Shrubs for formal looking Hedge question

vcreed2002October 17, 2012

Hello everyone! This is my first post and I am somewhat new to gardening so please bear with me.

Ok here we go. I am planning on planting a rather large hedge. It will be about 500 ft. I want to keep it around 4 - 5 feet in height and roughly the same width. Evergreen would be a plus but not an absolute must. Faster would be nice but as long as it is not painfully slow I am willing to use it. What I am doing is enclosing my back yard. The closest neighbor is more than 100 yards away.

So here are the conditions. 1) We live in the mountains of Maryland. 2) We have clay soil (though when they built the house they spread about a foot of top soil on top). 3) For about 120ft there will be Norway Maple trees within about 35ft of the hedge. 4) All of the hedge will get sun all day except the ones by the maples. They will get sun on one side most of the day though.

The shrubs I have found myself most interested in are and in order; Yew, Burning bush and Privet. They each have to pluses and negatives. Also, has anyone heard of the Winston Peter's spreading Yew? But I am open to other shrubs if anyone has any thoughts.

Any help, advice or thoughts would be appreciated.


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How much upkeep are you planning/hoping to do once the hedge is grown?

I have, sadly, been dealing with privet hedges most of my life, and I can assure you that to stay neat, they must be trimmed between 3 and 5 times a year; the anal-retentives among us trim them every other week. Yew isn't as bad, but still must be kept after to stay neat. 500 feet is a lot of trimming.

If you don't want the hedge to stay neat, then you don't have to restrict yourself to hedge plants, and can make yourself a nice long line of mixed shrubs and small trees, which will almost certainly be less work than the privets.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 9:47AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

are the norway maples already there???

you should talk with your COUNTY soil conservation district office.. about natives .. and other options..

whatever you do.. do NOT plant all of one thing ...

and why does it have to stay under 5 feet.. no plant stops growing at some magical height ...

burning bush and privet are INVASIVE in many areas.. that is not simply a downside.. that means do NOT use them ... again.. your local extension/soil conservation office should help with that ....

good luck


ps: is 30 feet far enough from a norway .. lol ...

Here is a link that might be useful: MA soil cons offices

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 11:10AM
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Thanks for the response. I have given serious thought to the idea of how often I would have to trim the Privet. I am willing to trim two or three times a year but certainly would not want to have to do it more than that. I really want a more formal look though. Just looks so good, real crisp.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 11:12AM
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Yes the Norway�s have been there for 28 years or so. What is the advantage of planting a variety of shrubs in one hedge?
Why 5 feet? Because I would like to see over it to the beautiful countryside.Besides I did not say it had to be 5ft. I said 4-5ft. Somewhere in that neighborhood.
I plan on shaping this hedge and having it enhance my property not conceal it from the world.

"30 feet far enough from a Norway .. lol ...?" Huh? Could you be a little more specific please? I mean does that mean it is going to be harder to do or that it will be impossible?

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 11:25AM
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Also forgot to mention that I looked at the Dwarf Burford Holly. Not sure how that would do with shade and clay though.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 3:01PM
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If you want a truly formal hedge, you will be trimming privets once a month from April to November, and maybe even twice a month in the summer - they really like to grow.

Ken's LOL about the maples is probably due to the fact that it is a herculean task to grow anything under a Norway maple, due to the roots and the dense shade - absolutely one of the most invasive plants ever unleashed on an unsuspecting North America.

A formal hedge is either a lot of maintenance, if you pick a shrub that will fill out quickly, or a lot of patience, if you go with a slow-growing shrub. Good luck with it, whichever you choose.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 4:45PM
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The advantage of planting a variety is that if you have problems with one plant (disease, insect pests, hardiness issues, etc.), it will not necessarily translate to multiple plants or - heaven forbid! - the entire hedge. Also, if you do lose a plant for whatever reason, having a variety makes it much easier to replace without leaving a conspicuous hole or noticeable difference in size.

All that said, a mixed plant hedge (aka tapestry hedge or hedgerow) is never going to look very formal. They are best when allowed to grow au naturale and then you will be faced with the height issue - different types of shrubs grow at different rates and will attain different sizes. And really often require very different pruning approaches and at different times of year.

The British are hedge masters :-) Not only have they mastered the art of hedgerow planting (heck, I think they invented the process), they also have formal hedging down to an art form - look at all those groomed yews and boxwood parterres at the big estate gardens and country houses. So while it may be most appropriate to those kind of settings, of course you can have a single plant type of hedge for your entire 500' length. Just keep in mind that you are missing that staff of live-in gardeners whose only purpose is to tend to and prune that hedge!

