Hedges are among the most versatile of plantings. They can be formal green walls, perfectly manicured and austere. They can be as rustic as a hedgerow, the long thickets used to divide fields throughout England, filled with a variety of shrubby plants and home to all sorts of wildlife. Choose a hedge to suit your home and landscape design. Also consider the benefits you hope to gain from a hedge, as well as the time you want to spend maintaining it.
Hedges add natural beauty to any landscape and are used for a variety of purposes. Tall, thick hedges make excellent windbreaks, reduce noise pollution and provide privacy. These hedges also keep children and pets inside the yard, and unwanted animals out. Smaller hedges cover unsightly foundations and add visual interest to the landscape.
For a formal setting, try a closely clipped, manicured hedge. These hedges create a tidy, traditional look and require frequent pruning. Good choices for a formal hedge include boxwood, privet and yew. Natural hedges are shrubs that have been planted to form a hedge, but are allowed to grow naturally with minimal pruning.
Plant small, trimmed hedges, such as boxwood, yew, euonymus or barberry 6 to 8 inches apart in a trench deep enough so the shrubs are planted at their original soil level. Plant medium-sized, natural hedge shrubs, such as flowering quince, dogwood and lilac, 24 to 36 inches apart. Plant large shrubs, such as conifer and juniper, as much as 6 feet apart. For a trimmed hedge 4 feet wide or more, plant a double row of shrubs, staggering them so the shrubs in the second row are placed between the shrubs in the first row.
Formal hedges need pruning early in the season before new growth has begun and once or twice throughout the growing season. Prune hedges so the hedge tops are narrower than the bottom. Cut hedges back each season by as much as 1/3 to promote bushy growth at the bottom. Prune natural hedges in early spring, or after flowering, to remove dead and diseased limbs and control growth. Prune evergreen shrubs such as pine and spruce by removing the new growth at the tips of the branches each spring. Then shape the shrub with pruning shears.
When selecting plants for a hedge, consider your needs. Ask yourself if you need a dense shrub for privacy or a windbreak Try viburnum, boxwood or a conifer. Small, attractive shrubs for a natural boundary include spirea, euonymus, barberry or St. John's wort. A formal, trimmed hedge requires much more maintenance than a natural hedge. Make sure you're willing to invest the time needed for upkeep before planting one.