Grow Edible Garden Hedges!

Garden hedges are simply a row of shrubs planted to form a screen, divider, or barrier.

Hedges provide privacy, act in place of fencing, keep animals in or out, visually set off an area of the yard, or form a backdrop for other, more showy plants. Hedges can be formally trimmed, or left to grow in more natural shapes.

If trimmed, hedges are the simplest form of topiary. Trimming hedges is an easy way to see if you like shaping plants before tackling more difficult topiary forms.

Best of all, your garden hedges can be edible!

The best hedges to plant depend on the reason you need a garden hedge, because there are many different types:

  • A privacy hedge screens your yard from view, or hides something objectionable. Privacy hedges are also called privacy screens, and are usually are eye level or higher. The best privacy screens are fast growing evergreen hedges, planted close together (arborvitae is a good example). But if you only need privacy during summer, deciduous plants such as elderberry or Siberian peashrub can work very well.
  • A barrier hedge is used when you want to keep animals or people from crossing an area. Most barrier hedges are composed of thorny plants -- roses and pomegranates make excellent barrier hedges. Barrier hedges blocking off farmland from roads are called hedgerows, and often contain hedge trees as well.
  • A divider hedge is used to mark the boundaries of a garden, used for things like knot gardens, hedge mazes, or grown to provide backdrops or other ornamental uses. Garden hedges that are simply dividers can be made of any shrub or plant, the exact one depending on the look you want. I've seen divider hedges of lavender, daylilies, and even parsley!
A rosemary hedgerow with palm trees

Choosing edible shrubs for hedges

First you need to decide whether your garden hedges will be formal or informal. Woody evergreen plants with relatively small leaves that grow thickly (for example, rosemary, one of the fruit-bearing Eugenias, bay laurel, or holly) are best for formal box-cut (or other geometrically-shaped) hedges. For informal hedges, any shrub of the right mature size for your needs will do.

Take a look at the final mature height and width of the plant (which you can find information about from your supplier). While pruning can keep many plants smaller than usual, a tree with a 30 foot final height will only look good as a four foot garden hedge for so long. You can generally keep a plant pruned to 1/2 of its "normal" height before the plant starts to have problems.

Also look at the plant's growth pattern:

  • Does it grow densely or with a more open form? You can find clues in pruning instructions -- if there are a lot of instructions on how to prune to "create an open structure" or similar things, you're likely dealing with a dense-growth plant. You can use plants that grow with a more open form in hedging, if you don't care about it being a formal privacy hedge. Just be aware of what you're doing.
  • What shape does this plant naturally grow in? Tall, thin plants will do best for narrow hedges, where plants with spreading growth will be best for lower-height hedges. Keep in mind that often a particular plant has varieties that grow in different ways (bush, spreading, etc.), and choose the plant that fits what you want.
  • Does this plant put out branches close to the ground? While some only will do this when pruned to limit height, plants that only send out branches several feet from the ground (most trees fall into this category) will need other plants below them if you want to use them as barrier or privacy hedges.

Also, what color do you want your hedges to be? What sort of flowers or fruit does this plant have? Will it fit your overall design?

An important factor is whether your family likes to eat what this plant produces, because several dozen feet of something you won't use is food going to waste.

Rose hedge at a German manor

Planting landscape hedges

When planting a hedge, the spacing depends on what kind of garden hedges you need, and whether they are to be formally pruned or allowed to grow naturally.

For a "wall of plants" type hedge, choose a dense-growth plant that puts out branches low to the ground.

Place plants at around 3/4 of their final mature width (for example, if you're planting something with a final width of 4 feet, put the plants 3 feet apart).

As the plants grow, their branches will intertwine, forming the "wall" you want. You can prune the wall if you want it to look formal or leave it alone for an informal look.

The exact spacing depends on the plant and what it produces. If you're going to need to get into the plants to harvest fruit, for example, you'll want to space the plants out more. If you've picked a less dense-growing plant, you may want to space the plants closer to get the right effect.

To make a row of evenly spaced plants, take the width of each plant (either the normal width or the width you want to prune it to) then add how much spacing you need.

Example 1: You have plants that you want to prune to 2 feet wide, and you want 1 foot between each plant. Therefore, place the plants three feet apart (2 feet for the pruned width plus 1 foot for the spacing).

Example 2: You have plants that will end up 4 feet wide, and you want 1 foot of spacing. Therefore, place the plants 5 feet apart (4 feet for the width plus 1 foot for the spacing).

These calculations only work if all the plants are the same width. If you're mixing plants in a hedge, or you want to prune your plants to different widths, spacing becomes a bit more complicated. Basically what you do is to allow for half the width of each plant then add the spacing.

Example: Plant A will be 2 feet wide. Plant B will be 4 feet wide. You want 1 foot space between each of them. The way you figure this is 1 foot for plant A, 2 feet for plant B, and one foot for the space. So place plant A four feet from plant B.

This applies to informal and formal hedges -- any situation where the plants will end up being different widths.

Do you need help figuring plant spacing for your garden hedges? I'd be happy to help you.

Pruning your garden hedges

If you want your garden hedges to be full and dense all the way to the ground, you must prune the plants down to six inches from the ground when you plant them. This applies no matter if you intend this to be a formal or an informal hedge.

If you do this, the plant will make many low branches, adding to them as it grows taller, and will grow in a dense pattern. Keep the base of your hedge wider than the top so the lower branches won't lose their leaves.

Here's a fairly good video guide on pruning hedges that can help as far as how to prune them later.

The best hedge trimmer is one that works for you. I personally prefer manual hedge clippers, but lots of people like electric hedge trimmers or a gas powered hedge trimmer. You can even use a weedeater as a hedge trimmer if you're in a hurry.

Creating your own edible yard? Would you like to talk more about edible garden hedges with a group of people who love edible landscaping as much as you do? Join the Tasteful Landscape community:

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What would you like to read about next? Here are some related pages:

Growing an herb garden - Herb knot gardens

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What are the most decorative edible hedges?

Suggestions for an edible hedge

About a pomegranate hedge

Discussion about an edible screen for zone 9

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