Picking the Right Evergreen for Your Hedge

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Picking the Right Evergreen for Your Hedge

Formal, hedge-shaped plantings may be the ideal garden form for your space – or they may grow into a difficult-to-maintain eyesore that leaves you full of regret.

In some cases, poorly selected hedging plants even send homeowners racing to the phone to find a gardening consultant to help them get rid of a nasty stink. So, before you grab just any evergreen “hedge” plant for your garden, consider these simple tips for success.
•    Big leaves or small leaves? When hedge plants are sheared, these cuts create thousands of cuts all over the outside of the plant. Lots of cuts made on small leaved shrubs like Osmanthus delavayi really don’t show up very much. But make those same cuts all over a large-leaved plant like English Laurel or English Holly, and your hedge will look rough and torn up all over until the next growth surge occurs in spring.

•    What’s your exposure? When selecting the right hedge plant, don’t forget to consider the environment in which it will grow. While a low Azalea hedge will work in part sun/part shade, a lavender row wants full sun to thrive.

•    I want a big hedge and I want it now! If you’re in a hurry to grow a privacy hedge, resist the urge to buy the fastest growing plant available at the nursery. While Leyland Cypress and English or Portugal Laurels may give you a thick, private environment in just a couple of years, those trees will continue to grow – with the potential to become 30+’ trees in a very short while, especially if they aren’t sheared consistently at least once a year – forever. Instead, choose something that will eventually reach your desired height but not exceed it. Sometimes bamboo, planted in a container, or a construction element (like a fence with an arbor) is your best bet for instant privacy.

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•    Give the plants room to grow. If you do go for an instant 6’ hedge using something like Arborvitae, be sure to space them to grow wide as well as tall. If you don’t, many will develop dead patches in their interior. Or you may find that every other plant simply gives up the ghost.

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• How slowly will a “slow grower” grow?  Starting with younger, smaller plants can provide a bit of relief to your pocket book, especially when installing plants like perennials and groundcovers. Unfortunately, many evergreen shrubs grow slowly. If you’re trying to build a hedge, starting with larger (and therefore more expensive) plants may be a better choice. Gorgeous evergreens like Evergreen Huckleberry can take years to put on just a few feet of growth.

• Love the flowers? Getting an evergreen hedge that blooms is an added bonus. Shrubs like Camellia sasanqua or Ceanothus can provide both evergreen privacy and beautiful blooms that don’t make a huge mess – just be sure you plan to shear your bloomers right after they flower. This will give them time to bloom before the cut and then recover from the trim and set up flowers to bloom another day.

• Less fruit is best. Plants that flower generally form some type of fruit. For hedges, most prefer to avoid planting shrubs that produce lots of messy fruit that drops to the ground. English and Portugal Laurels, members of the Cherry family, drop loads of messy fruit while Osmanthus sheds quite a bit less.

• Avoid the Stinky Shrubs. I can’t tell you how many times homeowners have asked me how to “get the neighborhood cats to stop peeing in their entry hedge”. The answer: “Get rid of the hedge.” Why? Well, the hedge itself emits an odor of urine. Shrubs like traditional boxwood and Tam juniper are notorious for smelling like urine, especially in direct sunlight. Instead, consider a small leaved Ilex crenata or Microbiota decussata.

• Fragrance is an option! Even a formal hedge can offer up fragrant foliage and flowers. Herbal Rosemary hedges in sunny spots are pungent year-round. Simple Sarcococca perfumes the air in late winter, plus it looks great in shady locations.