants in a close situation will give a less finished appearance. Large-leaved plants bordering a street or property line may create the right density for that situation.

The first choice for a clipped hedge will almost always be an evergreen; the second choice will be a deciduous shrub or tree with deliberate woody growth. Flowering shrubs are effective for untrimmed hedges; blooms will be sacrificed in a sheared formal hedge.

Privets planted at 12 inch intervals

Planting a Hedge

Hedge plants are spaced according to the type of plant and the demands of the location. Deciduous plants should be planted as close as 9 to 12 inches (22-30cm) apart; this will yield a closely branched hedge during winter. Evergreens can be planted as close as 18 to 24 inches (45-60cm) apart. This close planting will yield an uninterrupted hedge in a year or so; in later years, as plants mature alternate plants can be removed.

Taper hedge sides so the bottom is wider than the top. Lower leaves will die and drop if they don’t get adequate light.

Hedge Form

The properly shaped hedge is narrower at the top than at the bottom. The sloping downward and outward sides will allow abundant sunlight to reach the lower branches which is important in preventing lower growth from dying back and giving the hedge an open, “leggy” look. A somewhat rounded top—rather than flat—will help the hedge shed snow instead of accumulating a heavy load that can bend or break branches.

Thuja hedge is pruned once or twice a year
Thuja hedge is pruned once or twice a year

Hedge Maintenance

To establish a tight, close hedge, clip, or shear along the sides of the plant but not between them.

Annual clipping of evergreen hedges can be done in late spring or early summer after initial seasonal growth is made. For a formal appearance, trim them again in midsummer. Evergreen hedges should never be severely pruned; simply shape them and once they have filled out maintain that shape.

Annual clipping of deciduous hedges should be done just as the first strong growth of the season is slowing down, in late spring or early summer. Clip deciduous hedges again in late summer after secondary growth is made and if the hedge is looking shaggy.

Shrubby potentilla hedge
Shrubby potentilla hedge

Shrubs for Hedges

Common NameBotanical NameZones
Abelia, glossyAbelia x grandiflora6-9
Arborvitae, EmeraldThuja occidentalis ‘Emerald’3-8
Azaleas, ExburyRhododendron Exbury hybrids4-8
Azalea, Northern LightsRhododendron ‘Northern Lights’4-7
Barberry, JapaneseBerberis thunbergii4-8
Bayberry, northernMyrica pensylvanica2-6
Boxwood, EnglishBuxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’6-8
Boxwood, Green BeautyBuxus microphylla ‘Green Beauty’5-9
Boxwood, KoreanBuxus microphylla koreana5-9
Boxwood, WintergreenBuxus microphylla ‘Wintergreen’4-6
Camellia, sasanquaCamellia sasanqua7-9
Cape honeysuckleTecomaria capensis10-11
CoralberrySymphoricarpos orbiculatus10-11
Currant, Green Mound alpineRibes alpinum ‘Green Mound’2-7
Dogwood, corneliancherryCornus mas4-8
Dogwood, grayCornus racemosa4-7
Euonymous, Manhattan spreadingEuonymous kiautschovicus “Manhattan’4-8
Firethorn, scarletPyracantha coccinea6-8
Firehorn, Yukon BellePyracantha angustifolia ‘Yukon Belle’5-9
Forsythia, borderForsythia x intermedia6-9
Hawthorn, IndianRhaphiolepis indica6-9
Hibiscus, ChineseHibiscus rosa-sinensis9-10
Holly, dwarf BurfordIlex cornuta ‘Bufordii Nana’6-9
Holly, dwarf YauponIlex vomitoria ‘Nana’7-10
Holly, Green LustreIlex crenata ‘Green Lustre’4-6
Holly, winterberryIlex verticillata3-9
HoneysucklesLonicera spp.Varies
Ixdora; jungle geraniumIxora coccinea10-11
Jasmine, downyJasminum multiforum9-10
Juniper, Parson’sJuniperus chinensis ‘Parsonii’3-9
Juniper, tamJuniperus sabina ‘Tamariscifolia’3-7
Laurel, cherryPrunus caroliniana6-9
Lilac, commonSyringa vulgaris3-7
Lilac, cutleafSyringa x laciniata4-8
Lilac, Miss KimSyringa patula ‘Miss Kim’3-7
Lilac, PersianSyringa x persica3-7
OleanderNerium oleander8-10
Photinia, redtipPhotinia x fraseri6-9
Pieris, JapanesePieris japonica5-8
Pieris, mountainPieris floribunda4-8
Pittosporum, JapanesePittosporum tobira8-10
Potentilla, shrubbyPotentilla fruticosa2-7
Privet, AmurLigustrum amurense3-7
Privet, Chinese variegatedLigustrum sinense7-10
Privet, golden vicaryLigustrum x vicaryi5-8
Privet, wax-leafLigustrum lucidum7-10
Rock rose, whiteCistus x hybrids8-10
Rose, Betty PriorRosa ‘Betty Prior’5-9
Rose, Graham ThomasRosa ‘Graham Thomas’5-9
Rose, IcebergRosa ‘Iceberg’4-9
Rose, PeaceRosa ‘Peace’5-9
Rose, Pink MeidilandRosa Pink Meidiland5-9
ServiceberryAmelanchier alnifolia4-5
SilverberryElaeagnus, pungens7-9
Spirea, baby’s breathSpirea thunbergii2-8
Spirea, VanhoutteSpirea x vanhouttei3-8
Spruce, dwarf AlbertaPicea glauca ‘Conica’3-8
Spruce, dwarf NorwayPicea abies ‘Pumila’3-8
Texas rangerLeucophyllum frutescens8-10
Viburnum, arrowwoodViburnum dentatun3-8
Viburnum, compact AmericanViburnum trilobum ‘Alfredo’2-7
Viburnum, sweetViburnum odoratissimum2-7
Yew, Hick’s uprightTaxus x media ‘Hicksii’4-7
Yew, Anglo-JapaneseTaxus x media ‘Densiformis’4-7
   

Also of interest:

How to Prune a Hedge

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How to Prune a Hedge