An attractive hedge can serve many purposes in a landscape design, yet its beauty often makes the viewer unaware of its function. A hedge can define a boundary, such as a property line, a garden path or the edge of a driveway. It can provide discreet privacy for outdoor living and entertaining, it can provide a windbreak for more fragile garden plants, and it can screen off undesirable aspects of the landscape. A wide range of ornamental evergreen plants work well in a hedge; however, the selection should be based on the growing conditions of the site and the purpose of the planting.
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Soil Test First
In a front yard, a hedge often defines the property lines, especially along the front border next to the sidewalk or street. It may also delineate a path leading to the entrance, from the street or from the driveway. A healthy hedge adds beauty and value to the landscape. Before selecting plants, it is advisable to have a soil test completed so that you can amend the soil with the proper nutrients to suit your needs. Hedges can be trimmed and shaped for a formal garden look, or the shrubs may be allowed to grow naturally, with minimal pruning and shaping. The height to maintain a hedge depends on its purpose in the landscape. The plants in all hedges should be dense and compact. Plants with medium- to fine-sized leaves are preferable to those with coarse, large leaves.
Evergreens are preferred for hedges because they maintain colour in all seasons. Broadleaved evergreens like rhododendrons, including azaleas, are especially beautiful for hedges, even in northern climates, when the planting site is carefully selected. After spectacular blooming displays in May and early June, these plants maintain dark green broad-leaf foliage throughout the year. Other broad -leaf choices include holly, which requires both male and female plants to produce berries; boxwood, which can be formally shaped or allowed to grow naturally; mountain laurel, which produces spring flowers and deep green foliage throughout the year; and Russian cypress, which has dense fan-like foliage that changes colours in each successive season. Broad-leaf evergreens require protection from direct sun, and shelter from winter winds, because fast temperature changes can be lethal. An ideal site would be in the north shadow of a building, fence or planting.
Coniferous evergreens are also called narrow-leaved evergreens. These plants include varieties of pine, spruce, yew, cedar and fir. Narrow-leaved evergreens generally need less pruning than deciduous or broad-leaf evergreen hedge plants. Many do not respond well to severe cutbacks because they are unable to produce new shoots from old wood. If pruning is necessary, the best way to control growth is to cut back main centre shoots to the first or second whorl of branches. Never cut back to leafless wood. Pruning should take place in the early spring before new growth begins. A second pruning may be necessary in early summer when the new growth has reached its full length. Most narrow-leaved evergreens serve beautifully as hedges in their natural shape. Conifers that can take close shearing to shape a formal hedge are yew, red cedar, arbor vitae and hemlock.
Hedge plants thrive in well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter. Broad-leaf plants are placed in the ground with bare roots, while narrow leaf plants must keep their soil ball intact with burlap or some other wrapping. Most hedgerows are planted in a trench rather than individual holes. It is important to set the plants at their original soil level height by mounding earth in the trench, if necessary. Spacing depends on the size of the plants and the purpose of the hedge. For small, formal hedges the plants may be spaced 6 to 8 inches apart, while larger plants may be placed 18 to 30 inches apart. Tall conifers may be planted as much as 6 feet apart. If plants are to keep their natural shape in the hedge, they may be planted farther apart. To create a thicker hedge, make a double row of plants and stagger the placement of individual plants.
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