By Dan Gill, LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
If you are considering planting a hedge, now is a great time to get it done. This allows the shrubs to take advantage of the less-stressful conditions during the cool season to get established in the landscape. Newly planted hardy shrubs will not be bothered by winter freezes.
The role that hedges play in the landscape is important. The primary reason many hedges are planted is to create privacy. Most people prefer and are more comfortable having some privacy for their outdoor living areas, and hedges do an excellent job providing this need. They are less expensive than building a wall and create a more natural look.
Hedges also are important for screening views that you donít want to see, such as an unattractive nearby building. A hedge also can be a sound barrier and help moderate noise originating off your property. It also can help enclose the landscape, creating more intimate spaces and dividing a yard into "rooms."
When creating a hedge, shrubs are generally planted in single rows, although some people plant a zigzag pattern to increase the depth of the hedge. Generally, only one type of shrub is used to create a hedge, but mixing several different types of compatible shrubs can be effective, especially when creating a large screen or sound barrier.
Properly spacing the shrubs is important and varies with the plants selected. Spacing is, however, generally closer than we might typically plant the shrubs for other landscaping purposes. This is because a closer spacing, within reason, helps provide quicker results.
Planting the shrubs that will create the hedge in well-prepared soil is important if youíre interested in making sure they grow as fast as possible (which, of course, you are). First, get rid of any unwanted vegetation, then till the soil in a strip about 2 feet wide (depending on the situation) and the entire length of the area where they will be planted. Next, spread a 2- to 4-inch layer of organic matter (compost, processed or aged manure, peat moss) over the area and till that in thoroughly.
When planting the shrubs, make sure you donít plant them too deeply. The top of the root ball should be level with or slightly above the soil level of the bed. Finally, mulch the plants and water them thoroughly to settle the soil.
In April, fertilize the shrubs with a general-purpose granular fertilizer following package directions. You will need to water the shrubs during summer dry spells. An easy and efficient way to do this is to run a soaker hose at the base of the shrubs and cover it with the mulch. When you need to water, simply attach a garden hose to the soaker hose and turn it on. Allow it to irrigate until the water has penetrated into the soil about 6 inches or more. Fertilize again in June or July.
Good bed preparation, fertilizing twice a year and keeping the shrubs mulched and well watered during summer is the best way to encourage a hedge to grow as fast as it can.
Still, you will need to be patient. Even fast-growing plants will generally take three to five years before they begin to do the intended job.
Training your hedge also is important. Most hedges are pruned at least occasionally as they grow to encourage them to be thick and full. For a more formal look, hedges can be sheared regularly.
The most important aspect to pruning is to make sure the top does not grow out wider than the base. Most shrubs want to produce a wide top and narrower base, especially when they are simply sheared across the top occasionally. If this happen, the wide top of the hedge will shade out the lower parts, causing them to lose their foliage and creating a leggy hedge you can see through. When training the hedge, always keep this in mind and make sure the top is somewhat narrower than the bottom.
When selecting the type of plant to use, you must look at your desires and taste, the purpose of the hedge, the expected height and the growing conditions. Itís harder to grow full, thick hedges in shady locations, and you have fewer plant choices, although hollies, ligustrum, sasanquas, camellias, Chinese mahonia, nandina and cleyera will all tolerate some shade.
For a 3- to 5-foot hedge, consider dwarf yaupon holly, Chinese mahonia, dwarf sasanqua, dwarf oleander, azaleas, Indian hawthorn, nandina and Rotunda holly.
For hedges 6 to 10 feet tall, ligustrum, cleyera, camellia, sasanqua, oleander, dwarf Burford holly, gardenia, pittosporum and Indian azaleas are possible choices. For taller hedges and screens, look at Savannah holly, Dahoon holly, banana shrub, sweet olive, Japanese viburnum, sweet viburnum, Japanese yew, ligustrum, cherry laurel, loropetalum, Russian olive (elaeagnus), pineapple guava, Needlepoint holly, Nellie R. Stevens holly, wax myrtle and yaupon holly.
Again, carefully consider the characteristics you want the shrubs to have. Besides size, being evergreen and growing fast, consider shrubs that also produce flowers, fragrance or attractive fruit.