by Miri Talabac, Woody Plants Specialist
Some of the most common questions we get at the nursery revolve around hedges and foundation plantings. A hedge is simply a closely-planted row of plants which can serve as barriers to foot traffic, markers to define walkways or property lines, screens for unsightly views, or windbreaks that influence the heating and cooling of the yard through the year.
The foundation of the garden
Foundation plants (planted along the foundation of a building) can be a relaxed mixture of species or a more formal hedge of one, but in most cases some plants are evergreen to provide interest in the winter. They draw attention to the house while tying it to the landscape and defining an edge to the garden. Fragrant plants will really shine here as their scent can waft about a window, deck or porch. Factors to consider include roof overhangs that drop snow and waterfalls of rain (or block both like an umbrella), salt exposure from icy walks and differences in soil acidity due to concrete leaching. Beyond this, plant choice is mostly an exercise in personal taste and available space. It is important to consider the mature size so plants don’t run into the roof, brush up against a wall or block window views.
Creating a hedge
Planting a hedge is straightforward: place the plants in a row at their recommended spacing so when they are near maturity they will just touch each other to form a continuous planting. If planted too close their interiors will become devoid of foliage and the plants are more stressed and prone to pests and disease. Slow-growing plants make an instant effect difficult, but faster-growing plants overwhelm limited space quickly and require frequent trimming to keep them in check. As with any gardening activity, choosing plants also depends on light levels and soil conditions. Other considerations, such as browsing deer will also impact your choices.
A row of flowers
Favorite flowering hedges include roses, forsythia, spiraea, weigela and azaleas. But can you imagine a row of dwarf lilac, hydrangeas, dwarf crapemyrtle or sweetspire? If you want blooming shrubs in mid- to late summer, try the cool gray-blues of bluebeard, the tropical flair of hibiscus or the fragrant summersweet. Many of these plants also reward you with glorious fall color – one of the decided benefits of not being evergreen!
A hedge with an edge
Want a hedge that will say “keep out?” Lots of people turn to prickly plants to keep wandering kids and pedestrians at bay. You may be familiar with colorful but thorny barberry. Pyracantha and quince also look innocent, but push through their branches and you are greeted by serious thorns. Although many hollies are relatively tame, Chinese holly, English holly and ‘Dragon Lady’ have painfully sharp leaf spines you won’t soon forget. Osmanthus is a holly-like option with fragrant flowers and no berries. Cotoneaster (right) makes a striking hedge, especially when in berry.
The underused ducklings
Plenty of plants are great candidates for hedges but are overlooked because they are deciduous or not amenable to constant pruning. Mixing in a few evergreens or choosing plants based on size will enable them to make great additions to the landscape.
While privet is the most common deciduous hedge, the dwarf European cranberrybush (a type of viburnum) will do a nicer job. Their maple-shaped leaves are more interesting and they will not produce privet’s stinky flowers. What’s more, they have a defined presence in the winter from dense branches and do not require frequent trimming.
Willows are great for wet areas, and add great textural interest with the benefit of rapid growth. Rosemary-leaved willow has silvery leaves over reddish stems; dappled willow has pink and white-painted new leaves; ‘Flame’ willow has bright orange stems in the winter. Established plants can practically be pruned at will, and you can always weave those cut branches into baskets, mats or porch furniture! You can also try chokeberry, a native shrub with shiny red or black berries and glowing red fall color.
What’s in a name?
Anything, really, can be considered a hedge, but certainly there are more prevalent plant choices that dominate the landscape. Most commonly planted:Boxwood, Japanese Holly, Cherrylaurel, Privet, Red-tip Photinia, Euonymus, Forsythia, Burning Bush, Juniper, Arborvitae, Leyland Cypress, and Yew.
Fortunately for those who love to get out there and prune – one of the qualities that make most of these plants so popular is their tolerance for trimming.
Cotoneaster photo credit.