Boxwood will work perfectly well but grows about as slow as a plant can grow - typically around an inch a year. In addition to the Burford holly, I'd consider Japanese holly (Ilex crenata). Also, 'Otto Luyken' laurel makes a very handsome hedge with minimal pruning - only grows to about 3-4 feet (and rather rapidly at that) but can get 5-6' wide. All of these will take full sun to part shade.

The only issue with the maples is the aggressiveness of their root system. It is very diffcult to get something like a hedge plant established in very close proximity. I'm not at all sure I'd consider 35' "close proximity" however.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 4:49PM
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jimbobfeeny(5a IN)

If you are within close proximity to large natural areas, I would encourage you to plant natives. Also, a more informal landscape would probably look more in step with the surroundings - I don't really know. Are you in a rural area or in a more developed area?

You could try planting some viburnums, maybe hazelnut - What's the PH of your soil?

Another thing to do would be to build a time machine, go back 28 years, and replace those Norway maples!!! LOL

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 4:58PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

you said: I am willing to trim two or three times a year but certainly would not want to have to do it more than that.

and you said: It will be about 500 ft.

===>>>> listen to me.. very carefully ... i just topped the 50 year mark ...

i planted things 12 years ago.. with a thought process such as yours..

and let me tell.. what i COULD or WANTED to do.. 12 years ago..

i can NOT ... or refuse to do now ...

you do not mention a checkbook to have this done professionally [the annual maintenance].. in the future ..... but in a decade or two.. i will predict.. that your hedge will NOT be pruned down to 4 to 5 feet.. 2 or 3 times a year.. and you are going to have to figure out how to have it removed..

i can 'see' your dream hedge ... and i respect your dream ..

all i am trying to tell you.. is to think about the long term ramifications.. once you are no longer able to prune it 2 or 3 times per year ... because.. as i said.. no plant magically stops growing at some predetermined height ... most height ESTIMATES are at 10 years.. and at 20.. most things will be nearing twice as tall ... 30 yrs.. three times.. etc ...

been there.. lived my dream.. and am now wondering how i am going to fix the dream ... which is slowly turning into a nightmare ...

good luck


ps: a pic or two.. might help us offer suggestions ... its hard to fathom a 500 foot hedge row ... and totally flat land that you have to maintain a low height ...

pps: the british use this system.. in lieu of fencing ... at the length you are talking bout.. it is not a formal pruned hedge ... do not confuse Versailles with farm reality .... or i should say.. Kew gardens.. with its army sized workforce .... formality is either a lot of labor or very expensive ...

Here is a link that might be useful: most are not formally pruned ....

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 8:50AM
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it has been my experience that when certian groups of gardening people hang out long enough, they form cliques that become very intolerant of viewpoints that don't match their own.

the question of hedges versus mixed borders is one such question here. some people don't like the uniformity, or prefer the look of a mixed border, and if I like it, you should too. it's your yard. others will have their own ideas.

I agree with the idea of planting something that will mature into the size you ultimately want to maintain. dwarf korean lilac may be an idea. mountain laurel or rhododendron, broadleaf evergreens that could be either formal or informal, depending on surroundings, and would meed only a minimum of pruning to maintain density and shape. numerous conifers, chamaecyparis cultivars and arbs come to mind. the chamaecyparis are likely to be slower...but would need almost no pruning.

there are a ranhe of plants that would look good as an informal hedge or a formal...the difference is how you trim them. fothergilla, certain shrubby junipers, inkberry holly, bayberry, all in addition to the various yews, buford holly, etc previously mentioned.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2012 at 8:41AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

they form cliques that become very intolerant of viewpoints that don't match their own.

==>> hey strob.. i hope you werent referring to my thoughts..

all i was trying to suggest.. was that as i get older.. i cant do.. what was such a good idea 10 or 15 years ago ..

and that that should be a prime part of the decision making process ...

i was pondering this this morn.. if they went with electric shears.. they will need about 600 feet of chord.. or a portable generator ...

and if they went gas powered.. they better be a rather tall burly man with large arms.. to hold it horizontal at 5 feet ... for 500 feet of labor ... not to mention probably having to use a ladder to work at 5 feet ...

and i cant even contemplate hand shrub shears for 500 feet ...

crimminey.. the logistics of it all make my head spin ...

good luck OP


    Bookmark   October 20, 2012 at 9:00AM
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jerseygirl07603 z6NJ

I'm with Ken on this one. Look 10 yrs down the road. Will you be willing/able to do the maintenance on a formal hedge? I've got more than 10 yrs on Ken and can tell you I'm not interested nor have time/energy for heavy maintenance. Would rather spend time on other gardening things. Shoot, I took out my front lawn a few years ago to reduced my husband's mowing chores. Replaced it with a lovely drought tolerant mixed shrub/perennial garden. Now we're both happy.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2012 at 9:55AM
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jimbobfeeny(5a IN)

And I was just bouncing ideas around. I just like to recommend my ideas - Untold is unsold! If you do want a formal hedge, though, I would recommend boxwood - You don't have to trim it as often as privet.

