Hedges and boundaries: a detailed guide

April 7, 2013 12:00 am hedge design


Hedges form the framework of the garden.  They are living fences and screens, and have many functions and benefits including:

  • define garden space
  • enclose private areas
  • screen out undesired views
  • provide shelter from wind
  • muffle outside noise
  • provide shelter for birds


Hedges should be compatible with the architecture of the house. It should be in scale with the space of the landscape. Plant material must be well adapted to site: if the site is poorly drained, most evergreens would suffer from root rot where as shrub dogwoods or willows would thrive. If evergreens are a must then the site could be raised in a beam or perhaps drain lines could draw away excess water.


Formal Hedges

Clipped formal hedges make beautiful walls and are a great backdrop to flower gardens. They can be evergreen or deciduous. Some typical plant choices are boxwood, yew, privet, laurel, hemlock, holly, and beech. They are usually closely planted, with plants every 18 inches to 3 feet on center. They hedges should be pruned 2-3 times every year to develop dense branching and to maintain their form. It is important in trimming to keep the base of the hedge wider than the top. If the top ends up being wider than the bottom, it shades out the bottom making the plant lose its lower leaves. They should be fertilized each year since close planting makes the plants compete for nutrients. Also watering in the dry summer months is essential, especially in the establishment phase.

The disadvantages of formal hedges are they are high maintenance, and if part of the hedge dies or is damaged, it is difficult to replace it to match the rest of the hedge.


Informal Hedges

Informal hedges can be the same plant or a mixture of 2-3 different types of plants. They can be evergreen or deciduous-broadleaf or conifer-or both. Because you do not have to prune every year, they can be made of virtually any plants that will reach the approximate height and width you are looking for. Without heavy pruning, flowering shrubs will be able to bloom. Though less labor intensive than formal screens, the informal hedge needs care as well. During the time the plants are getting established, fertilizing, watering, and pruning to shape are essential.


Hedge and Screen Ideas:

Wreath Hedge-conifers like fir, pine, blue atlas cedar, golden and green cedars, hollies, pyracanthas, cotoneasters. This makes a large hedge with many greens and berries for winter decorating.


Mixed Season Hedge-Mix of evergreen viburnums, holly, sun tolerant rhododendrons, and deciduous flowering shrubs like weigela, deutzia, spiraea, forsythia, abelia, or roses. This screen provides year round interest with evergreen foliage, spring and summer flowers, and fall foliage color and berries.


Designing a Hedge

To provide more unity in the planting, a particular plant could be repeated. For example, the spire shape of an upright juniper can be repeated to tie together the other shrubs. You may have to design in layers, using the larger evergreen conifers as a backdrop to your other shrubs or ornamental grasses.

Since the screen is such a permanent part of the landscape, take the time to consider height and width, hardiness, speed of growth, texture, and conditions the shrubs

need including sunlight and water requirements.

Plant for a Formal Hedge

Buxus s. True Dwarf

Buxus m. Green Beauty or Winter Gem

Buxus sempervirens

Euonymous japonica microphyllus

E. j. m. variegata

E.j. aureomarginata

Silver princess





Viburnum tinus


Ilex crenata Green Island


glabra compacta


Dwarf burford


meservae Blue Girl/Blue Boy

hybrid Little Rascal


Prunus laurce


Hedges 1’-3’ Tall

True Dwarf Boxwood

Boxleaf Euonymus

Nandina (Dwarf Varieties like Moon Bay, Firepower, Nana purpurea, and Woods Dwarf)

Rhaphiolepis umbellate (Dwarf India Hawthorn)

Hebe (Smallest leaved ones are hardiest)

Mahonia aquif. Comp (Compact Oregon Grape)

Pyracantha Red Elf






3’-5’ Tall

Aronia melanocarpa (Chokeberry)*

Berberis (Barberry)*

Buxus (Green Beauty and Winter Gem)

Escallonia (Pride of Donard and Red Elf)

Holly (Dwarf Burford, Convex-leaf, Green Island)

Nandina (Compacta, Gulf Stream)

Olea europea (European Olive)*

Phormium tenax (Phormium)*

Viburnum tinus Spring Bouquet

Rosa rugosa (Rose)*

Rubus (Raspberry)*


5’-8’ Tall

Choisya ternate (Mexican Orange)

Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ (Contorted Filbert)*

Eleagnus x ebbingei (Russian Olive)*

Escallonia Pink Princess

Euonymus jap.

Ilex (Holly varieties: Gold Coast, Blue Boy, Blue Girl)

Ligustrum Suwannee River (Privet)

Lonicera nitida (Shrub Honeysuckle)

Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon Grape)

Nandina (Moyers Red, Plum Passion)

Osmanthus delavayi, Roundleaf

Sambucus nigra (Black Elder)*


8’-12’ Tall

Buxus sempervirens (English Holly)

Chaenomeles (Flowering Quince)*

Cotoneaster lacteus (Clusterberry Cotoneaster)

Eleagnus (very wind and drought tolerant once established)

Hibiscus syriacus (Rose of Sharon)*

Ilex conuta Willowleaf (Willowleaf Holly)

Ligustrum texanum (Waxleaf Privet)

Osmanthus burkwoodii

Prunus laurocerasus Compacta (Compact English Laurel)

Pyracantha (varieties: Graberi, Lalandei, Mohave, Victory)

Ribes (Currants and Gooseberry)*

Viburnum tinus Robustum


12’+ Tall

Amelanchier alnifolia (Serviceberry)*

Arbutus unedo (Strawberry Bush)*

Camellia (Camellia)

Chamaecyparis obtuse (Hinoki Cypress)

Cupressus sempervirens (Italian Cypress)

Cupressocyparis leylandii (Leland Cypress)

Feijoa sellowiana (Pineapple Guava)*

Ilex aquifolium (English Holly)

Laurus noblis (Sweet Bay Laurel)*

Myrica californica (Bayberry)

Photinia fraseri (Photinia)

Pseudosasa japonica (Bamboo)*

Prunus laurocerasus (Cherry Laurel)

Prunus lusitanica (Portuguese Laurel)

Taxus (Yews)

Thuja occidentalis (Arborvitae)

Viburnum opulus (Snowball Bush)*


* These plants are edible hedges. There are also many edible temporary hedges such as dill, daylilies, fennel, peas, corn, beans, lettuce, chives, and parsley.


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