Selecting and Planting Hedges

Hedges serve several functions in the home landscape. Hedges provide privacy, screen-off undesirable views, reduce winds, and trap snows. Hedges are commonly used to mark boundaries, direct pedestrian traffic, and as barriers. They also provide habitat for birds and other wildlife. Hedges can be deciduous or evergreen, sheared or unsheared (formal or natural), short or tall.

Before purchasing plants, home gardeners should carefully consider their landscape needs and the characteristics of the various shrubs. For example, deciduous shrubs drop their leaves in the fall and are effective screens mainly during the growing season. Evergreens provide good screening all year. Gardeners considering a sheared, formal hedge should realize that they may need to be pruned (sheared) several times a year to remain attractive. In comparison, an informal, natural hedge is relatively low maintenance. Select shrubs that grow to the desired height. Planting a tall-maturing shrub where a short, informal hedge is desired creates unnecessary work. Many landscaping problems can be prevented by selecting the correct planting material.

Purchase plant material from a reliable garden center or mailorder nursery. Bare-root material is the most economical type of nursery stock when planting a deciduous hedge. Container-grown and balled and burlapped material are the best choices for evergreen hedges.

Spring (late March through May) is the best time to plant a hedge. Bare-root material should be planted before the buds break and growth begins. Spring planting is also preferable for container-grown and balled and burlapped plant material.

Plant spacing is determined by the plant species and hedge type. Plants in a sheared, formal hedge are generally planted 1 to 2 1/2 feet apart. Shrubs in an unsheared, natural hedge should be spaced further apart. A spacing of 2 to 4 feet is appropriate for medium-sized (6 to 8 feet tall) shrubs. Large shrubs (8 to 12 feet tall) can be spaced 4 to 6 feet apart.

To achieve a dense, full hedge, deciduous plants should be pruned back severely at planting time. Cut the plants back to within 6 to 8 inches of the ground when planting both formal and natural hedges. This will induce vigorous growth close to the ground. Evergreens require little or no pruning at planting.

Deciduous shrubs suitable for hedges include Amur maple (Acer ginnala), gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa), redosier dogwood (Cornus sericea), winged euonymus (Euonymus alatus), beautybush (Kolkwitzia amabilis), Amur privet (Ligustrum amurense), eastern ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius), alpine currant (Ribes alpinum), Vanhoutte spirea (Spiraea x vanhouttei), lilacs (Syringa species), arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum), and American cranberrybush viburnum (Viburnum trilobum). Evergreen shrubs suitable for hedges include junipers (Juniperus species), yews (Taxus species), and arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis).

This article originally appeared in the March 31, 1995 issue, p. 34.

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