I'm not sure if you are talking "formal" as in neatly clipped, shaped hedges, but if if you just want a tidy, low-growing hedge, I would recommend Fothergilla gardenii, Clethra alnifolia, Rhododendron carolinianum (minus), or even red-flowering currant (as long as you don't have much white pines around).

    Bookmark   October 20, 2012 at 1:36PM
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ken, you mean well, and I accept it as such. never let it said otherwise.

i've been around plants in a professional capacity for twenty years. today's design fads...are just that, fads, with little more staying power than clothing fashion, and often making less sense.

i'm a firm believer in the cobcept that you pay up front for plants that will grow more slowly to the desired height (slower growth, more time required, and often closer spacing to assist in filling in), or you pay over time in maintenance costs...and i'd rather be sipping a refreshing beverage in a hammock than laboring in the summer heat, but maybe i'm just weird.

but if someone has a vision of what they want their yard to look like...who am I to say they can't have it? I am glad people want their yards to look different than mine. this is a world if many wondrous variety, and we should be more accomodating in many ways. if someone else wants to sweat, what skin is it off your back? or mine? i'll be in the hammock, thumbing the latest george rrr martin tome.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2012 at 11:32PM
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First I would like to thank everyone for their replies and ideas. Secondly I'm sorry for not getting back sooner. I had Computer problems for a bit.

I agree with the headache of upkeep down the road. And I definitely agree with the thought of not wanting to keep up with privet. That is one reason I have not run out and planted them.

This is one of the reasons I was looking a yews. They seem to be a slow to moderate grower and can make a beautiful evergreen hedge that I could shape in any manner. It would appear that they would not be terrible to keep up with either. Am I correct in these assumptions? Or am I way off base. I am fairly certain that there are varieties that stay within the size I want (ex: Wilson Peters Yew).

Box woods do look beautiful but I though yews may be better do to the shade issue with part of the hedge run. That and from what I have read that they are about the slowest growing plant on the earth, lol.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2012 at 1:48PM
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jimbobfeeny(5a IN)

Yews grow fairly fast - The ones in front of our house (Contemplating tearing them out) grow at least a foot a year - Have to be trimmed at least once a year. Still not as bad as privet.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2012 at 3:31PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

Yews are deer food. That is going to be more of a battle with them than the pruning. Boxwood is one of the few evergreens deer don't seem interested in. Boxwood does have some other issues, though. Last year there were several threads from people suffering through major losses. I don't remember what the exact problem was, though.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2012 at 3:38PM
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I have to say those otto laurels look quite nice. Does anyone know how well they handle snow loads.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2012 at 4:38PM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

'Otto Luykens' Laurel handles snow and ice quite well.
They take to trimming quite well too.
Illex crenata, 'Convexa' would be my choice, but they are a little slow to begin with. Trimmed, they look real formal and don't have the problems Boxwood has. Deer don't bother mine and I have a lot of deer.
I'm not a formal garden booster. Too many problems. The eye always goes to the one that doesn't look like the rest. Plants aren't stamped out like in a factory. Way too much maintenance. Trimming 500 ft. gets to be more work every year and harder to keep up, both physically, and or, financially. Ken has warned you! ;-)
Even Versaille's formal garden is quite small, considering the size of the building and estate.
To each his own, of course.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2012 at 8:37AM
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Ok so I think I have it down to these three shrubs; Forsythia (Sunrise), Yew and 'Otto Luykens' Laurel. Out of these three:

  1. Which holds the best chance of survival and thriving? (Remember clay soil)
    2) Which of the three would be within the expectable upkeep range. (2 � 3 timmings a year)
    3) I live in the mountains of Maryland near Camp David and we get a lot of snow. Is there one that will not handle snow loads well or is prone to winter burn?
    Bookmark   October 31, 2012 at 2:01PM
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Hi vcreed2002,

I live some miles east of you, closer to Baltimore but with the same basic conditions including plenty of deer. I've been maintaining a long privet hedge since I moved to this house in 1975. 36 of those years were kind of fun. I've done careful hand pruning, lazy shearing, careful measuring & shearing. I've added/removed other shrubs next to the hedge to liven it up. One year we sculpted it to be the Loch Ness Monster to entertain the kids.

