If you look back over the history of hedges, you’ll realize that, although today’s hedges always seem to be composed of shrubs and conifers, that wasn’t always the case. In fact, from the 1800s through the 1940s, perennials were used just as often used to draw lines in the garden. Peony hedges, goat’s beard hedges, even asparagus hedges were all considered to be valuable choices back then… and there is no reason you couldn’t put in a perennial hedge today as well.
The main advantage of perennial hedges is their reduced maintenance. No need for careful shearing: you just let them grow! Each spring, just cut back anything that is still standing and voilà: the maintenance for the entire season is done!
A perennial hedge can also offer the advantage of being able to grow where conifer or shrub hedges won’t. For example, near a road cleared by snowplows or snow blowers in the winter. The tearing, crushing action of pushed snow can leave the exposed branches of woody plants in tatters, but perennials are safely asleep underground when the attack occurs and will sprout anew in the spring without any damage whatsoever.
The Right Stuff
To make a good hedge, you’ll need to choose a perennial of an appropriate height, one that is well-covered with leaves from bottom to top, that can resist wind without requiring staking, has attractive foliage (for a hedge, that’s often more important than bloom!), has a long season of interest and is suitable, of course, for your growing conditions.
Here are some perennials that make excellent hedges.
- Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) zone 2
- Aster (Aster spp.) zone 4
- Baptisia (Baptisia australis) zone 4
- Barrenwort (Epimedium spp.) zone 3
- Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’) zone 3
- Bugbane (Cimicifuga spp.) zone 3
- Checkerbloom (Sidalcea spp.) zone 4
- Cup plant (Silphium spp.) zone 3
- Cutleaf coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata) zone 3
- Daylily (Hemerocallis spp.) zone 3
- Feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’) zone 4
- Garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) zone 3
- Gas plant (Dictamnus albus) zone 4
- Gayfeather (Liatris spp.) zone 3
- Globe thistle (Echinops ritro) zone 3
- Goat’s beard (Aruncus dioicus) zone 3
- Great fleeceflower (Persicaria polymorpha, syn. Polygonum polymorphum) zone 3
- Hosta (Hosta spp.) zone 3
- Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) zone 4
- Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium spp.) zone 3
- Meadow-rue (Thalictrum spp.) zones 2 à 6
- Meadowsweet, Queen of the meadow (Filipendula spp.) zone 3
- Milkweed (Asclepias spp.) zones 3 à 10
- Maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis) zones 4 à 6
- Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) zone 3
- Peony (Paeonia lactiflora) zone 3
- Perennial hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos) zone 5
- Perennial sunflower (Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’) zone 4
- Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) zone 4b
- Showy stonecrop (Sedum spectabile) zone 3
- Southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum) zone 3
- Tall moor grass (Molinia arundinacea) zone 4