Flowering hedges provide far more than beautiful blossoms. Hedges also help create privacy and screens when the plants grow dense and compact. The main concern with growing a thick line of hedges is the maintenance involved in keeping the hedge trimmed, shaped and healthy. For gardeners who are up to the challenge, flowering hedges work beautifully.
A wide variety of flowering shrubs include Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) with its small yellowish flowers blooming in mid-May. The plant grows in almost any soil condition. Oriental quince (Chaenomeles) produces red, white, orange or pink flowers, depending on the variety planted, and requires little pruning, especially on the smaller types. Showy yellow flowers appearing in mid-April make forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia) a great choice for gardens that need windbreaks. Old-fashioned lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) with their sweet fragrance and beautiful pink, purple or white flowers appearing in the spring also make great hedges.
Most hedges are planted from containers or from bare root stock. The plants grow well in loamy, well-drained soil in full sun to partial shade. When planting a row of hedge plants, consider digging a trench instead of individual plant holes. For dense hedges, place the plants close together, keeping in mind the plant's requirements. Typically, small hedges require spacing of 6 to 8 inches apart while larger hedges need 18 to 30 inches between plants. For thicker screens, consider planting hedges in a double row. After planting deciduous shrubs, prune the plants to within 6 to 8 inches of the ground to allow the roots to establish themselves.
Newly planted flowering hedges require regular watering until the plants become well-established. Adding a thick layer of mulch helps retain moisture and keep the ground free of weeds. Most hedges require little or no fertilizer. Hedges that become overgrown may benefit from pruning the plants back to within 6 to 12 inches of the ground.
Keeping a hedge trimmed before it grows too tall helps the plant stay healthy and beautiful. Deciduous flowering hedges typically require reshaping twice per growing season. Plan on pruning when the plants reach their desired height and again later in the season. Vigorous hedges such as privet may require even more pruning. Plan on pruning stems at least six inches for every foot of growth. Prune the hedge to make sure the top does not become wider than the bottom, since wide tops create too much shade for the lower branches.
Flowering hedges work well for windbreaks and privacy screens. They also help mark boundaries along property lines, sidewalks and driveways. Some people use hedges to keep pets and children inside the property line. Hedges also work well to screen off less-than-beautiful areas. Birds and small mammals rely on hedges for temporary shelter and nesting, and some hedges provide food for hummingbirds, bees and butterflies.