I love planting hedges. These green garden walls can do so much. Dividing spaces, leading the eye, hiding neighbours and providing a magnificent backdrop for planting. Hedges will lift and filter wind, helping to temper our more frequently occurring storms. Wildlife appreciates hedging plants and the safe, dense environment that the solid infrastructure of a hedge provides too.
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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 or 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.
Don’t miss our piece on how to prune your hedge, as well as a piece on how to care for your hedgerow. Below are Bunny’s choices of the best hedging plants. And for tasty versions of hedges, here’s our focus on edible hedgerows.
The best hedging plants
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 plant 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.
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, and provides both food and shelter for wildlife. 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. 3m-plus. AGM. RHS H5, USDA 7a-10b.
These flowering beauties can be used to create an informal or formal hedge that is low or high depending on maintenance. The hedging plants 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 is fast growing hedging plant 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 grown on wires or on a frame produces a useful, narrow screen which is excellent in a hedging plant. It’s fast growing and will tolerate many soils and conditions. The flowers, in early winter, provide food for insects. 10m-plus. RHS H5, USDA 5a-9b.
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 with foliage that goes from coppery red in spring through mid green to fiery red in autumn. This hedging plant 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. The plant forms an informal, suckering deciduous hedge. Tolerates many soils and wind, sun/semi-shade. 1.2m-plus. USDA 2a-8b.
Many cultivars, especially tough, repeat-flowering ones, such as Rosa The Mayflower (= ‘Austilly’), form excellent informal hedges. Feeding and regular pruning will result in more blooms. 50cm-1.3m. USDA 3a-9b.
Hawthorn, 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. 5m. RHS H7, USDA 5a-9b.
This evergreen, dense hedging plant is still popular despite box blight. You can reduce its susceptibility by planting on free-draining soil in dryer areas. Commercial chemicals can also help. 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 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
Peonies peak in May and June to form an attractive low hedge, although it will die down in autumn. A hedging 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 hedging plant like 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. 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.
Superb formal hedge that holds its russet-coloured leaves all winter when used as a hedging plant. 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.
A fabulous formal hedging plant that’s fast and easy to grow. Tolerates most soils, sun and shade, and exposed sites. Has good yellow autumn colour and holds brown leaves in winter. 10m. AGM. RHS H6, USDA 4a-8b.
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