Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A. | 10/27/2006 9:17:08 PM
By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
Hedges can create privacy, block unwanted views, screen out noise and serve other important roles in our landscape. If you’re considering planting a new hedge or replacing a lost one, now is a great time to get it done.
A common part of landscapes, hedges generally are created by planting a row of shrubs or small trees.
Hedges may be only a few feet tall to as much as 15 feet. The shrubs used may be regularly clipped to create a formal look, pruned occasionally just enough to control size and shape or allowed to grow into their natural form. But the plants we use for hedges are always evergreen.
The roles that hedges play in landscapes are very important. The primary reason most hedges are planted is to create privacy. Most people prefer and are more comfortable having some privacy for their outdoor living areas, and hedges do an excellent job filling this need. They are less expensive than constructing a wall and create a more natural look.
Hedges also are important for screening out views you do not want to see, such as an unattractive nearby building. A hedge also can be a sound barrier that helps cut down noise from neighbors traffic or other sources.
In addition, hedges help create enclosures in the landscape that can make you feel more relaxed.
Hedges even make an excellent backdrop for beds of colorful flowers, which the English used to great advantage in developing the classic border style of planting.
Hedge shrubs generally are planted in single rows, although a zigzag planting will increase the thickness of the hedge and is done occasionally. Generally, only one type of shrub is used to create a hedge, but mixing several different types of compatible shrubs can also be effective, especially when creating a large screen or sound barrier. Properly spacing the shrubs is important and varies with the plant material selected. Spacing is, however, generally closer than we might typically plant the shrubs for other landscaping purposes, because a closer spacing, within reason, helps provide quicker results.
Planting the shrubs in well prepared soil is important if you are interested in making sure they grow as fast as possible (which, of course, you are).
To prepare, first, get rid of any unwanted vegetation. Then till the soil in a strip 2 feet to 3 feet wide and the length of the area where the hedge plants will be planted. Next, spread a 2-inch to 4-inch layer of organic matter (compost, processed or aged manure or peat moss) over the area and till that in thoroughly.
When planting the shrubs, make sure you do not plant them too deeply. The top of the root ball should be level with or slightly above the soil of the bed. Finally, mulch the planting and water it thoroughly to settle the soil.
In April, fertilize the shrubs with a general-purpose granular fertilizer following package directions. You will need to water the shrubs during summer dry spells. An easy and efficient way to do this is to run a soaker hose at the base of the shrubs and cover it with the mulch. When you need to water, simply attach a garden hose to the soaker hose and turn it on. Allow it to irrigate until the water has penetrated about 6 inches or more into the soil. Fertilize again in June or July.
Training your hedge is important. Most hedges are clipped at least occasionally as they grow to encourage them to be thick and full. For a more formal look hedges can be sheared regularly.
The most important aspect to pruning is to make sure the top does not grow out wider than the base. Most shrubs want to produce a wide top and narrower base, especially when they are simply sheared across the top occasionally. If this happens, the wide top of the hedge will shade out the lower parts – causing them to lose their foliage and creating a hedge that is leggy and can be seen through. When training the hedge, always keep this in mind and make sure the top is somewhat narrower than the bottom.
When selecting the type of plant to use, you should look at your desires and taste, the purpose of the hedge, the desired height and the growing conditions. It is harder to grow full, thick hedges in a shady situation and you have fewer choices, although hollies, ligustrum, sasanquas, camellias, Chinese mahonia, nandina and cleyera all will tolerate some shade.
A number of shrubs and small trees are useful for hedges. For a 3-foot to 5-foot tall hedge, consider dwarf yaupon holly, Chinese mahonia, dwarf sasanqua, azaleas, Indian hawthorn, nandina and Rotunda holly. For hedges 6 feet to 10 feet, ligustrum, cleyera, camellia, sasanqua, dwarf Burford holly, gardenia, pittosporum and Indian azaleas are possible choices. For taller hedges and screens, look at Savannah holly, dahoon holly, banana shrub, sweet olive, Japanese viburnum, sweet viburnum, Japanese yew, ligustrum, cherry laurel, loropetalum, Russian olive or elaeagnus, pineapple guava, Needlepoint holly, Nellie R. Stevens holly, wax myrtle and yaupon holly.
Again, carefully consider the characteristics you want the shrubs to have. Besides size, being evergreen and growing fast, consider shrubs that also produce flowers, fragrance or attractive fruit.
Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com. A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.