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Hedges have been a part of landscapes for centuries. Whether planted for privacy screens or for ornamentation, there are lots of plants to choose from.
A formal hedge is characterized by repetition of the same plant and is kept in shape and in bounds by pruning. Informal hedges use a variety of plants and plant sizes. The mix can include evergreen and deciduous in flowering and non-flowering varieties. When deciding which type, consider the amount of maintenance you are willing or able to provide.
Determine whether the area to be planted is in the sun or shade, type of soil and the availability of water. Note property lines before starting any hedge. If possible, discuss the project with your neighbor first. Also check local ordinances if you plan on planting near the street. Take note of overhead utilities. Before beginning any excavation, call 811 to check for underground utilities.
Planting beside driveways or sidewalks can be challenging when faced with limited planting space. Trees may prove to be a challenge to grow and a problem in the future. Since tree roots grow out laterally seeking water they may grow under the pavement. The roots that do develop could push the pavement up, causing uneven and broken areas.
Choose plants based on the mature size of the plant, not the size of the container you see at the garden center. Mature size includes the width as well as the height. Width is a very important consideration where property lines are involved. Avoid the distress of having a hedge that encroaches on neighboring property and plant accordingly. Height is important when screening undesirable views (even from second stories), but use caution. A moderately-sized tree could grow to a mature size that would endanger the house.
For hedging, you want to plant a little closer together than you would otherwise. Be very careful not to crowd the plants, however. Overcrowd them too much and the plants will suffer after a few years, perhaps to the point of having to remove them and start over. Don't plant so thick that you stop air and sunlight from reaching your yard.
Shrubs, trees or a combination of both are the materials you will need. Look at the growth rate when shopping. While waiting for your plants to develop think about filling in the gaps between them with taller perennials, ornamental grasses or roses such as shrub, hedge, climber or rambler varieties. After the permanent hedge starts to fill in, you can move the temporary plants to another location. Plant in layers or stagger the plantings to allow eventual coverage. You could always buy a mature plant. Larger plants cost more, but provide immediate relief to the situation.
Remember that deciduous plants lose their leaves when dormant. Broadleaf evergreens and coniferous evergreens will retain leaves and color all year. Evergreens may be a better choice than a deciduous shrub that loses its leaves in winter.
Some common hedge materials and their uses:
Fast-growing trees and shrubs can help remedy a privacy problem relatively quickly, but there can be a downside. The rapid growth rate may come with weaker than normal root and branch strength, making them more vulnerable to wind or storms.
Your plant choices and growth rates will also depend a lot on what USDA Plant Hardiness Zone you live in. Growth rates may vary by plant variety and the growing environment and level of plant care provided. Your local Lowe's garden center carries plants best-suited to your region. For comparison, here is a list of average growth rates of some common shrubs:
If your need for privacy is urgent and your landscape can accomodate it, consider installing a fence.