Hedges, do indeed, make the best neighbors. I’m not sure who the original author is of such an important tenet in landscape design, but it is one that we should all memorize and put into practice. Another important philosophy in garden design style is definition of space. Gardens should be clearly defined by their borders, their space, and their purpose.
Hedges definitely define the perimeters in the whole garden, and they can also create mini divisions inside the garden. Incorporating a hedge in a garden to hide another part of the garden adds drama and mystery. Discoveries can be made “beyond the hedge.” Hedges can also be used to hide an eyesore or an undesired view in the garden, like pool equipment, dog kennels, and storage areas. They can provide a wonderful way to screen the parking area, for example, from the formal garden. Hedges are one of the most important components of a beautiful landscape.
Factors to Consider
When entertaining the idea of installing a living hedge, consider several aspects. For example, what are the setbacks or tree zone rules for your neighborhood or city? In the city of Columbia, the tree zone is usually measured from the middle of the city street into the adjoining private property. The rules vary from street to street, so talk to a city official first. Mark where the tree zone or right of way is. You may be surprised just how far it comes onto your property. Plant the hedge on the inside of this right of way so that the city does not dig it up one day when repairing pipes or some other infrastructure. Also, make sure that the hedge does not interfere with any vision of traffic. Cars making turns or entering or leaving your property should not be hindered at all by the hedge. Test this in a small car that rides lower to the ground as well as a taller SUV. Consult a city inspector to make sure that adding the hedge will not hinder pedestrian or car traffic safety in any way!
Installing a Hedge is Not Unneighborly
Privacy and definition of space makes good neighbors. Be sure to know your property boundaries. Installing a hedge is not an unneighborly thing to do. It just defines each person’s property and adds privacy so that each part of the garden — yes, even the front yard — can be enjoyed. Hedges also make gardens more interesting because not everything is seen all at once. Exploration of the different areas behind these screens adds to the mystery and beauty of gardens of all sizes.
Types of Hedges
A formal type of hedge — planted of one particular type of shrub and pruned regularly to maintain a formal look — can be very effective and is always my first choice when designing a garden. However, Chris Freeman, a certified arborist among many other professional designations and the owner of Sox and Freeman Tree Expert Company, advises to plant hedges incorporating more than one type of shrub or tree. Remember when people were planting hedges of red tip photinia? Remember the dreaded black spot disease that killed most of the red tips? This is the main reason that Chris advises planting a variety of shrubbery and trees when installing a hedge. Should you plant a formal hedge of one variety and risk the onset of disease or heed Chris’s advice and plant a mixture of shrubs and trees? The formal choice of one variety usually wins. Monitor the health of the trees and shrubs closely, and it should be successful.
A low, formal hedge can be used to define a planting bed such as a parterre with roses. These hedges are usually planted with dwarf boxwoods such as ‘Wintergreen’ or ‘Baby Gem’ varieties. Also consider yaupon holly for a low, defining hedge. Any of the dwarf varieties are suitable for this type of application. These hedges provide the icing on the cake in a very formal garden. Use both hedge types together for a pleasing look. A formal tall hedge can be used to define the perimeter of the garden or the rooms in the garden. Then, use a low hedge to define all of the planting beds in the garden. These hedges definitely complement each other and work well together.
Viburnum macrophyllum is a great choice for a hedge planting. Viburnum is coarsely textured and can reach a mature height of 18 to 20 feet tall. A beautiful, dark, evergreen shrub with large, shiny leaves, it responds well to shearing. Viburnum grows quickly in sunny spots and can tolerate some light, shady areas. This plant is always my first choice when planning a tall hedge. Also consider cleyera, a smaller shrub than viburnum with a wider growth habit. A mature Cleyera japonica will grow to 8 to 10 feet tall and 5 to 6 feet wide. Cleyera is medium textured with dark green leaves. Cleyera also responds well to shearing, making it an ideal choice for a formal hedge.
Ligustrum, commonly seen in many Southern gardens, provides a smart choice for a hedge. Ligustrum is sometimes referred to as glossy privet or Japanese privet. Ligustrum can reach a mature height of 10 to 12 feet tall and a width of 6 to 7 feet wide. Ligustrum is coarse textured with lighter green leaves. They do bloom in the spring and can be quite beautiful when covered in white blooms. Some gardeners do not like the scent of the flowers, while others enjoy it. Ligustrum can be attacked by aphids, so monitor them for this annoying pest.
Another easy-to-grow shrub for a hedge is podocarpus. This shrub is erroneously called ‘yew,’ but it is definitely not a yew! Podocarpus macrophyllus is a dark green shrub with fine textured oval shaped leaves. It has a definite upright growth habit that works for a formal garden or a small garden. Podocarpus grows a little more slowly that viburnum, cleyera, and ligustrum, which may be an attractive attribute when installing a hedge. A podocarpus hedge would probably need a little less pruning than a faster growing hedge.
