Boundary hedges FAQs

Can you suggest a suitable boundary hedge for my country garden? It has a field on the far side which has stock grazing in it, and I am anxious that the hedge plants should be neither attractive nor poisonous to the animals.

Hedges which best suit the style of a country garden are those made of hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel (Coiylus), field maple (Acer campestre), and myrobalan (wild) plum (Prunus cerasifera). None of these is toxic, but all are likely to be grazed by stock in adjacent fields, and while still small they should be protected from such grazing.

A hedge formed from a mixture of these plants would be dense and impenetrable and would probably need two or three cuts a season. Yew (Taxus) should not be used in such a hedge, as it is poisonous.

We have just moved into our first (newly built) house and would like to plant a boundary hedge around the outside of the garden. What are the cheapest types of hedge available?

The least expensive hedges nowadays are those formed from hawthorn (Crataegus) or privet (Ligustrurn), which cost in the region of £30-£40 per 100 plants. Blackthorn (sloe) (Prunus) and beech (Fagus) come next at about £40-£50. The honeysuckle Lonicera nitida and the hedging plums (Prunus) are about £60-£70.

Privet is evergreen; beech retains many of its leaves through the winter, but they change in autumn to a warm russet brown; hawthorn and blackthorn are spiny. All these are best trained as formal hedges. They will need at least one cut each season, and privet certainly more than one. Yew and most conifers used for hedges are twice or three times as expensive as the plums quoted above.

There is an old wooden fence around the outside of our garden which needs to be replaced, and I am thinking of planting a yew hedge, as it would make a good background to our herbaceous borders. Could you tell me how long it will take to form a reasonable hedge, and how does its cost compare with holly?

Yew (Taxus) is a slow-growing plant: it can take five years to reach 1.5 m (5 ft), and some years longer before it is as broad at the top as at the base. However, if given dressings of rotted organic matter early every spring, it will put on 375-450 mm (15-18 in) of growth annually. Holly (Ilex) is even slower-growing, although it also makes a good evergreen hedge; its prickliness can be an advantage. Yew and holly cost about the same.

Would you recommend a formal or an informal hedge for the boundary of a property?

The choice depends to some extent on the amount of time you have to spare. Formal hedges need a complete ‘close shave’ at least once in the growing season, and many of them need cutting several times. Informal hedges, because they are usually grown for their flowers, need only one cut, either in spring or mid- to late summer, with secateurs, and then only in the form of spaced-pruning cuts. Both types are ornamental in different ways, and the choice depends on your personal preference and the style of your garden. Informal hedges can make just as effective a barrier, given the right choice of plants. Some suitable ones are: the barberries, such Berberis stenophytta (orange-yellow flowers in spring); B. uerruculosa and B. gagnepainii (yellow flowers in spring); B. thunbergii ‘Rose Glow’ (purple leaves and rose-pink young shoots and leaves); Fuchsia ‘Riccartonii’ (in mild districts); Rosa rugosa cultivars; gorse (Ulex); and the purple Rhododendron ponticum.

I want to plant a beech hedge along my front-garden boundary, which faces north, as a protection from the wind. The soil tends to be chalky: is this suitable for beech?

Beeches grow naturally on limestone, and some of the most magnificent specimens are to be found in the Chilterns, where the hills are formed mainly of alkaline topsoil, with a chalk subsoil. The addition of well-rotted garden compost, farmyard manure (if obtainable), or similar material before planting is advisable; use about a barrow-load to each 4.5 m (15 ft) of trench.

Young beech is very vulnerable, and in order to ensure the hedge will be strong when mature it is important to provide a barrier against strong winds for the first three years or so. This need be only of sacking, hessian, hop-lewing, or heavy-gauge plastic sheet; and in late spring and summer each year it may be removed during calm weather.

Is there much difference between the type of hedge used for a boundary and that used for an internal barrier?

Boundary hedges generally need to be strong and impenetrable, and they are often also required to provide privacy and protection against cold. With internal hedges the accent tends to be on their decorative qualities and their ability to provide ‘surprise’ within the garden or to screen off parts which are utilitarian.

Boundary hedges need to be quick-growing and about 1.8-2.1 m (6-7 ft) high; internal hedges need be only 1.2-1.5 m (4-5 ft), or, if used for edging, only 300-450 mm (12-18 in) high.

Can you suggest suitable hedging plants for my open-plan front garden, which is constantly overrun by neighbours’ cats and dogs? I would want to keep the hedge about 900 mm (3 ft) tall.

A strong and effective hedge can be grown from some of the barberries , which are prickly, vigorous, and decorative. Berberis gagnepa’mii is excellent for this purpose; it has dense, upright growth, evergreen leaves, and yellow, pendant flower clusters in May. Another good one is the purple-leaved B. thunbergii ‘Rose Glow’, whose young growth is a spectacular pink; the flowers are orange-yellow in April, and the leaves develop reddish tints before they fall.

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