What are hedges?

Hedges are small trees or other plants that support a sheltering surface against wind and rain. They provide protection from the elements and protect homes from damage caused by winds, storms, hail, lightning strikes and floods. A hedge may also serve as a decorative feature in landscape design.

How do I grow hedges?

Growing hedges requires some planning and care. You will need to select a location where they will thrive. For example, if you want them to grow along the edge of your yard, then you must plant them at least six feet away from any house or building. If you wish to have them growing near the sidewalk, then they should be planted no closer than four feet from the curb line.

When planting hedges, choose plants with strong stems that will not bend easily. Choose plants that are easy to prune back when needed. Avoid selecting ones that require heavy watering because these can become root bound and cause problems later on. Select plants that are resistant to insects such as ants and caterpillars since they may attack the roots of your hedges.

Plants should be planted in well drained soil so they don’t rot easily or wilt under extreme heat or cold conditions.

Finally, keep the plants well weeded at least in the first two years after planting because weeds steal water, nutrients and sunlight that your hedges need to grow properly.

What can I plant as hedges?

There are many types of hedges you can plant in your yard. The most popular types are:

Most types of evergreen trees make excellent hedges if you want a quick privacy hedge that offers year round interest. They grow fairly quickly and can be trimmed to any height you want. Deciduous trees can also be used as a living hedge but they don’t provide as much privacy and will require more maintenance. They do, however, offer seasonal interest and some species have colorful foliage in the fall.

Shrubs can also be used and these will typically provide more privacy than a tree.

Shrubs such as forsythia, weigela and winter honeysuckle are easy to grow and can be pruned to shape. They provide color each spring with their flowers and offer a nice view in the summer.

Perennials such as bleeding heart, German iris, meadowsweet, peonies and trout lilies can also be used to create a hedge. Just be sure to keep them well weeded when they first start growing.

Tips for growing hedges

When planting your hedge you should create a rectangular frame four feet high and as wide as the bed is long. Fill the inside of this frame with soil that has been mixed with compost or other organic material such as rotted manure. Tamp the soil down firmly and then remove the rectangular frame.

Plant your hedge at least a foot away from the soil in the bed so there is room for it to grow without rubbing up against the soil in the bed. This also allows room for you to work in the bed when maintaining the hedge.

Water your hedge enough to keep the soil moist but not water logged. If your soil is on the sandy side, then water more than if it is clay. If your soil tends to be dry then dig a small hole in the bed and add some water permeable fabric or mulch such as pumice, lava rock or pea stone to help improve drainage in the soil under the hedge.

Fertilize your hedge with a low nitrogen fertilizer once a year in early spring. You can also use bone meal or compost instead of fertilizer as these are high in phosphorus and potassium which are the secondary and primary plant nutrients that most plants need to grow.

The first three years are the most important when it comes to pruning your hedge. In the first year you should remove any suckers that grow from the roots of your plants. These are roots that grow up from the base of the plant rather than out to the soil. In the second year you need to thin out the bottom half of your hedge so it doesn’t become too dense.

This allows more light and air to reach the inside branches. In the third year, trim away any branches that are growing inward toward the center and any other branches that are crossing or rubbing together.

Year four and beyond is for general upkeep, keeping your hedge at the desired height and keeping it tidy. Trim off any dead or diseased branches as needed.

Over the years your hedge will grow with little maintenance other than trimming as necessary to keep it tidy.

You can also grow flowers in amongst your hedge. Plant annuals in late spring and perennials in early spring. Space them far enough away from the hedge so they don’t get shaded out by the hedge as it grows and trim them back when necessary to keep them from blocking light to the hedge.

Living fences have been used for centuries to divide up property or simply to add an element of privacy. They are attractive, functional and with a little care they can last for decades.

If you have any other questions about living fences, feel free to contact me. Otherwise, happy gardening!

Sources & references used in this article:

Structural dynamic of a hedgerow network landscape in Brittany France by F Burel, J Baudry – Landscape ecology, 1990 – Springer

Effects of newly planted hedges on ground‐beetle diversity (Coleoptera, Carabidae) in an agricultural landscape by E Fournier, M Loreau – Ecography, 1999 – Wiley Online Library

Landscape-moderated importance of hedges in conserving farmland bird diversity of organic vs. conventional croplands and grasslands by P Batáry, T Matthiesen, T Tscharntke – Biological Conservation, 2010 – Elsevier

Dispersal of woody plants in forest edges and hedgerows in a Southern Swedish agricultural area: the role of site and landscape structure by ILS Herlin, GLA Fry – Landscape Ecology, 2000 – Springer

The influence of hedge structure, management and landscape context on the value of hedgerows to birds: a review by SA Hinsley, PE Bellamy – Journal of environmental management, 2000 – Elsevier

Respective roles of recent hedges and forest patch remnants in the maintenance of ground-beetle (Coleoptera: Carabidae) diversity in an agricultural landscape by E Fournier, M Loreau – Landscape ecology, 2001 – Springer

Influence of a hedge surrounding bottomland on seasonal soil‐water movement by V Caubel, C Grimaldi, P Merot… – Hydrological …, 2003 – Wiley Online Library

Evaluating the role of a protected area on hedgerow conservation: The case of a Spanish cultural landscape by MF Schmitz, C Herrero‐Jáuregui… – Land Degradation & …, 2017 – Wiley Online Library

Hedgerows and hedgerow networks in landscape ecology by RTT Forman, J Baudry – Environmental management, 1984 – Springer

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