I love hedges - these green walls can divide spaces, lead the eye around the garden, hide eyesores and screen the neighbours, and provide a magnificent backdrop for planting. Hedges will lift and filter wind, creating shelter and helping to temper our more frequently occurring storms. Assorted wildlife from birds to bugs also appreciate hedging plants and the safe, dense environment that the solid infrastructure of a hedge provides.
What are the best hedging plants?
Determining how you want your hedge to work for you will help to decide what sort of hedging plants you need. Do you want an above-eye-level, solid, year-round evergreen hedge presence? A low, mid-calf divider of spaces hedge? Or a metre-high barrier hedge that will hide paraphernalia but tempt you to explore further?
The size you’re aiming for, the degree of formality and see-throughness you want of your hedge are key factors in deciding which hedging plants you need, but it can be confusing. For example, yew (Taxus baccata) is generally thought to be a big, formal giant of a hedge plant, but in David Austin’s rose garden it has been used to replace the low, box hedging and works like a dream - far superior to many other box substitutes.
You can get some great ideas for designing the type of hedge you want from visiting gardens with inspiring hedges.
Which plants are best for hedging?
Our native English yew is my favourite hedging plant.The dark foliage is tight and generally needs clipping just once a year. Can be kept small or grown to 10m plus. Most soils, but not very wet. 20m. RHS H6, USDA 5b-8b.
This pretty evergreen plant, known as Mexican orange blossom, quickly forms an informal flowering hedge with shiny leaves and white, sweetly scented flowers in late spring and early summer. A hedging plant that will tolerate sun or shade and most soils. 3m. AGM. RHS H6, USDA 7a-9b.
A glossy, evergreen shrub that grows quickly to create an informal hedge. Rosy crimson flowers appear on this hedging plant in June and flower through to early autumn. Suitable for all soils and good for coastal areas. 4m. USDA 8a-9b.
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Pyracantha rogersiana ‘Flava’
This prickly hedging plant can be a useful deterrent on vulnerable boundaries. It’s fast growing and tolerates most soils in shade or sun. White flowers in summer are followed by red or orange berries. 4m. RHS H6, USDA 7a-10a.
Holly can be difficult to establish, but it’s worth persevering as a hedging plant as it tolerates pollution and exposed areas, including extreme winds. It also provides both food and shelter for wildlife, as well as lovely sprigs for your Christmas wreath. 5m. AGM. RHS H6, USDA 3a-7b.
Holm or evergreen oak forms an excellent tall and dense screen. Fast growing, it tolerates extreme winds, sun and shade and thrives in any well-drained soil in all but the coldest areas. 10m-plus. RHS H5, USDA 7a-11.
Elaeagnus x ebbingei
A fast-growing hedge that is particularly useful in windy and exposed sites. It will also tolerate all soils, except shallow chalk ones, and is also surprisingly good for pleaching - creating a hedge on stilts. 3m-plus. AGM. RHS H5, USDA 7a-10b.
These early-flowering evergreen beauties can be used to create an informal or formal hedge that is low or high depending on maintenance. With coverage year-round from the foliage, and exquisite flowers when very little is going on in the garden, what's not to like? Most camellias will tolerate sun or shade but require a lime-free soil. 3-5m. USDA 7a-10b.
Prunus lusitanica ‘Myrtifolia’
A cultivar that forms a brilliant, shiny-leaved hedging plant with a smaller, darker green leaf than the species. Fast growing even in very dry soils and exposed conditions. 10m-plus. AGM. RHS H5, USDA 7a-10b.
Laurel hedging is popular and fast-growing with large, bright green leaves. Has a wide, spreading, open habit so often becomes unkempt. Tolerates most soils (except shallow chalk), shade, sun and drought. 5m. RHS H5, USDA 6a-8b.
This relatively fast-growing shrub hedge plant, with shiny dark green leaves, is extremely useful for coastal and windy sites. It will tolerate drought, and almost all soils, provided they’re not wet. 3m-plus. USDA 6b-11.
Ivy forms a climbing plant when young and can be grown on wires or a frame to produce a useful, narrow screen for small garden without the room for a full-width hedge. It’s fast growing and will tolerate many soils and conditions. Once it matures, however, after many years, its form changes to a bushy shape that stands as a hedge. It is at this adult stage that you, and the birds and insects, can enjoy the autumn and winter flowers and berries. 10m-plus. RHS H5, USDA 5a-9b.
This evergreen has lustrous dark green leaves and is best clipped into rounded shapes. Far hardier than is often assumed and grows well in containers. Tolerates both shade and sun but prefers well-drained soil. 10m-plus. USDA 7b-9a.
A stunning spring-flowering tree or shrub also known as snowy mespilus and serviceberry. It has foliage that goes from coppery red in spring through mid green to fiery red in autumn. When used as a deciduous hedging plant, it will tolerate sun or part shade, but is not good on alkaline or dry soils. 5m. AGM. RHS H6, USDA 4a-10a.
