A guide to garden hedges

Learn what to consider when planting hedges, plus check out five fabulous plants for hedging. 

By Frankie Flowers

Guide to garden hedges
I like to call them green fences or living walls. Garden hedges – a dense row of shrubs, low trees or even perennials – can be as beautiful to look at as they are functional.

Like a fence, a hedge can be used for privacy, to block out something unsightly or for protection from nature's elements, such as intense sunlight or strong winds (a cedar hedge, for example, used as a windscreen, can reduce heating costs). Hedges also make excellent backdrops to showcase specimen plants. I recently saw a flowering dogwood surrounded by a lush Hick's Yew hedge. The white flowers set against the green of the yew was breathtaking.

Small or short hedging, such as boxwood, creates easy boundaries or individual garden "rooms"; because it is an evergreen, it can lend structure to a garden even when nothing is blooming. It has been used for centuries in this manner in formal garden design. Thorny hedges, such as Russian olive, barberry and rugosa, make good security barriers. These prickly shrubs can keep your pets enclosed and keep unwanted visitors out.

Blooming hedges
If you like colour, look for blooming shrub material, such as bridal wreath spirea, or those with fall hues, such as dwarf burning bush (Euonymus alatus 'compacta') and viburnum. In winter, evergreen hedges provide shelter for birds, keeping them safe from predators (one of the best places to locate a bird feeder is close to an evergreen hedge). Even perennials, such as Sedum 'Autumn Joy', Miscanthus 'Giganteum' (ornamental grass) and gorgeous peonies, can be used as hedging.

When selecting hedging plants, make sure they suit your light requirements and soil. Most hedges require pruning, fertilizing and even dividing (in the case of perennials). A well-maintained hedge is beautiful, but an untended hedge left to grow wild, well, that's just a wooden fence waiting to happen!

Frankie's fab 5 plants for hedging
1. 'Green Gem' boxwood (Buxus sempervirens ‘Green Gem’)
This slow-growing evergreen is perfect for low, formal hedging and suits most gardens. Mounding form; easily pruned to shape. Can grow to 60 cm; hardy to Zone 6.

2. Giant silvergrass (Miscanthus floridulus giganteus)
A bit wild looking, this tall perennial ornamental grass is one of my favourites. Arching stalks with pink plumes add fall interest. Can grow to 300 cm; hardy to Zone 4.

3. Alpine currant (Ribes alpinum)
This is a hardy variety in a medium- height hedge that maintains a symmetrical shape. Can grow to 120 cm; hardy to Zone 2.

4. Peking cotoneaster (Cotoneaster acutifolius)
This plant makes a good hedging solution for almost any soil type. Colourful foliage adds fall interest. Can grow to 300 cm; hardy to Zone 4.

5. Hick’s Yew (Taxus x media 'Hicksii')
This yew can grow in sun and shade. New growth is vibrant green. Note: The decorative red berries are poisonous. Can grow to 300 cm; hardy to Zone 5.

This story was originally titled "A Guide to Garden Hedges" in the September 2009 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!

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