Gardening Hedges Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

A Hedge for Laidback Gardeners

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Get a life: stop pruning that formal hedge and put in an informal one!

For many people, a hedge has to necessarily be neatly trimmed… and that involves a lot of maintenance. But that’s only one kind of hedge: the “formal” hedge. If you want to delineate your property without having to prune multiple times each summer, why not consider growing the formal hedge’s laidback cousin, the informal hedge?

It’s certainly simple enough to do. Just plant shrubs in a row and let them grow, period.

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Most flowering shrubs, like this Spiraea x cinerea ‘Grefsheim’, bloom much more abundantly when used as an informal hedge.

The hedge will then take the form of the shrub that composes it. If the shrub is naturally rounded, the hedge will be rounded, if it tends to be more upright, the hedge will be upright. If the shrub arches outward, so will the hedge.

As for maintenance, there is almost none involved… if you choose low-care shrubs!

Making the Right Choice

When choosing a shrub for an informal hedge, here are a few questions to ask:

  1. What is its maximum height and spread?
  2. Do its needs (exposition, soil type, drainage, hardiness zone, etc.) match my growing conditions?
  3. Is it available at a price that suits my budget?
  4. Is it naturally resistant to pests and diseases?
  5. Is it reputed for its ability to grow with little to no care?

Your local garden center operator ought to be able to answer many of these questions for you: don’t hesitate to ask.

Good Shrubs for an Informal Hedge

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Frangula alnus ‘Ron Williams’, sold under the commercial names Fine Line® and Straight Line®, makes one of the narrowest informal hedges.

Here are some shrubs that are good choices for an informal hedge in temperate climates (if your climate is tropical or subtropical, the choice is much greater!).

Note that there are multiple cultivars most of most species mentioned. They differ notably in their height and diameter, their hardiness, and the color of their flowers, fruits, and leaves.

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The rugosa rose (Rosa rugosa) makes a very hardy, very tough hedge… for areas that don’t suffer from rose chafer or Japanese beetle!

Also, the hardiness zone given is the coldest one the shrub can take. If there is a range of zones shown (example, 4-9), that means the species available vary in their degree of winter hardiness.

  1. Alpine currant (Ribes alpinum) zone 4b
  2. Amur Maple (Acer tataricum ginnala) zone 2a
  3. Boxwood (Buxus spp.) zones 4-9
  4. Fernleaf buckthorn (Frangula alnus cvs, syn. Rhamnus frangula) zone 3b
  5. Hedge cotoneaster (Cotoneaster lucidus) zone 2b
  6. Honeysuckle* (Lonicera spp.) zone 2
  7. Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) zone 3

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    Informal hedge of Japanese barberry.
  8. Ninebark (Physocarpus spp.) zone 2b
  9. Privet (Ligustrum spp.) zones 4-9
  10. Purpleosier willow, Arctic willow (Salix purpurea ‘Nana’) zone 2
  11. Shrub roses (Rosa spp.) zones 2-7
  12. Shrubby cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa) zone 2
  13. Siberian peashrub (Caragana arborescens) zone 2
  14. Snowberry (Symphoricarpos spp.) zones 2-5
  15. Spirea (Spiraea spp.) zones 2-6
  16. Viburnum (Viburnum spp.) zones 1-7

* Avoid honeysuckle varieties that are subject to witches’ broom.

Avoid Conifers

You will notice the absence of conifers among the selections of shrubs for an informal hedge. That’s because conifers continue to grow throughout their lives. To stay within the acceptable size limits of a hedge, they all need regular trimming, at least once they’ve reached the desired maximum size. This makes them poor choices for an informal hedge.

Mixed Hedge

20160629E.jpgA successful informal hedge can be composed of a single species of shrub, but this does leave it open to possible problems. In fact, you’ve just planted a monoculture: if an insect or disease appears that likes that particular species or cultivar, you’ll have quite a problem!

To avoid this, why not plant a mixed hedge? There is nothing that prevents you combining two or more varieties of shrubs in the same hedge.

If you’re open to this idea, you might want to include shrubs that extend the flowering season by blooming at different times, or plant a variety of berry-producing shrubs that ripen at different seasons, allowing you to attract fruit-eating birds for much of the year.


Enjoy your laidback hedge!

Spiraea cinerea Grefsheim

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

1 comment on “A Hedge for Laidback Gardeners

  1. Pingback: Shape Your Hedge for Winter – Laidback Gardener

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