Hedges have been a part of landscapes for centuries. Whether planted for privacy screens or for ornamental value, there are lots of plants to choose from.
What is the purpose of hedging?
Hedges can be tall windbreaks of conifers striding across the skyline, the green stuff between your house and the road or a neat, step-over edging to a path. Whatever form it takes, a well-grown hedge adds cohesion to a garden and also solves design problems by providing shelter, privacy and uniformity.
The simplest hedge is a row of closely planted, dense shrubs that create a green wall either along a boundary or within a garden. However, there are many other hedges that can be grown and they can become an important part of your property.
Hedges up to 3 feet
Hedges at this height create a softer visual barrier between properties while blending in with multiple landscape schemes. These low hedges can mark the boundary of your property without losing much space or reducing light the way traditional hedging can. This low hedging can also be used as a feature within other plantings or as a feature against walls or fencing.
Consider these plants for maintaining up to a 3 foot hedge (pruning will maintain the height you want)
These shrubs will exfoliate their leaves in winter.
Barberry – These shrubs have unique foliage varying in different hues of burgundy and pink to green and yellow. The leaves remain through to fall and the berries persist into winter. Likes sun but can take part shade. Zone 4. A great choice, to deter animals and trespassers alike, as the branches sport thorns.
Dwarf Burning Bush – Green leaves in spring summer with a radiant red colour in fall. Winter berries. Likes the sun and is happy down to zone 3.
Hydrangea (Bobo) - An attractive dwarf variety that provides an abundance of conical white flowers over an extended period of time. Zone 4b and will do just fine in sun or partial shade.
Hydrangea (Macrophylla variety) - These shrubs burst with blue, pink, even red large mop head flowers. Zones 4, 5. Likes sun to part shade.
Potentilla – A wide variety of shrubs with pink, white or yellow blooms that continue from June until frost. Hardy to zone 2b, and likes sun to part shade.
Privet- Privet is a fast growing shrub that tolerates a wide range of conditions. Vigorous grower that rebounds quickly after heavy pruning. It has panicles of fragrant white flowers in spring with berries persisting into winter. Grows well in sun to part shade hardy to zone 3.
Roses – Most any shrub rose makes for a most colourful hedge. With many varieties and growing heights to choose from, one can have a vibrant colour hedge. Needs full sun tolerant to zone 4b.
Spirea – A most versatile choice for deciduous hedging as there are numerous varieties suitable for different heights of hedging. Foliage ranges from dark to lime green with different assorted colours of flowers. Some varieties blooming from July to frost. Hardy to zone 3b and likes full sun.
Weigela – ‘Fine Wine’ or ‘Spilled Wine’ make a perfect low mounding hedge with rich burgundy foliage and pink trumpet shaped flowers in spring that attract hummingbirds. Matures to 3 feet high, likes full sun and is hardy to zone 4a.
Evergreens and Broadleaf Evergreens suitable for up to a 3 foot high hedge: (Pruning will maintain the height you want)
Dense Yew –Glossy green foliage with an upright habit makes this a good choice for hedging. Easy to control the habit of this shrub with pruning. It does well in sun and full shade with a height of 3-6 feet and a 6 foot spread at maturity. Under ideal conditions this shrub can live up to 50 years.
Boxwood – (Broadleaf) Boxwood has fine, deep green leaves and makes the perfect low growing hedge plant for edging a pathway or formal garden. Its low, dense foliage lends itself to shearing and creating a variety of looks for your garden design. ‘Green Mountain’, ‘Green Gem’ and ‘Green Velvet’ are all suitable for a low hedge throughout the entire season.
Euonymus – (Broadleaf) ‘Emerald n’ Gold’ is a dwarf variety with foliage all year round. Featuring stunning yellow variegated evergreen leaves that turn shades of pink in fall through winter. Other euonymus choices include Sarcoxie an all green variety, and Emerald Gaiety variety sporting white and green foliage.
Hedges 3-6 feet
Medium or low hedges are grown between two and five feet tall. They are used to define space and direct traffic, but do not completely shield one location from another. View them like a fence low enough so that you can still talk to the neighbors.
Hedge your beds and hide away. Hedges at this height are used more for privacy or establishing different areas within a landscape by creating a colourful boundary.
These shrubs exfoliate their leaves during winter. (Pruning will maintain the height you want)
Dogwood – ‘Red Osier’ features green leaves on red stems. The stems are stunning in the winter. Hardy to zone 2, and likes sun to part shade.
Hydrangea - (zone 3 for sun to part shade) There are more varieties to choose from when considering this range of height.
· ‘Annabelle’ grows to a height of approximately 4 feet. A hardy, showy shrub which features enormous ball-shaped white flower heads in mid- summer, lasting for a long time.
· ‘Little Lime’ offers bold conical chartreuse flowers with creamy white overtones at the ends of the branches from mid-summer to late fall.
· ‘Bloomstruck’ features showy balls of violet flowers with blue overtones at the ends of the branches from early summer to early fall.(zone 4)
Dwarf Korea Lilac – This dense shrub grows to 4 -5 feet tall at maturity. It is smothered in fragrant tiny purple flowers emerging in spring. Prefers sun and is hardy to zone 3.
Ninebark (Little Devil) – A compact upright shrub with showy burgundy leaves. It has clusters of white flowers in early summer. The leaves turn purple in the fall with little red capsules. Zone 2 sun to part shade. ‘Nugget’ Variety features bright green leaves and reaches 6 feet.
