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.
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 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 shelter or 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 pruned in late summer, if you miss a year or two they will respond well to renovation.
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 establish 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.
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)
Chamaecyparis lawsoniana (Lawsons cypress) M/L: The cultivars ‘Green Hedger’ and ‘Stewartii’ are very popular
× Cuprocyparis leylandii (Leyland cypress) L: Particularly fast growing, but must be planted and maintained with care
Cupressus macrocarpa (Monterey cypress) M/L: Suitable for milder coastal areas only
Thuja plicata ‘Atrovirens’ (Western red cedar) M/L: Bright green, rapid growth
Taxus baccata (yew) M/L: An excellent choice for a formal dense hedge. Growth is slower than other conifers. Overgrown hedges can often be restored by hard pruning in late winter
Aucuba japonica ‘Crotonifolia’ (spotted laurel) M/L: Glossy, spotted foliage
Ligustrum ovalifolium (common privet) M/L: A good choice, but prone to honey fungus attack
Ilex × altaclerensis ‘Hodginsii’ (holly) M/L: A vigorous growing hedge. This is a male cultivar
Prunus lusitanica (Portugese laurel) M/L: Dense bushy evergreen, tolerant to partial shade
Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’ M/L: Good choice for winter flowering
Carpinus betulus (hornbeam) M/L: Similar to beech though it does not hold the leaves for as long. Better suited for cold situations than beech
Fagus sylvatica (beech) M/L: Suitable for formal hedges. Provides screening in winter as it retains brown leaves until spring
Acer campestre (field maple) M/L: Good autumn colour
Crataegus monogyna (hawthorn) M/L: Thorny and dense if regularly pruned
Prunus spinosa (blackthorn, sloe) L: Good for a thorny rural hedge
Ligustrum vulgare (wild privet) M/L: This is semi-evergreen in colder winters
Ilex aquifolium (common holly) M/L: Both male and female plants required to produce berries