One other shrub to consider is dwarf Burford holly. The dwarf variety is a much more desirable shrub than the regular Burford holly. The leaves are darker and a much finer texture, and the shrubs themselves are more resistant to disease and insects than the regular variety. The dwarf variety, really not much of a dwarf at all, can reach a mature height of 12 feet. This shrub makes a beautiful, dense, dark green hedge. The plants respond well to shearing and may require one or two less prunings each year than the faster growing shrubs listed above.
These hedges are all of one type, not the mixed variety that is recommended by Chris Freeman. One approach would be to mix the above varieties and not prune the shrubs. This strategy would result in a beautiful hedge with different leaf colors, blooms, and textures. Only use this type of mixed hedge in a large space where each shrub can grow to maturity.
How to Plant a Hedge
Planting a hedge is a relatively easy gardening activity. After you have satisfied yourself that the hedge will not interfere with anyone entering or exiting the property and are sure that it is planted well within the tree zone, it is time to get started. Use string and stakes to lay out the bed line. Formal hedges are usually in a straight line, so that makes it even easier. The bed should be 48 to 60 inches wide to accommodate the plants. A holly hedge would need a 60-inch-wide bed, whereas a podocarpus hedge may only need a 48-inch-wide bed.
If the bed is going in an area where grass has been growing, the grass must be completely dug out. If the grass is healthy and easy to dig out, it could be used as sod in another part of the garden or given to a friend. Then use a tiller to dig up the soil. It is important to till, then rake, and then till again. Add organic matter, such as Erth Food or mushroom compost, and till that in also. Most of the plants in this article should be planted 4 feet on center. That means that the center of the plant (center of the trunk) should be 4 feet away from the center of the next plant. If you need to squeeze a little more out of your planting budget, you may certainly plant the shrubs 5 feet on center. That may save buying four, five, or even six plants, depending on the length of the hedge.
After planting the new bushes, make sure to water in each individual plant. Then you can rely on the irrigation system.
Irrigating the newly planted hedge the first year or two is absolutely essential for its survival. If you have an existing irrigation system, you can easily add a drip zone dedicated solely to watering the new hedge. That way the hedge can be watered more frequently than other established bushes in the garden. If the area does not have an existing irrigation system, you may want to get estimates for installing one or learn how to do it yourself. Many of our nurseries and garden centers have easy-to-install drip irrigation systems. If the hedge is not too long, you can buy soaker hoses at Lowe’s or Home Depot and twist them around each plant. Then, run a regular garden hose to the end of the soaker hose and connect to the hose bib. The soaker hose can be turned on manually or set to a timer to come on automatically. The rule here is to make sure that the new hedge gets watered regularly and evenly, especially during the first hot growing season. Monitor the plants daily, and they should thrive if they have been planted properly and are watered regularly.
Do not despair if your budget does not allow you to buy large, mature plants. Start small. Smaller plants acclimate better anyway, and you will be amazed how fast your hedge will grow into itself. We have a long growing season here in the Midlands. Take a photo when you first plant the hedge. In two years, you will be surprised at how mature it looks. Start planning that hedge now. And, remember the mantra: “Hedges make the best neighbors!”
Gardening Chores for the March Gardener
The garden is slowly beginning to wake up, so get ready for a wonderful month of gardening before it gets too hot.
• Examine your property. Would a hedge improve the look of your garden? Would it improve the way you can use and enjoy your garden? If so, start prepping for that hedge.
• Nurseries begin getting their first large deliveries of plants in early to mid March with beautiful and unusual blooming shrubs. Go see what they have, and find a place for something new.
• Continue redefining beds. Rake out old mulch and leaves to make the garden beds look nice and tidy.
• Now is the right time to divide overgrown or crowded perennials such as day lilies, coneflowers, or black-eyed Susans.
• Prune any overhanging limbs that are creating more shade than desired near your perennial, herb, or vegetable garden area.
• Cool season vegetables may still be planted during March.
• Redo the herb garden by replenishing any herbs that look scraggly and tired such as sage, rosemary, dill, or lavender.
• Complete any serious pruning by the end of March.
• Delay pruning azaleas, spirea, and similar plants until after they bloom.
• Fertilize with an organic fertilizer such as Plant-Tone or a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10.
• Check irrigation for leaks.
• Check lighting for bulbs that need to be replaced or fixtures that need to be repositioned.
• Cut branches of early blooming shrubs and bring inside to “force.”
• Get your tools organized and oiled. Have any nippers or loppers sharpened in anticipation of the busy gardening months to come.
Enjoy this peaceful rebirth in the garden.
Azalea, banana shrub, camellia, crabapple, dogwood, flowering apricot, quince, Indian hawthorne, spirea, and wisteria.