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Hedges: selection

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last updated Feb 17, 2014
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A selection of hedges. Credit: RHS/John Trenholm.

Hedges are usually planted to define property boundaries and provide privacy or to give shelter from prevailing winds. They can be formal, such as clipped Buxus (box), Taxus (yew) and Fagus (beech) or informal with colourful foliage or flowers, like Viburnum or Crataegus (hawthorn). Conifers are also popular choices, and although Leyland cypress has a reputation for causing friction between neighbours, if kept under control it makes an effective hedge.

Practical considerations Back to top

Choosing plants for a hedge can be made easier by giving some thought to the following:

  • Decide on the type of hedge e.g. evergreen, deciduous, flowering, formal or informal
  • Identify any specific requirements, such as height to be achieved and maintained
  • Take into account the soil conditions and situation. Choose plants that tolerate such sites
  • Check which hedges grow locally in similar situations and soil conditions
  • Consider the amount of annual maintenance it will need once established. The timing and frequency of pruning depends on the species and the general effect required
  • Native informal or semi-formal hedges will help attract wildlife, providing shelter and food

Evergreen or deciduous?

Evergreens make fine hedges and obviously the bonus is having shelter or privacy all year round. However, they do tend to take more maintenance and need to be pruned annually, ideally twice a year. Conifers are popular evergreen choices, but need to be pruned regularly as (with the exception of yew) neglected or overgrown conifer hedges cannot be restored.

Deciduous plants also make fine hedges, and indeed a beech hedge over winter holding onto its brown leaves is very pretty. You won't get the same privacy with a deciduous hedge as you do with an evergreen. An advantage of a deciduous hedge is that it will filter wind in winter avoiding the damaging turbulence associated with dense evergreen hedges. They are more forgiving with pruning, and although they should be trimmed in late summer, if you miss a year or two they will respond well to renovation.

Buying plants Back to top

Buying hedging plants in bulk from specialist growers is generally cheaper than from retail outlets.

Smaller transplants (also called whips) about 60cm (2ft) establish more rapidly than larger plants, which can often suffer from establishment problems especially during periods of extreme weather such as drought or excess moisture levels. But if you want to create a hedge quickly, buying semi-mature plants is the way to go. They are more expensive, and you will need to pay special attention to watering over the first two years.

Plant selection Back to top

Key

S  = maintain at 30-90cm (1-3ft)
M  = maintain at 90-120cm (3-4ft)
M-L  = maintain at 90-180cm (3-6ft) or as taller hedges or screens
L = can be maintained at over 180cm (6ft)

Spacing

Numbers denote suggested spacings for planting in average conditions. In poor soils or difficult conditions spacings may need to be slightly reduced.

1 = 10-15cm (4-6in) apart
2 = 30cm (1ft) apart
3 = 37.5cm (15in) apart
4 = 45cm (18in) apart
5 = 50cm (21in) apart
6 = 60cm (2ft) apart
7 = 75cm (30in) apart
8 = 90cm (3ft) apart

Conifers

  • Chamaecyparis lawsoniana (Lawsons cypress) M-L (5-6): ‘Alumii’, bluish grey, 'Fletcheri’ AGM, greyish-green, feathery, ‘Green Hedger’ AGM, rich green, ‘Stewartii’, golden
  • × Cuprocyparis leylandii (Leyland cypress) L (6–7): Bright yellowish-green, rather coarse, very rapid in growth, useful as a quick growing tall screen but less satisfactory as a smaller trimmed hedge, must be planted and maintained with care. ‘Castlewellan’, young shoots yellow, less vigorous than the above form, ‘Robinson’s Gold’, young growths bronze-gold
  • Cupressus macrocarpa (Monterey cypress) M-L (6): Green, rapid growth, not fully frost-hardy and not suited to cold inland areas. Best as an informal screen. Intolerant of topping or reducing in height. ‘Golden Cone’, golden yellow foliage, ‘Goldcrest’ AGM, golden yellow foliage, ‘Lutea’, yellow first year foliage
  • Taxus baccata (yew) M-L (4–6): An excellent choice for a formal dense hedge. Growth is slower than other conifers but can make 30cm (1ft) growth annually in good conditions. Overgrown hedges can often be restored by hard pruning in late winter. ‘Elegantissima’ AGM, the only golden yew suitable for a screening hedge
  • Taxus × media, ‘Hicksii’ AGM S-M (4–6): broadly columnar habit
  • Thuja plicata ‘Atrovirens’ (Western red cedar) AGM M-L (6): Bright green, rapid growth

Evergreens (excl. conifers)

Deciduous

Hedges for special situations Back to top

S  = maintain at 30-90cm (1-3ft)
M  = maintain at 90-120cm (3-4ft)
M/L  = maintain at 90-180cm (3-6ft) or as taller hedges or screens
L = can be maintained at over 180cm (6ft)

Thorny hedges for security

Also see our page on garden security.

Plants for shade

Also see our page on plants for shade.

Hedges for heavy clay

Also see our page on plants for clay soils.

Chalky soils

Also see our page on plants for chalky soils.

Wet soils

Also see our page on trees for wet soils.

Seaside gardens

Also see our page on plants for coastal locations.

Cold, exposed inland situations

Also see our page on plants for a cold climate.

Feature hedges with bright or variegated foliage

Low-growing hedges

Narrow hedges - if carefully clipped

Native hedging

Also see our page on trees and shrubs native to the UK.

Quick facts

Top 5  hedging plants:
Conifer Taxus baccata (yew) 
Large evergreen Prunus lusitanica (Portugese laurel)
Low growing Lavandula angustifolia
Native Carpinus betulus (hornbeam) 
Seaside garden Rosa rugosa

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