In 2011 I might have advised you to go ahead with the privet. It's cheap, nothing kills it, neither drought nor flood stops it, and no matter what mistakes you make, it'll grow back. But in 2012 I fell -- broke foot and ankle, tore up various ligaments. No one in the family was game to take over the necessary frequent pruning, including those now-grown kids who used to like the Loch Ness Monster so much. Hire someone, they said.

Hiring someone is REALLY expensive, I found, especially since it has to be done multiple times in a season. I kept thinking I'd recover and catch up... Finally I started really thinking and hired the landscape company to come tear the whole thing out. Best decision ever. I now have that whole area to replant with the kind of mixed border that various posters suggested.

That said, all three shrubs you mentioned will grow well here. Given deer browsing, rate of growth, and expense of 500', I'd recommend the Otto Luykens, well spaced and not too formally maintained. That's provided you have good drainage. Deer will eat the yew, and that much forsythia can be a mess to maintain.

Ever since I decided to remove the hedge and put in a mixed border, I've been hobbling around garden centers considering other deer-resistant and extremely low maintenance ideas. Going with Mt.Airy Fothergilla for bloom and color, small Cryptomeria, some of the newer Japanese holly / barberry / boxwood cultivars, plus Osmanthus 'Gulftide' and 'Sasaba' for eventual size.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2012 at 5:17PM
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jimbobfeeny(5a IN)

Mount Airy fothergilla is a really nice shrub - It is one of those plants that takes on a "formal" look of its own in its twig pattern. They mature at a height of about 5 feet or so, making a neat, tidy hedge that really doesn't require much upkeep.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2012 at 5:54PM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

Fothergilla is a nice, well behaved, deciduous shrub. A little pricey for 500 feet of them though. I would think an evergreen shrub would be more appropriate as a hedge associated with deciduous Norway Maples.
Mine are showing a good bright red this Fall.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2012 at 1:48AM
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Thanks hollygrove

I suppose my drainage is about as good as it can be considering the clay. The way the land is layed out water will run way from the hedge.

I like the yews best but they seem to really stress wet feet with them. The Otto Luykens is a really nice evergrren though to. Once again thanks for the imput.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2012 at 5:44PM
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Vcreed -

I wouldn't suggest forsythia of any kind for a formal hedge as its growth pattern is informal, even F. Sunrise which is supposed to get to 6' x 6', a bit smaller than many. Forsythia is a plant that looks pretty awful when pruned IMO, particularly since it doesn't grow back evenly and ends up with holes and awkward branches. If you can find a variety than stays small enough to not need pruning and you don't mind leaving it to its natural growth pattern instead of making it boxy, it would be a good choice for a hedge. Most of the varieties I could find are either a bit tall (5'-6') or a bit small (2'-3') for your wishes.

Heed the warnings about yew and deer. Nothing is nastier looking than a totally defoliated shrub with all the small twigs also gone. I live in a rural area and there are a fair number of deer, but the only plants they have ever bothered really are yew (completely bare and only larger branches almost all of the time) and toad lily. If you have any real deer problem, this won't be a hedge at all, and having to replace that many shrubs would be expensive.

Otto Luykens isn't hardy for me so I can't comment.

I'll add to the folks who like Fotherilla. I have Mount Airy in a variety of places around my property. Healthy leaves, interesting flowers before the leaves with nice mild honey scent, moderate growth rate for me, and stunning autumn color. It doesn't mind clay subsoil or sandy soil (I have it planted in both.) Mine were planted as 8" cuttings and now (6 years later) are in the range of 3' tall and wide. If planted larger, they'd make a nice hedge by now. In one spot they get snow shoveled onto them from the path by the back door and they do just fine.

Look into dwarf red twig dogwoods if you want winter interest. Arctic Sun (Cornus sanquinea 'Cato' ppaf')and Arctic Fire (Cornus stolonifera 'Farrow' ppaf) both get to about 4'. AS has gold shading to red orange towards the tips in winter and AF has red twigs. They both have a low-key green appearance during the spring and summer, but AS has nice bright yellow fall color as well. Flowers are white, but pretty unobtrusive. Periodic pruning of some of the stems to the ground will keep the winter stem color bright, but isn't required to maintain your view. In some areas shrub dogwoods may have disease issues but not everywhere, so check with a local folks who would know if this is a problem in your area.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2012 at 10:08AM
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