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How to choose a hedging plant

Adam_W
Valued Contributor

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A hedge can turn a boxed-in yard into a private, green oasis, give you formal partitioning from the street, provide a windbreak or screen out unwanted views.

 

Let’s take a look at what you’ll need to consider when choosing a hedging plant.

 

Hedge or screening plant?

 

Hedges will provide total block-out (even if only 50cm tall) whereas a screening plant will break or soften a view.


A hedge is a continuous row of plants selectively trimmed to divide or define garden areas. You can find towering 10m hedges (like in a traditional farm setting) or petite versions not much more than shin-high as a border planting or garden bed backdrop. Hedges will provide dense screening from top to bottom, and can function as windbreaks too.


Screening plants are not necessarily planted in a continuous row. They might just be one or two plants carefully positioned to hide a particular item such as a garden shed. They can be planted as a full hedgerow, but won’t be as dense as a hedge. Screening plants will generally be taller and their more open nature allows for broken views or letting dappled light through.

 

What makes a good hedging plant?


Not every plant will make a good hedge. There are a few characteristics that make a plant species or variety suitable for hedging, such as:

 

  • Speed of growth – typically the faster the better.

 

  • Response to pruning – When some plants are pruned they only send out a single new shoot below the pruning cut. Plants suited to hedging will multiply branches, which is essential for density.

 

  • Foliage coverage – Ideally a hedge should have good leaf cover from top to bottom.

 

  • Suited to neighbouring plants – Hedging plants need to be able to happily coexist with their partners without suffering, they need to weave together both above and below ground. Many plants can’t do this.

 

How to choose?

 

The first thing you need to do is decide what your main considerations are. Here are a few quick questions to get you started:

 

  • Murraya forms a dense hedge quickly.Murraya forms a dense hedge quickly.Is your hedge for privacy and dense screening or just to break a view?

 

  • How tall do you need your hedge and how deep will the area allow?

 

  • How quickly do you want your hedge to grow or need it to achieve coverage?

 

  • What level of maintenance (mainly pruning) are you comfortable with?

 

  • Do you want occasional colour through flowers or foliage?

 

  • Do you want small or large leaves? You may hear this referred to as fine or coarse texture.

 

  • What sort of location will you be planting in? – sunny, part-sun, shade, windy, coastal?

 

 

How tall?


It is very important that you choose a plant variety for your hedge that is taller than you need. If you want to conceal a standard 1.8m fence and provide a little extra privacy then you’ll want a 2m hedge, so select a variety that grows to 3 or even 5m. This is because it will take years (as long as a decade) for a variety to reach its maximum height. It might also only reach its maximum height under ideal conditions. On the other hand, it may only take 18 months to get to one third of its potential maximum. Pruning the top off to keep it at the desired height helps to keep it dense, too.

 

How deep?


How deep you want your hedge is one of the overlooked areas when choosing a hedge. In smaller spaces, it is one of the most important considerations.

 

Let’s look at an example. If the garden bed where you want your hedge is only 500mm from lawn edge to fence, it poses a conundrum because for a hedge to form-up (so that the plants weave together to create density) it needs to have a moderately deep growth habit. But you won’t want the hedge to excessively encroach on the lawn. Here you need to select a variety that is tall and slim or one that tolerates heavier pruning. The answer isn’t to go for a smaller variety and plant closer together. This can lead to excessive root competition for water and nutrients and your hedge underperforming.

 

How fast?


Plants that are recommended for hedging will generally have been bred and selected for both their speed and density so this makes your decision easier. Once you have them home it’s over to you.

Using advanced Acmenas provided faster coverage.Using advanced Acmenas provided faster coverage.
For a hedge to perform at its best it will need to be a variety suited to your aspect and soil, need suitable watering, regular feeding and, of course, appropriate and consistent pruning.

The variety you choose will come down to need and personal preferences. To get an idea of the hedging plants best suited to your area, always have a chat with a horticulturist in the nursery as they’ll know the area and available varieties well.


An important consideration will be the size you want to buy your hedging plants at. For many varieties it will be best to buy the largest plants and pot sizes that your budget can accommodate as this will get you from individual plant to hedge stage faster.

And a final word on how you use your hedge. Please, always consider your neighbours when you plant. Don’t create maintenance problems for them on their side of the fence and do not ever plant in a way that may impact their views or access to sunlight. Such inconsiderate plantings of hedges, intentional or not, have earned the nickname of “spite hedges” and can even lead to legal action.

 

Reliable hedging choices

 

Many Lilly Pillies bear masses of fluffy flowers.Many Lilly Pillies bear masses of fluffy flowers.

Lilly-pilly (Acmena or Syzygium species and cultivars)

An awesome native choice, Lilly-pilly is hardy and beautiful often with a tropical look. Many have white fluffy flowers followed by edible berries. As a bonus the new growth is often colourful shades of reds and oranges. There are many sizes and varieties available and they make a great hedge from 1m to over 3m.

 

Murraya or Orange scented Jessamine (Murraya paniculata)

Murraya is another native that is ideal for a hedge from 1m to around 3m, even as much as 4m with time. They will be covered with masses of richly fragrant small white flowers a few times a year, often after heavy rains. When well-pruned it forms a very dense hedge and with its deep green glossy foliage it has a very tropical look.

 

Photinia has colourful new foliage.Photinia has colourful new foliage.

Photinia (Photinia species and cvrs)

Photinia is a traditional favourite often seen in old gardens with many new varieties available that are fast growing. A beautiful characteristic of many Photinia is their bright red new growth. They do have larger foliage so have a courser texture. They have exceptional cold tolerance and will tolerate heavy frost or snow. Ideal for 1.5m hedges.

 

 

Box, boxwood or buxus (Buxus species and cvrs.)

Buxus is a classic plant seen as hedging in formal gardens and trained into topiary too. You’d most often use Buxus for low dividing hedges and borders. It has small leaves so it can be trimmed to very precise corners while maintaining dense foliage cover. There are a number of species and forms, some suitable for small hedges and borders, other for dense hedges of up to 2m. As they have different growth characteristics make sure you select the right one for your needs.

 

Camellia sasanqua makes a very trainable flowering hedge even in shady spots.Camellia sasanqua makes a very trainable flowering hedge even in shady spots.

Sasanqua Camellia varieties (Camellia sasanqua cvrs)

The Sasanqua Vamellias are probably the best of the flowering hedges. There are many sizes with good coverage of up to 4m so you can find one for just about any situation. Foliage is medium sized, and they flower abundantly from autumn through winter adding beautiful, and welcome, colour in the cooler months.


Clumping bamboo (Various Genus, species and cvrs)

The clumping or “escape-proof” bamboos are the go-to plants for many of today’s landscape designers and for good reason. The range available makes them extremely versatile. From the dense hedging dwarf Malay (Bambusa heterostachya cvrs) to the elegant, tall screening Slender Weaver's Bamboo (Bambusa textilis var. Gracilis) there’s a variety that you’ll find perfect for just about any situation. Do be aware that many will only maintain dense coverage from a metre or two above-ground so select a top to bottom type variety if that’s your need.

 

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