70517thumbIf good fences make good neighbors, what about hedges? If only it were that simple. There are all sorts of evergreen hedges to provide privacy, obstruct unwanted views, disperse wind, define spaces, or muffle noise. They can do much of what fences do, and muffle sound better. The problem is that they are composed of living plants, shorn into submission and very unnatural shapes.

Unlike fences, hedges need to be shorn very regularly. Otherwise, the shrubbery that they are composed of tries to grow into its natural forms. Slow growing plants like Japanese boxwood may only need to be shorn twice annually, especially if no one minds if it looks somewhat shaggy. Old fashioned glossy privet is so vigorous that it likely needs to be shorn a few times before autumn.

Even if the work of shearing is not a problem, accessibility might be. Hedges are popularly planted between properties. The outsides of such hedges are therefore accessible only from adjacent properties, which might have other plants or landscape features in the way. There is also the risk that the neighbors might not want anyone coming over to shear such a hedge! Beware of the dog!

Hedges in conjunction with backyard fences are easier to maintain as long as they are kept below or at the same height as their fences. They only need shearing on the inside and on top. Fences might be needed to keep dogs in or out anyway. When planning for a new hedge, other plants and garden features that might obstruct access within the same landscape must be considered too.

Taller hedges should be shorn so that they are slightly narrower on top, and wider at the bottom. This promotes more uniform growth, and hopefully prevents basal baldness. Upper growth gets more sunlight than lower growth, so grows faster, and too often shades out lower growth while becoming distended up high. Hedges should also be watered and fertilized evenly from end to end.

It is important to remember that hedges work for the landscape, and should not be allowed to dominate. Fat hedges waste space. A well groomed hedge that is only two feet from front to back works just as well as a hedge that is three times as plump. Feral plants that ‘volunteer’ within a hedge must be removed instead of shorn along with the hedge. They only compromise uniformity.

15 thoughts on “A Hedge Between Keeps Friendship Green

  1. Hedges can be a lot of work and tend to take up a fair amount of space, although Bougainvillea and Hibiscus can make attractive hedges. Back in the 1960’s Myrtle hedges were very popular until neighbourhood pyromaniacs found that they caught fire easily and burnt spectacularly! Those that weren’t burnt down were replaced before they could be burnt. There is one at Chart Farm but it is well inside the grounds.

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    1. Myrtles are an old classic, but few survive now. There are a few at the Winchester House, but they developed into small trees during the years that the house was abandoned. I think that myrtle would need to be special ordered now.

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      1. This happened to us last year. There is a gap and I keep hoping what remains will grow together because I worry that digging out the stump and replanting will harm the roots of the neighboring specimens, leaving me with a gap of 3.

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      2. What is the hedge? It would need to be very dense for such digging to damage the others, and if it is that dense, it probably does not need to be filled


      3. Hemlocks—yes, I know not a great choice but they are beautiful. The distance between the remaining Hemlocks is, I think, about 20-25 feet. So over time, they might fill the gap , but it will take time.

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      4. It is not a great choice? We do not have it at all here. I find it compelling because it is so popular in other regions. During the Victorian period, redwood was grown as hedges. No one believes me, but I know it works as such.

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      5. Well, they are beautiful and I like them. Left alone they would probably prefer to grow very tall, but they take well to periodic shearing. I do think I should replace the one that inexplicably died, but worry they have shallow roots and the neighboring shrubs might be damaged. But I’m reassured you don’t seem to think so.

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      6. It is common to see the suckers that come up from the burls shorn like any other overly shorn shrubbery. Yet, no one believes that they can be shorn as hedges. Monterey cypress used to be shorn as a hedge too. I remember large hedges of it on the coast.


  2. We have hedges on two opposite sides that belong to the neighbors. Both sides are way over fence height and spill over the fence tops. I hate them because they shade out parts of our yard and we have to trim them back on the sides because neither the neighbors or their gardeners will!!

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    1. I would have mentioned that, but this article is for my gardening column, which has limited space. It could be another topic, because it involves trees as well.


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