LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
You may have heard the old proverb “good fences make good neighbors.” Robert Frost made the phrase popular in his poem “Mending Wall.” The debate may have begun there, but I say the same can be true of a good hedge. I love my neighbors, personally, but hedges can bring many other benefits to the landscape.
First, a hedge is defined as a fence or boundary formed by closely growing bushes or shrubs, and in some cases, trees. It is essentially a living wall. Botanically speaking, a shrub is a woody plant that has several stems and is less than 10 feet in height without a central trunk. Bushes are just heavily branched or dense shrubs.
These dense, heavily branched plants make good hedges. Hedges have many functions. They can serve as a practical solution to create a boundary or to guide movement of people in a specific direction.
At one point in history (and in some cases today), hedges were used to prevent livestock from wandering off. The first hedges are thought to have occurred accidentally when early farmers cleared their fields, leaving behind thick woodland areas that created a natural border — the first farm fence.
This makes hedges great windbreaks. Thickly planted areas also help reduce noise. And there are many other benefits: they can provide habitat and food for small wildlife, birds and pollinators. Unlike fences, hedges also make oxygen and remove carbon dioxide and other types of particles or pollutants.
When selecting plant materials for hedges, you should always consider the amount of light the area will get as well as its soil, drainage and climate conditions. Consider also how high you want the hedge to be. You can trim the hedges to keep them shaped, so it’s good to select an appropriate size that will help you achieve the height you are trying to reach but that will be as easy as possible to maintain.
Hedges are achieved by properly spacing the plants so that they create a thick single growth appearance. This will vary with the plants selected, and the mature height and width should be the two main factors considered. In general, the spacing is closer than how the plant is typically grown in the landscape. Consider the width of the plant at full maturity when deciding the spacing. The wider they grow, the further the spacing.
For low hedges, plants are typically planted closer together. For example, if you want to create a 12-inch boxwood or dwarf yaupon hedge, plant as close as 8 inches apart. A rule of thumb for hedges under 5 feet tall is that the spacing should be about two-thirds of the intended final height of the hedge. For a 4-foot hedge, plant them no more than 3 feet apart. Close planting can force plants to grow upward toward the light, meaning they will be slimmer, so keep this in mind.
Most hedges — but not all — are usually created with evergreen plants that retain their leaves year-round. Some commonly used plants for shorter hedges of 3 to 6 feet are American boxwood (Buxus xempervirens), abelia, azaleas, Chinese junipers, Chinese mahonia, dwarf yaupon holly, dwarf yews, dwarf sasanquas, dwarf oleanders, boxleaf euonymus, littleleaf boxwood, nandinas and rosemary. For hedges 6 to 10 feet tall, consider the following: cleyera, camellia, dwarf Burford holly, Florida anise, gardenias, Indian azaleas, pittosporumm, oleander and southern wax myrtle.
If you are trying to achieve a taller hedge, consider using dense trees in addition to tall shrubs. Some examples are Green Giant arborvitae, banana shrubs, cherry laurel, dahoon holly, Italian cypress, Leyland cypress, pineapple guava, Nellie R. Stevens holly, needlepoint holly, Japanese yew, Russian olive and sweet olive.
Some plant materials can create hedges that provide added security with thorns such as barberry, English holly (Ilex aquifolium), dwarf Chinese or rotunda holly, hawthorn and pyracantha. This can be an added feature of your hedging. This can help deter both humans and wildlife from gaining access to specific parts of your lawns and gardens.
You can change up traditional fencing and utilize plants to create a hedge — a natural barrier that provides additional aesthetic appeal to your home for both you and your neighbors to enjoy.
Hedges serve as a practical solution to create a boundary or to guide movement of people in a specific direction. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter
Hedges are achieved by properly spacing the plants so that they create a thick single growth appearance. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter