Bet your hedge

By Cynthia Bee, Conservation Garden Park

For more than 100 years, the “standard of beauty” for Utah home landscapes has been defined not by our stunning mountains, valleys and vistas but by a prescribed set of rules and planting styles that come from Europe—a climate wholly different from our own. Among the many imported landscape traditions is that of manicured, clipped hedges—a row of identical leafy green soldiers, all lined up in perfect formation to guard the property line.

Unfortunately, our climate isn’t particularly hospitable to the most commonly grown evergreen occupiers—boxwoods, privets, euonymus and hollies are poorly matched against our cold, dry, salty winters. Under this onslaught, moisture is wicked from the leaves of these shrubs by dry winds through a process known as desiccation, where the plants simply dehydrate.

There are other issues that often happen with long rows of the same shrub, one of which is “Missing Tooth Syndrome.” As one or more of the shrubs in the formation dies, it leaves a hole in the hedge that can never quite be filled in to match the original. This is especially common when shrubs are under stress from climate unsuitability or over-pruning. In fact, the more a hedge is pruned to perfection, the shorter the life span of the shrubs—and who has time for all that trimming anyway? Placing your landscape bets on a single-species hedge of non-adapted shrubs is a needlessly risky prospect. Instead, consider one of the two solutions to perimeter privacy we recommend below:

Option 1: Utah-friendly Hedge Plants

If you must have the evergreen hedge look, there are several junipers which will naturally grow in a narrow, tight formation without being coerced by the clippers. The cultivars ‘Blue Arrow,’ ‘Taylor’ and ‘Skyrocket’ are commonly available in Utah to create a tall, evergreen hedge. The variety ‘Gold Cone’ offers a shorter alternative with gold-tinged foliage.

When evergreen is less important but a tight line of the same shrubs is still desired, consider using either Tallhedge Buckthorn or ‘Fine Line’ Buckthorn.  These densely-branched shrubs grow 7-10 feet tall but only 18 inches wide, naturally.  You’ll achieve the hedge look without sheering and pruning which preserves the life of the plant, your back and your Saturday all at the same time.

Option 2: A Mixed Hedge

A mixed hedge is filled with several different plant varieties and arranged in a more natural grouping.  If one of the shrubs dies, it can easily be replaced without creating an obvious hole in the design. The key to keeping the hedge from looking like an overgrown jungle is to create contrast between the different shrubs.

Mix green leaved plants with burgundy, gold, and/or variegated foliage to make each plant group adjacent but distinct.  The contrast makes it orderly and planned but won’t require perfection to maintain.  It’s fine to plant several of the same shrub in one group or to repeat a group along the length of the border, the key is to break it up a bit.

For more hedge plant suggestions and grouping ideas, visit our blog: