From the August/September 2015 Issue:

Hedge Fun

    Writer: Mary Vinnedge |

A row of just-right plants can do heavy lifting in your landscape

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enlarge | Statile & Todd Inc. created more than 5,000 feet of hedges on this Somerset County property. This white garden is surrounded by a dense hedge of ‘Green Giant’ arborvitae. Shorter-growing boxwoods create borders for sub-gardens. Courtesy of Statile & Todd Inc.
You can bet on hedges to ensure privacy, direct traffic and define the boundaries of your outdoor rooms, screen unappealing views and serve as windbreaks.

Many plants can be arrayed as hedges, say Susan Cohan of Susan Cohan Gardens LLC in Chatham, Ed Sage of Sage Landscaping and Tree Service in Watchung and licensed landscape architect Jeff Higinbotham and John Todd of Statile & Todd Inc. in Far Hills. Start by figuring out the hedge’s purpose, Sage says. Then the criteria to consider are:
• The plants’ mature height, density and width (skinny plants in small areas) and sun needs.
• Deer resistance.
• Maintenance you’re prepared to do.
• The look.

Cohan, who is certified through the Association of Pro­fessional Landscape Designers, likes to mix plants. “If you use all one plant, a monoculture, something that affects one plant will affect the whole hedge.” For instance, Cohan says boxwoods are subject to blight, although ‘Chicagoland Green’ (3 to 4 feet tall and wide) is a less-susceptible variety. She recommends combinations such as “Schip laurels with a lower-growing shrub or a perennial in front of it and then liriope very low. Or plant tall laurels, a boxwood and then liriope at the lowest level.”

Many homeowners initially want a formal look (the home’s architecture sometimes calls for formality, Sage and Todd say). But when landscaping experts outline the upkeep, the clients often opt for something more casual. “We have one property in Somerset County with about 5,000 feet of hedges,” Todd says. “The property has six or seven outdoor rooms set off by hedges 12 feet high. They are all manicured. We send a big crew, and it takes six to seven days to prune.”

Cohan explains that “if the style is cottage-y and you miss a pruning, it still looks good…It takes skilled care to keep a formal garden.” All three experts say hedges should be hand-pruned.

Now to dive deeper into plant possibilities, which prefer sun except as noted.

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enlarge | Sage Landscaping and Tree Service designed and installed varied shrubs plus rudbeckia, liriope and ornamental grasses to hide pool equipment and block the view of a neighbor’s house in Basking Ridge. Courtesy of Sage Landscaping and Tree Service
For year-round privacy, you’ll probably want at least some evergreens in the mix, and steer clear of deer favorites. “Deer can destroy a hedge in a year or less,” Sage says. With that in mind, consider Schip laurels, which can take some shade and max out around 10 by 10 feet. They’re inexpensive and low-maintenance, Higinbotham says. In South Jersey, Cohan says, English laurel (15-20 feet tall by 15 wide) is prevalent. Each landscape designer recommends the deer-resistant ‘Green Giant’ arborvitae. Or there’s Leyland cypress, the fastest-growing evergreen (40 by 8 feet). “You can shear and shape it, and deer generally don’t like it,” Cohan says, “but it can blow over.” Cherry laurels (20 by 15 feet) are lovely in shade, she adds. Sage raves about bright blue-silver Colorado blue spruces (60 by 30 feet if natural; 18 by 12 feet if pruned) and likes rhododendrons (6 by 4 feet; tolerate some shade).

Among deciduous choices, Higinbotham suggests hornbeam (15 to 20 feet tall and wide) and broad ‘Doublefile’ viburnum (8 by 15 feet). And don’t forget hydrangeas (6 by 4 feet): ‘Endless Summer’ is low-maintenance, and “when it’s in bloom, it’s spectacular,” Higinbotham says. Cohan’s favorites are ‘Annabelle’ and ‘Nikko Blue.’ Todd and Sage also recommend ‘Aristocrat’ (40 by 30 feet) and ‘Chanticleer’ pears (30 by 12 feet); Sage suggests spacing of about 8 to 10 feet. Cohan advocates red-twig dogwood (10 by 10 feet) for winter interest. Prune it by a third or more in late winter or early spring for great color the next year, she advises.

Ornamental grasses can do the job too. ‘Northwind’ panicum reaches 5 feet; miscanthus is another 5-footer, but it can be invasive, Cohan cautions.

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enlarge | Boxwoods serve as the walls of a formal rose garden Susan Cohan designed in Westfield. Courtesy of Susan Cohan Gardens LLC
Living Walls
Hedges can define the spaces in your garden and even deter trespassers.

“Sometimes clients want a separation, a short wall, for a courtyard, but the budget doesn’t allow it,” Todd says. “You can use a boxwood hedge instead.” Higinbotham recommends the 2-to-3-foot-tall ‘Green Velvet’ because “it has a nice tight habit and needs less-frequent pruning than some boxwoods.” For low “walls” (to roughly 3 feet), Higin­botham nods to the perennials rudbeckia, agastache, rosemary and ‘Joe Pye’ eupatorium as well as ornamental grasses Calamagrostis x actutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ (to 5 feet tall) and ‘Hameln’ pennisetum.

Sweet box (Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis) is a great evergreen that “maxes out at about 3 by 3 feet and is a soft-leaf plant,” Cohan says. “It has the most beautiful fragrant little white blossoms” in early spring. Or consider the 4-by-4-foot Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki,’ aka “false holly,” which has variegated yellow, pink, green and ivory foliage. “It’s pointy but not as lethal as many hollies,” Cohan says.

Sage praises the evergreen Hollywood juniper (15 by 10 feet) “for a sporadic, gnarly look”; it needs little pruning. And for fall color, he recommends an old standby: burning bush euonymus (about 12 by 8 feet; deciduous).

For blooming deciduous walls, Sage likes ‘Koreanspice’ (5 by 5 feet) and leatherleaf (13 by 13 feet) viburnums as well as variegated weigela (4 by 4 feet), which “has magnificent pink or lavender blooms in early spring.” Or consider hydrangeas; lilacs (4 to 6 by 3 to 4 feet; ‘Bloomerang’ is a rebloomer); spiraea (8 by 10 feet, with white blossoms in midspring; and Knock Out® roses (4 by 3 feet), spring-through-fall bloomers.

Speaking of thorny plants, they are walls with a message: no trespassing. Cohan’s barrier suggestions include Knock Outs as well as hawthorn (30 by 10 feet; deciduous), which has “big spikes”; evergreen ‘Dragon Lady’ holly (sun to partial shade; 12 by 5 feet), which—unlike most hollies—is deer-resistant; and quince (9 by 15 feet).

For tight, tall deciduous barriers without thorns, Higinbotham offers ‘Greenspire’ linden (40 by 20 feet) and hedge maple (40 by 12 feet).

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enlarge | ‘Green Giant’ arborvitae, a deer-resistant variety, blocks the view of a busy road in Bernards Township in a project by Sage Landscaping and Tree Service. Courtesy of Sage Landscaping and Tree Service
Screening and Windbreaks
Windbreaks aren’t common in New Jersey, although on one large property (fenced to keep out deer), Statile & Todd used ‘Nigra’ arborvitae. Other options include spruce (for example: shade-tolerant ‘Oriental’ at 40 by 20 feet) and cryptomeria (also 40 by 20 feet).

When a client wanted to hide a huge generator, Todd installed a mix of spruces, hollies, Douglas firs and ‘Green Giant’ arborvitaes. Sage uses arborvitaes to completely screen out busy streets. Many of the dense-growing hedge plants mentioned earlier (junipers, boxwoods, arborvitaes, laurels, spruces, etc.) can screen pool and HVAC equipment, garbage cans, driveways and the like.

Mary Vinnedge, a Garden Writers Association of America award winner, went a little crazy planting her Holmdel landscape. Contact her through and