Forsythia – Sporting bright yellow flowers in spring, this shrub will feature a 6 foot hedge. It continues to become a dense green hedge in summer through to fall. Would like sun, and is a zone 4a. Deer don’t care for this plant.
Alpine Currant - An excellent medium-sized hedge or screening plant, densely branched with leaves to the ground, takes pruning extremely well, tough and adaptable; small yellow flowers in spring, good fall colour. Performs well in sun or shade.
Evergreens and Broadleaf Evergreens suitable for a 3 -6 foot high hedge:
(Pruning will maintain the height you want)
Mugo Pine - A compact 4 foot evergreen garden shrub with short, bluish-green dense needles that hold well throughout the season. Hardy to zone 3, it likes full sun to partial shade.
Yew – ‘Fairview’ variety matures to 5 – 6 feet and takes pruning very well. A distinctive and versatile evergreen shrub with striking dark green dense foliage. Likes sun to full shade and is hardy to zone 4a.
Cypress – ‘Sungold’ or ‘Lemonthread’ False cypress is a cultivar of threadleaffalse cypress with fine, almost string-like golden foliage all season long, giving an extremely fine texture, ideal for color and texture detail in the garden. Sungold False cypress has attractive gold foliage. The threadlike leaves are highly ornamental and turn yellow in fall. Zone 4 and likes sun to partial shade.
Juniper – Gold cone is a nice golden evergreen to use for a hedge. Many other varieties in hues of green, blue, and yellow are also available. These plants like sun and are hardy to zone 5.
Holly – (Broadleaf) The attractive, evergreen foliage and brilliant red berries of the Holly plants make striking hedges that provide constant cover throughout the year. Growing to a height of 5-6 feet, they like part shade sites. The variety ‘Blue Prince/Princess’ has both male and female plants needed to cross pollinate. Plant in acidic soil for best results. Zone 5.
Hedges 6-10 feet
Hedges at this height make a superb privacy screen.
These shrubs and trees will exfoliate leaves during winter. (Pruning will maintain the height you want)
Lilac - looks delicate, but they can be an excellent wind and sound barrier. Their lovely, fragrant spring blooms and dense foliage make them an excellent choice for an informal hedge.
Viburnum – ‘Nannyberry’ is native to Ontario and blooms creamy flowers in spring. This shrub can be maintained at any height and matures over 8 feet high. Purple leaves feature berries in the fall for birds. Full sun to partial shade.
Burning Bush – This non dwarf variety can reach up to 8 feet at maturity with a show of crimson fall colour. Can take part shade and it hardy to zone 3.
Limelight Hydrangea - features enormous, dense upright panicles of flower heads that start out a soft lime green, fading over the summer to white and finally brown in fall, one of the hardier selections to zone 3a. Takes sun to shade. Planted about 4-5 feet apart these shrubs create a beautiful hedge from spring through to winter.
Rose of Sharon – With blooms from bottom to top of this shrub, a colourful hedge is a sure bet with varieties ranging from blue to white to pink and everything in between. It prefers sun, and is hardy to zone 5a. A later bloomer in summer.
Japanese Variegated Willow – ‘Flamingo’ or Hakura Nishiki’ varieties feature a yellow- green leaf with a pink tinge on the tops in spring. It likes the sun to part shade and is hardy to zone 5.
Evergreens and Broadleaf Evergreens suitable for a 6 - 10 foot high hedge:
(Pruning will maintain the height you want)
White Cedar – A native to Ontario, this evergreen is by far the most popular hedging plant. Cedar hedges can be maintained at any height desired. Likes sun, and is hardy to zone 2.
De Groot Spire Cedar – Typically grown as a hedge. A very dense shrub with attractive dark green wrinkled foliage and a narrow growth habit. Hardy to zone 3. Sun to part shade.
Juniper – Consider ‘Mountbatten’ or ‘Wichita’ for year round screening. Prefers sun, hardy to zone 3.
For large scale screening where space is not an issue, consider the following choices:
English or Crimson Spire Oak
Blue Spruce, White Spruce, Norway Spruce
Don’t forget ornamental grasses
There are many varieties of ornamental grasses to choose from. Several of these grasses grow to be up to 12 feet in height, making them perfect for privacy. Grasses are excellent noise barriers as well and have attractive blooms that persist well into the winter months for aesthetic appeal. In the breeze, grasses add movement and sound to the garden.
Consider a Hedgerow
A hedgerow is a mix of deciduous and evergreens of various sizes that, combined, will contribute texture, shape, contrast and colour to the overall garden scheme. It will provide food, protection from predators, nesting sites and shelter from the elements for birds, bees, frogs and other creatures.
The plants should be placed 3 or 4 feet apart. The idea is to have them grow into each other, branches intermingling. The beauty of hedgerows is that they merge with additional plantings in garden beds; with no clear line between what is the hedge and what is the border.
Unify the diversity through a color scheme or repetition that ties everything together.
Traditionally, hedgerows include such things as Rose Rugosa, Mock orange, Little Lime Hydrangea, Weigela, Spirea, Barberry and many more.
Whether used as a decorative feature, a privacy screen or to help define areas of the garden, hedges add a touch of formality to your outdoor space.
There is no end to the possibilities a hedge can provide. Go ahead, experiment. Plant a hedge, or two or three.