An Evergreen Hedge for Shade and Cold?

A yew hedge (Taxus × media ‘Hicksii’) is perfect for both sun and shade. Photo: sublimegardendesign.com

Question: I currently have a cedar hedge in a shady spot. It’s in bad shape and some plants have died. I would like to replace it with a hedge that is better adapted to shade and sun and keeps its leaves in winter. Is the yew a good choice? I live in zone 5b.

J. F. Lebel

Answer: There are surprisingly few shrubs that are evergreen, shade tolerant and can put up with really cold winters. 

You’re right that a yew would be an excellent choice, but make sure you get a hardy enough one. The Japanese yew (Taxus cuspidata) is the hardiest of the upright yews (hardiness zone 4a to 9) and grows well in both shade and sun. There are several cultivars, but ‘Cuspidata’ and ‘Columnaris’ are probably the best choices, being naturally taller than they are wide and not too expensive. And the hybrid yew (T. × media), although a little less hardy (zones 5 to 9), would still be suitable. The cultivar ‘Hicksii’, an upright variety, makes a very good hedge. But don’t expect a bargain. Yews are slow growing and therefore slow to reach a saleable size. As a result, a yew hedge will probably cost three times more than a typical cedar hedge. (Actually, the “cedars” in cedar hedges are not cedars at all but arborvitae, Thuja occidentalis.)

Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) hedge. Photo: Davis Sydnor, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org

Also consider Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), zones 4 to 7. With this conifer, there is no need to look for an expensive cultivar: the wild form will be just perfect. As with any other hedge plant, you’ll have to prune it regularly shape it into a classic hedge.

Freshly planted boxwood hedge (Buxus × ‘Green Mountain’). Don’t worry, it will fill in over time! Photo: http://www.thetreecenter.com

You could also try a boxwood hedge. You won’t be able to use the common boxwood (Buxus sempervirens), the classic boxwood hedge used in all the great gardens of Europe, however, because it won’t be hardy enough in your area (it’s adapted to hardiness zones 6 or 7 to 9, depending on the cultivar). Instead, try the much hardier hybrid boxwoods like B. × ‘Green Mountain’ and B. × ‘Green Velvet’, both adapted to hardiness zones 4b to 9. They’ll reach about 5 feet (1.5 m) at full maturity. The growth of boxwood is, however, very slow and you’ll need a little patience if you want to use them as a hedge.

Blue holly hedge (Ilex × meservae). Photo: http://www.quickhedge.com

Finally, some evergreen hollies are just barely hardy enough for your climate and will grow in the shade … or at least in partial shade. This is especially the case of the various blue hollies (Ilex × meservae), like ‘Blue Princess’ (female) and ‘Blue Prince’ (male). They’re adapted to zones 5b to 9. Avoid locations exposed to harsh winter winds, though: in your area, blue hollies tend to struggle under such conditions. 

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. After studies at the University of Toronto and Laval University where he obtained his B.A. in modern languages in 1978, he succeeded in combining his language skills with his passion for gardening in a novel career as a garden writer and lecturer. 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 is a regular contributor to and horticultural consultant for Fleurs, Plantes, Jardins garden magazine and has written for many other garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening, Rebecca’s Garden 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 50 other titles in English and French. He can be seen in Quebec on French-language television and was notably a regular collaborator for 7 years on the TV shows Fleurs et Jardins and Salut Bonjour Weekend. He is the President of the Garden Writers Association Foundation and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. An avid proponent of garden tourism, he has lead garden tours throughout Canada and to the gardens of over 30 countries over the last 30 years. He presently resides in Quebec City, Quebec.

1 comment on “An Evergreen Hedge for Shade and Cold?

  1. the Indian laurel (Ficus microcarpa ‘Nitida’) we use in Southern California is great for shade, but will not take frost. I can’t even use it here. It is unfortunate, because is works so well in partial shade. We do use English laurel though. It is surprisingly tolerant of shade. Of course, the arborivitaes work for us too. Yew can work, but is not available here.

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