Go for a green and lively fence and plant a hedge


The pandemic has encouraged us – some would say forced – to embrace change. Your hair has probably grown longer between cuts, you may be making fewer trips to the grocery store, and you probably know your neighbors a little better.

Speaking of neighbors and how fences make good neighbors, now is a good time to consider another change: a fence in the form of a healthy green or flowering hedge. Hedges can provide privacy, support for pollinating insects, nesting places for birds, or even a sound barrier as your hedge matures.

Here are our six favorite hedge plants:

Cedars are almost permanent (they last several times longer than a wooden fence), they are evergreen, and they are suitable for the narrow, linear space we usually allocate to a hedge. All cedars require a minimum of six hours of sunlight per day. There are two species of roof cedar used in Ontario: native white cedar and emerald cedar (“Smaragd”).

1. White cedars are often harvested from the wild, so look for nursery-grown cedars to make sure they haven’t been poached by an unsuspecting landowner. Trees grown in nurseries also transplant better because they are grown in pots. Start small for best results, around three feet tall, as the young will take root quickly and outgrow their more mature counterparts. They cost less and require less TLC to start them. White cedars lend themselves to formal pruning.

2. Emerald cedars are a cultivar developed in Denmark a few generations ago. They have an emerald green appearance and never need to be trimmed, provided they have sufficient space. Start with locally grown stocks (not from British Columbia or Washington state), as they are better suited to our climate. Also start these small specimens.

3. Bridal wreath spirea. Come late May and early June, dazzling white hedges are blooming everywhere. This winter-hardy flowering shrub has proven itself for generations as a disease-resistant, fast-growing, economical and easy-to-manage flowering hedge in the range of two to three meters in height. Prune now, in the middle of summer, for best results.

4. Lilac. Don’t plant common lilac, which is a weed of a shrub, unless you have a lot of ground for it to spread. Better to stick with the easier to control Korean dwarf lilac (ultimate height of two meters), French hybrid (ripe at around three to four meters and very fragrant) or Chinese lilac (three to four meters, later flowering). All lilacs, except the Korean cultivar, will grow at least two feet wide. Prune now.

5. The yew of the hill. An elegant, richly textured evergreen hedge about one to 1-1 / 2 feet tall and wide. Prune after the first growth spurt in June or July. A fabulous permanent hedge that tolerates moderate shade (requires a minimum of three hours of sun to be at its best) and improves in appearance for decades. We know of Hill’s yew hedges that Ben’s grandfather planted in the 1960s in Toronto that still look great.

6. Boxwood. An evergreen broadleaf foliage that creates a permanent, one-meter-high hedge. Boxwood lends itself to pruning in almost any shape. Rounded, square or you can cut them into animal shapes. Slow to start but worth the wait. Some of the dreaded box moth has been found in western Toronto. Pay attention.

When planting your hedge, dig a trench about twice as wide and several inches deeper than the root mass of the plants. Line the bottom of the trench with a quality triple mix, enough to raise the hedge above ground level two to six inches.

As you line up the plants, firm the soil around either side of the roots with the heel of your boot and water generously. Continue to stay moist for the first two weeks, gradually letting the soil dry about four to five centimeters below the surface.

Mark and Ben Cullen are expert gardeners and contributors to The Star. Follow Mark on Twitter: @ MarkCullen4


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