Richard Bogren | 1/20/2017 2:10:36 PM
By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
(01/20/17) If you are considering planting a hedge, now is a great time to get it done. This allows the shrubs to take advantage of the less-stressful conditions during the cool season to get established in the landscape. Newly planted hardy shrubs will not be bothered by winter freezes.
The role that hedges play in the landscape is very important. The primary reason many 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 providing 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 can also be a sound barrier and help moderate noise originating off your property. They also help provide enclosures in the landscape, creating more intimate spaces and dividing the landscape into “rooms.”
When creating a hedge, shrubs are generally planted in single rows, although a zigzag planting is also done occasionally to increase the thickness of the hedge. 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 selected plants. Spacing is, however, generally closer than we might typically plant the shrubs for other landscaping purposes. This is because a closer spacing, within reason, helps provide quicker results.
Planting the shrubs that will create the hedge in well-prepared soil is important if you are interested in making sure they grow as fast as possible (which, of course, you are). First, get rid of any unwanted vegetation, then till the soil in a strip about 2 feet wide (depending on the situation) and the length of the area you will be planting. Next, spread a 2-to-4-inch layer of organic matter (compost, processed or aged manure, peat moss) over the area and till that in thoroughly.
When planting the shrubs, make sure that 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.
Good bed preparation, fertilizing the shrubs twice a year and keeping them mulched and well-watered during summer are the best ways to encourage shrubs to grow as fast as they can.
Still, you will need to be patient. Even fast-growing plants will generally take three to five years before they begin to do the intended job.
Training your hedge is important. Most hedges are pruned 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. 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 must consider your preferences and taste, the purpose of the hedge, the desired height and the growing conditions. It is harder to grow full, thick hedges in shady locations, and you have fewer choices, although hollies, ligustrum, sasanquas, camellias, Chinese mahonia, nandina and cleyera will all tolerate some shade.
For a 3-to-5-foot hedge, consider dwarf yaupon holly, Chinese mahonia, dwarf sasanqua, dwarf oleander, azaleas, Indian hawthorn, nandina and Rotunda holly.
For hedges 6 to 10 feet tall, consider ligustrum, cleyera, camellia, sasanqua, oleander, dwarf Burford holly, gardenia, pittosporum and Indian azaleas.
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.
Camellia sasanqua plants can be naturalilzed to create an attractive hedge. Photo by Dan Gill/LSU AgCenter
Ligustrum japonicum can be clipped to form a formal hedge. Photo by Dan Gill/LSU AgCenter
Burford holly makes an attractive tall hedge to provide privacy in a landscape. Photo by Dan Gill/LSU AgCenter