Plant Study: Hedges

  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate
Plant Study Hedges

I still remember the grand beech hedge I saw many years ago at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in Scotland.

Even in winter with no leaves, it made a strong statement. Ever since that time I have been keen on hedges!

Formal, informal, deciduous or evergreen, hedges serve many different roles in the landscape.  

Whether you plant a hedge for privacy, to create enclosure, or as a backdrop for other plantings, there are myriad choices of plants to use for hedging.    

Plant Study Hedges-hedge-and-wall

For an interesting effect, I like combining hedges with hardscapes such as gates and fences.   

Plant Study Hedges-Garden-Gate-with-hedges

Formal hedges
Formal style hedges may require trimming three or more times a year to maintain a particular shape. They can be sheared with electric hedge trimmers or hand shears like the Fiskars Quantum™ Hedge Shears. It is also a good idea to follow up with hand pruners to open up small pockets so light can get to the inside of the hedge, which will help promote growth. For the most effective formal hedges select plants with small needles or leaves and dense branching.


Some of the most beautiful hedges I’ve ever seen are growing at Sissinghurst Castle in England. They use hedges of different styles and types in creative ways. I have also seen gorgeous hedges of various heights throughout the U.S.  

Plant Study Hedges-Boxwood-hedge-with-Euphoria-and-roses

For shady gardens, eastern hemlock, Tsuga canadensis,  is an elegant choice. Other shade tolerant selections include many of the hollies like American holly, Ilex opaca, ‘Nellie R. Stevens’ holly, inkberry holly, Ilex glabra, and hybrids known as the blue hollies including ‘Blue Girl’ and ‘Blue Princess.’ Other needled evergreens to try include arborvitae and yews. Tea olive, Osmanthus fragrans, thrives  in part-shade or full sun. In addition to its evergreen foliage, it offers the bonus of sweetly scented flowers in autumn. For low hedges boxwood is easy to shape and maintain with judicious pruning; perfect for outlining a group of perennials or enclosing a flower bed.  


Deciduous trees and shrubs to consider for hedging include hornbeams, both the American, Carpinus caroliniana and the European hornbeam, particularly the fastigiate form, Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata.’  For low hedges, hedge maple, Acer campestre and forsythia, offer interesting foliage and in the case of forsythia flowers too.  

In my own garden I inherited a large overgrown holly hedge. It screens and encloses my (not very tidy) vegetable and fruit garden from people driving by. During the holidays, it is covered with bright red fruits, perfect for shearing off and using for decorations.  


Informal hedges
When we moved into our house about seven years ago I also inherited a ligustrum hedge. This past fall I hired someone to remove it. I know I won’t miss the flowers next spring which I am highly allergic to. For a replacement, I plan to add more blueberry plants (I already have six varieties) and create an informal hedge. With any luck I will have lots of blueberries every summer. And, in autumn these same plants will provide additional fall color when their leaves turn shades of red, orange and yellow. Maintaining a naturalistic style of hedge usually requires pruning only once a year.