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 natural (formal or informal), 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 mail-order nursery. Bare-root material is the most economical type of nursery stock when planting a hedge. However, bare-root plants are rather small. Container-grown and balled and burlapped plants are larger, but are more expensive.

Late March to mid-May is the best time to plant bare-root material. Bare-root material should be planted before the buds break and growth begins. The best planting times for container-grown and balled and burlapped shrubs are spring and late summer/early fall.

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 informal, 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 (8to 12 feet tall) can be spaced 4 to 6 feet apart.

Bare-root, deciduous shrubs should be pruned back severely at planting time to achieve a dense, full hedge. Cut the plants back to within 4 to 6 inches of the ground when planting both sheared and natural hedges. This will induce vigorous growth close to the ground.

The following is a list of deciduous (D) and evergreen (E) shrubs suitable for hedges.

Approximate
Height

Common and Scientific Name Hedge Type
Amur maple (D)
Acer ginnala
15 to 18 feet natural
Barberries (D)
Berberis species
1 to 5 feet natural or sheared
Boxwoods (E)
Buxus species
2 to 4 feet natural or sheared
Siberian peashrub (D)
Caragana arborescens
10 to 15 feet natural
Gray dogwood (D)
Cornus racemosa
10 to 15 feet natural
Redosier dogwood (D)
Cornus sericea
8 to 10 feet natural
Hedge cotoneaster (D)
Cotoneaster lucidus
6 to 8 feet natural or sheared
Burning bush (D)
Euonymus alatus
6 to 15 feet natural
Junipers (E)
Juniperus species
8 to 15 feet natural
Beautybush (D)
Kolkwitzia amabilis
8 to 10 feet natural
Amur privet (D)
Ligustrum amurense
10 to 12 feet natural or sheared
Eastern ninebark (D)
Physocarpus opulifolius
6 to 8 feet natural
Alpine currant (D)
Ribes alpinum
4 to 6 feet natural or sheared
Vanhoutte spirea (D)
Spiraea x vanhouttei
6 to 8 feet natural
Lilacs (D)
Syringa species
4 to 15 feet natural
Yews (E)
Taxus species
2 to 10 feet natural or sheared
American arborvitae (E)
Thuja occidentalis
3 to 15 feet natural or sheared
Arrowwood viburnum (D)
Viburnum dentatum
6 to 8 feet natural
American cranberrybush (D)
Viburnum trilobum
8 to 12 feet natural

The heights of mature, informal shrubs are provided above. Sheared plants can be kept at lower heights.

This article originally appeared in the March 22, 2002 issue, pp. 21-22.

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