Plant TNT: Hedgerows

An informal hedgerow is a biodiverse fence.

July 10, 2012

Wood or metal fences, a monotonous row of arborvitae, or bamboo on the loose—those landscape options are overused solutions to surrounding or dividing a property. Think beyond them to a hedgerow that will provide life, color, and interest throughout the year.

A mixed hedgerow of deciduous and evergreen plants not only does the job that a fence or monoculture hedge does, but also helps the city, suburban, or country garden reconnect to a slightly wilder and wildly enjoyable side of nature.

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A myriad of life occupies my hedgerow—bushtits pick at insects, hummingbirds feed off flowers, squirrels and Steller’s jays do battle over ripening hazelnuts, chickadees and finches dive for cover when the sharp-shinned hawk floats overhead. All this and more comes from my “remnant” hedgerow along an alley in the city.

Sara Stein chronicled her back yard’s change from manicured-but-sterile to lively-and-inviting in the 1993 book Noah’s Garden. Instead of mourning the loss of her well-tamed landscape, she observed and celebrated the change. “I’m particularly fond of this berried, blooming, and richly textured hedgerow,” she wrote.

Hedgerows are a designer’s dream, because they offer visual texture and structure throughout the year while demanding little in the way of care. Hedgerow plants may be pruned as normal shrubs or grown close together so that the branches bend and weave, creating a living barrier.

For seasonal interest, as shown below, choose a mix of evergreen and deciduous plants and add a dash of perennials and bulbs at the base. Using natives—or those plants suited to the region’s climate, including rainfall patterns—means less work for the gardener and more bounty for the birds, bees, and butterflies.

Image: Ron Evans/Getty Images

A Living Fence

A few shrubs that lend themselves to hedgerows:

Serviceberries
Deciduous shrubby trees (Amelanchier alnifolia in the Northwest or A. laevis in the East) with white spring flowers followed by blue fruit and bright fall color.

Viburnums
Most of North America has native viburnums, such as the Eastern arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum) and the American highbush cranberry (V. opulus var. americanum), which stretches to the West.

Wax Myrtles
The West Coast enjoys evergreen Myrica californica, and the East has semi-evergreen M. pennsylvanica.

American Holly (Ilex opaca)
An evergreen shrub that provides cover and food for wildlife; well suited to the Southeast.

Sweet Bay (Magnolia virginiana)
Semi-evergreen shrubby tree with fragrant flowers; tolerant of wet soils; native in the Southeast and into Texas.