Well-maintained hedges can be an attractive and practical addition to the home landscape. They can provide privacy, define lot boundaries and serve as wind breaks. Although many plants can be used as hedging, certain varieties respond better to the yearly pruning required to maintain the shape and fullness of most hedges.
There are many varieties of arborvitae that are perennial favorites as hedging plants due to their low maintenance requirements. Suitable for U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 2 through 7, arborvitae grows well across all temperate regions of North America. Several varieties of western red cedar or thuja plicata are excellent hedging plants. According to nursery professional Chris Hansen of Great Garden Plants Inc., the green giant variety of Thuja plicata is the best choice, being very hardy and growing an average of 3 feet per year. Arborvitae is a flexible hedging plant as it can be pruned to any height up to 30 feet while being kept uniformly narrow at the base.
For smaller hedges, common boxwood or Buxus sempervirens is best for plant hardiness zones 5 through 8. Boxwood is an evergreen with fine leaves and branches that grow together very tightly to form a dense uniform outer cover. Buxus sempervirens can be shaped into a beautiful hedge or topiary according to professional growers Kimberley and Roxanne Johannesen of Boxwood Garden in Oregon. Although a little slow growing, it makes a good ornamental hedge that easily holds the shape of sharp corners or curves. Hedging varieties usually grow to 3 feet in height and 18 to 24 inches wide.
English laurel or Prunus laurocerasus is an evergreen with dense bright green foliage. It typically grows 6 to 7 feet high and averages 8 feet iwide. It grows fairly quickly and is suitable for plant hardiness zones 5 to 9. The benefits of an English laurel hedge include privacy, sound buffering and wind protection. According to Irish gardening expert James Kilkelly, English laurel is an excellent hedging plant for shade and is very tolerant of generally poor growing conditions. On the downside, these hedges take up a lot of space due to their width and must be pruned faithfully to keep them under control.
The English yew or Taxus baccata is considered by many gardeners to be the ultimate ornamental plant for both hedges and topiary. According to Edward Gilman, associate professor of horticulture at the University of Florida, the dense, tightly woven crown makes the English yew the perfect hedging plant. Like all yew trees, Taxus baccata is slow growing. But when shaped and maintained, the end result makes the wait worthwhile. English yew is suitable for plant hardiness zones 5B to 7. Unfortunately English yew is one of the most expensive hedging plants and may be cost prohibitive for large gardens.