A tough shrub with fragrant flowers from June to August, followed by large orange hips. This plant forms an informal, suckering deciduous hedge. Tolerates many soils and wind, sun/semi-shade. 1.2m-plus. USDA 2a-8b.
Many cultivars of roses, especially tough, repeat-flowering ones like Rosa The Mayflower (= ‘Austilly’), form excellent informal hedges. Feeding and regular pruning will result in more blooms. 50cm-1.3m. USDA 3a-9b.
Hawthorn hedging, as its name suggests, is possibly the best stock-proof hedging plant. Tough and fast growing, it has white flowers in May followed by red berries. Happy in many soils, sun or partial shade. 8m. RHS H7, USDA 4a-7b.
A suckering, spiny, informal hedge that has white flowers in March and April, followed by blue-black sloes in autumn. Tough and fast growing, it tolerates many soils and conditions. A good option for a prickly boundary if security is a concern. 5m. RHS H7, USDA 5a-9b.
Boxwood is an evergreen, dense hedging plant that is still popular despite problems with a fungal disease called box blight and the invasion of box tree caterpillar. You can reduce its susceptibility to pests and diseases by planting on free-draining soil in dryer areas. 5m. RHS H5, USDA 6a-8b.
Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’
This compact box is ideal for edging but more susceptible to blight than the straight species and can be slow growing. Avoid wet soils, overhead irrigation and cutting when wet. 1.5m. RHS H5, USDA 6a-8b.
Teucrium x lucidrys
This evergreen hedge shrub has been used to replace box at Prince Charles's garden at Highgrove. In summer, pinky flowers complement the dark, shiny leaves. Prefers well-drained soils, sun or part shade. 30cm. RHS H4, USDA 7a-9b.
Paeonia lactiflora hybrids
They may seem like an unusual choice for a hedge, but peonies, which flower in May and June, can be used in a row to form an attractive low hedge - although it will die down in autumn. A plant that's best in rich, heavy soils, though good drainage is essential. Prefers shelter and most prefer sun. 40cm. USDA 2a-8b.
Often cited as box substitute, this shrub has a variable habit from upright to branched and can be hard to establish. This low hedging plant likes well-drained, acid soils and sun but will tolerate some shade. 3m. RHS H6, USDA 5a-6b.
Euonymus japonicus ‘Microphyllus’
With small, polished, dark-green leaves that are very similar to box, this is another shrub that makes a good box substitute for a low hedge. It is a hedging plant that's happy in all soils except wet ones and is also tolerant of salt. 90cm. RHS H6, USDA 4a-11.
Beech hedging makes a superb formal hedge that holds its russet-coloured leaves all winter when used as a hedging plant, and clipped annually. Can be slow to establish, and prefers calcareous soils and good drainage. 10m-plus. RHS H6, USDA 4a-7b.
Many lavenders form excellent, colourful and fragrant low hedges, but sharp drainage is key for success. Best cut routinely in early August (just beyond the old wood). Prefers sun. 30cm-1m. USDA 5a-9b.
Hornbeam is a fabulous formal hedging plant that’s fast and easy to grow. Tolerates most soils, sun and shade, and exposed sites. Deciduous, it has good yellow autumn colour and holds its brown leaves really well in winter for coverage if it is clipped every year. 10m. AGM. RHS H6, USDA 4a-8b.
When to plant a hedge
In general, the best time to plant a hedge is in the period between autumn and late winter - with the caveat that you should not plant when the ground is frozen or waterlogged. Evergreen plants like yew and holly will often come 'root-wrapped' with fabric holding soil onto the rootball of the plants. Deciduous hedging plants and smaller 'whips' can be found for sale from November to March as 'bare root hedging', meaning they come with no soil attached, looking almost like a bundle of sticks. This is a really economical way to create a hedge as bare root plants are much cheaper than pot-grown specimens.
Once established, don't miss our advice on how to prune your hedge, and for tasty versions of hedges, check out our focus on edible hedgerows. And if you have an overgrown older hedge in need of fixing, you can read our guide to laying a hedge.
Where to buy your hedging plants
• David Austin Roses, Bowling Green Lane, Albrighton, Wolverhampton WV7 3HB. Tel 01902 376334, davidaustinroses.co.uk
• Double Yew Nurseries, Northorpe Fen Farm, Bourne, Lincolnshire PE10 0DR. Tel 01778 424181, doubleyewnurseries.co.uk
• Elveden, London Road, Elveden, Thetford, Suffolk IP24 3TQ. Tel 01842 890223, elveden.com
• Majestic Trees, Chequers Meadow, Chequers Hill, Flamstead, nr St Albans, Hertfordshire AL3 8ET. Tel 01582 843881, majestictrees.co.uk
• ReadyHedge, Court Gate Nursery, Station Road, Eckington, Pershore, Worcestershire WR10 3BB. Tel 01386 750585, readyhedgeltd.com
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