Are you thinking that you would like to enclose your back yard so that you can enjoy your coffee on the patio without your neighbor’s Ring camera spotting your jammies? Want to screen out your view of the neighbor’s yard art collection? Is your house broadsided by wind that you want to block? Perhaps a hedge is in order. Hedges have been used for eons to define property lines. Traditionally used to keep animals in, they now are valued for their abilities to enclose a space, screen a view, and even lower utility rates by shading or providing a windbreak.
The first key to happy hedge neighbors is making a great plant choice. Consider your site conditions and space limitations. Be realistic. If the side yard is only 10 feet wide, do not even consider plants that grow wider than that. When planted with room for the mature size, the plants make lovely hedges that will not require heroic pruning.
Determine how much sun and shade that you have. Look for overhead and underground utilities before planting. Consider planting a mixture of plants rather than just one type. This can give you multiple seasons of interest (like some plants blooming in winter, while others bloom in the summer) and can provide a mixture of habitat and food sources for wildlife, such as birds and pollinators. Plant in groupings of 3 to 5 of one plant next to 3 of another, next to 3 to 5 of another plant, and so on. If one plant develops a problem, it is not likely that it will take out the entire hedge.
Be patient! Decisions made just on short-term benefits may result in long-term pain. When privacy or an undesirable view needs to disappear, we want it today, not five years from now. We choose plants that grow quickly, and then space them close together. Consider Leyland Cypress, a plant that grows 3 to 4 feet per year and that can reach 50 feet in height and 30 feet in width. These trees need at least 15 feet from the center of one tree to the center of the next. Since this does not give the immediate infill and screening that we want, our tendency is to plant them 4 to 5 feet apart, in straight lines.
Yes, we will quickly have a solid screen, but in a short period thereafter, the plants will begin to thin and die back because the plants are shading each other or because disease issues are worsened due to close plant spacing. It is especially easy to make this mistake when starting with a small 3-gallon container plan. Always choose the number of plants and their spacing based on mature growth expectations and patiently wait for that healthy hedge to establish.
The second key to happy hedge neighbors is found in the installation. Locate your property line and honor it. Space your hedge at a distance from the property line that allows for the mature growth of the plants you choose. Avoid planting directly on the property line, as the mature plant will grow into your neighbor’s space. Install your plants at the proper depth so that the root flare from the trunk is at the normal soil surface. Dig your planting hole at least twice as wide as the initial root ball. Planting too deeply is a leading cause of plant death. Provide at least 1 inch of water each week for the first year, applying water slowly such as through a soaker hose or drip irrigation, and allowing it to soak into the soil.
Here are a few of our favorites hedge plant selections.
♦ Abelia x grandiflora (Glossy Abelia): 3-6’ height and width, full sun to part shade. Given space and left alone rather than sheared, this rounded shrub will make a great hedge, reaching 8’. Its summer flowers are lovely.
Camellia sasanqua (Camellia): 14’ height, 8-12’ width, full sun with afternoon shade. Slow growing but offer fantastic blooms in winter to early spring, depending on cultivar. Protection from winter winds is recommended.
Ilex x ‘Conaf’ (Oak LeafTM Holly): 15-20’ height and 8’ width, full sun to part shade. Oak LeafTM Holly shows conical growth when young, but matures into a more upright, pyramidal form.
Ilex x ‘Emily Bruner’: 15-20’ height, 8’ width, full sun to part shade. You will need a ‘James Swan’ as the male pollinator, which will be required if the beautiful red berries are desired.
Ilex glabra (Inkberry): 6-8’ height and width, full sun to part shade. The nondescript flowers on this native are a favorite of bees and other pollinators and birds like the black fruits later in the year.
Ilex opaca (American Holly): 15-30’ height, 10-20’ width, full sun to part shade. Winter wind may cause a problem with these hollies. ‘Merry Christmas’ is a popular cultivar for fruit set. You will need a male plant to have berries on the females.
Juniperus virginiana ‘Grey Owl’: 5-6’ height, 4-6’ width, full sun. Drought resistant cultivar of the native Juniperus virginiana (Eastern Redcedar) that has silver to gray foliage
Osmanthus fragrans (Fragrant Tea Olive): 10-20’ height, 10-14’ width, full to part sun. Lovely, simple evergreen with an oval-type shape, a fantastic fragrance from tiny white flowers in spring and fall.
Ternstroemia gymnanthera (Japanese Cleyera), also sold as Cleyera japonica. 10-15’ height, 8-10’ width, full sun to part shade. Will overgrow the sidewalk when used as a foundation plant but will make a nice hedge. It tends to be a little lumpy in its overall appearance.
Viburnum odoratissimum (Sweet Viburnum): up to 20’ height and width, full sun to part shade. Will make a great informal hedge, and the flowers will attract butterflies and other pollinators.
Viburnum rhytidophyllum (Leatherleaf Viburnum) 10-15’ height and width, full sun to partial shade. Late spring blooms attract butterflies, and berries will provide winter food to birds.
For more information on which plants may be best suited to your site and needs, check out the University of Georgia Extension Bulletin 625, “Landscape Plants for Georgia.”