Steps to Create a Low Maintenance Hedge
1. Planning a low-maintenance hedge
One mistake that many people make is not carefully planning their hedges. It is important in good garden design to create a sense of enclosure. Even if you are fortunate to live on a quiet street, you don’t want to see or hear all the traffic whizzing past or have people staring at you if you want to relax sprawled out in nothing but your undies. You also probably don’t want to plant a hedge that requires lots of pruning to keep it within its allotted space. I remember reading a comment in a gardening book many years ago (as you can guess, this thought must have made an impact on me!) that planting an English Laurel on your property border is an act of aggression against your neighbour. I can understand that, because planting a bush or tree that will severely impact your neighbour, without their full consent, is really disrespectful and thoughtless. We want to be considerate of everyone as we live our daily lives. It is difficult enough to right the unintentional wrongs we inflict, without purposefully adding to them.
One of the best type of hedges for a low maintenance garden is a mixed shrub border with a couple of small trees artfully placed. Carefully choose shrubs that require no pruning if planted with room for their growth. This does not require any math skills greater than what you learnt back in Grade 3 or 4. If the shrub says it grows to 4 meters in width in 10 years, then plant it with 2 meters of space on each side. Pretty basic. You might say, “Hey! I don’t want big gaps for 10 years.” There are a couple of things to consider here. First, plants OFTEN grow faster and wider than what is shown on their tags. Second, you can fill in the gaps with some cheap fast-growers that you can eventually dig out (more about this in a moment). You also want to have a balanced mix of evergreen and deciduous plants to ensure you have winter structure. Do not plant only evergreens as you will likely feel oppressed in the winter. You may also not require total privacy, but just a “feeling” of privacy. It gives you and your neighbours the chance to relax in your yards without feeling that you must have a conversation to be polite, which is often the case if you have no screening at all.
So now the plants. Think carefully about the height you would like your hedge to be. Generally you only need 2 to 4 meters to be effective as a privacy screen. This can easily be enhanced with one or two strategically placed small trees that can be placed where there is a view from an upper window down on where you would like to spend most of your time. If you are just trying to keep out wandering puppies and children, then 1 to 2 meters is fine. If you really are having a problem with locals biking over your yard or dogs doing their business in large quantities, then consider plants with thorns or prickly leaves. They are quite good deterrents. Some thorny suggestions for you if that is your situation would be Pyracantha cultivars, Holly shrubs (such as Japanese Holly, Blue Prince Holly, or Princess Holly), wild rugosa roses, and barberry.
2. Plants for a tall low-maintenance hedge
A taller hedge could be a mixture of plants such as Rhododendron (like English Roseum), Japanese maple, native Vine maple, Amelanchier Grandiflora, Amelanchier Alnifolia, Amelanchier Canadensis, Amelanchier Lamarkii, Forsythia, Crabapple (just remember that Crabapples are relatively short-lived), common Lilac, Prunus Lusitanica (Portugal Laurel), Camellia (such as Taylor’s Perfection), English Holly, Meserve Holly, Ribes Sanguinium, Fothergilla, Viburnum, Osmanthus Burkwoodii, Elderberry, and Yew.
3. Plants for a mid-size low-maintenance hedge
For a mid-size hedge, consider Azalea, Rhododendron (such as Vulcan’s Flame), Aronia (red or black chokeberry), Hydrangea Quercifolia (Oakleaf Hydrangea), Dwarf Fothergilla, Vaccinium (blueberry or huckleberry), Salal, Ilex Verticillata, unclipped Boxwood, Mahonia, Otto Luyken laurel, Spirea, Viburnum (such as Viburnum Davidii), Skimmia Japonica, Dwarf Pinus Strobus or Mugo Pine.
4. Plants for a short low-maintenance hedge
A little hedge can be achieved with a mixture of evergreen or deciduous perennials or miniature shrubs. For example, a defining hedge can be successfully created using plants such as fern, lavender, rosemary, daylily, astibe, peony (herbaceous and tree), small Rhododendron (such as Yakushimanum), Solomon’s Seal, Mahonia Repans, Dwarf Acer Palmatum (such as Crimson Queen), Iris, Shasta Daisy, Black-Eyed Susan, and the list could go on and on!
5. Fast plants to act as temporary fillers
As I promised earlier, some suggestions for fast growing fillers that are also easy to propagate are Forsythia, Ribes Sanguinium (Red Flowering Currant), Butterfly Bush, Elderberry, Sumac (just be careful to enclose the roots of this tree or be sure to eradicate suckers), Bridal Wreath Spirea, and Ilex Verticillata.
So again, my advice is to spend some time planning before planting! That is where a lot of the fun is anyway. Also, spend some time at your local gardening center looking at the choices available. Make notes, then GO HOME and think about it for a day or two. Most of the time, the plants won’t disappear overnight. If you must purchase immediately because you suffer from a lack of self-control (I include myself here) or you don’t live nearby, then go to a good garden center where you will be refunded your purchase if you don’t keep it too long and if you do not remove tags.
Happy Hedge Planting!