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How to Plant & Prune a Hedge

Electric hedge trimmer gives a quick and easy crew cut to an otherwise rangy hedge.Kropic1 / Shutterstock.com

Electric hedge trimmer gives a quick and easy crew cut to an otherwise rangy hedge.

Because hedges are grown from shrubs or trees, you’ll find them sold as bare-root plants, as balled-and-burplapped (or b-and-b) plants, with their roots surrounded by soil and wrapped in burlap or mesh, or in containers. The first two are usually sold in late fall and early spring; plant these as soon as you buy them.

Keep in mind that while the combination of roots and soil that form the balls of b-and-b plants can be heavy, the roots themselves are delicate. Handle these plants with care when moving them. Container plants can be put out at any time the ground can be worked, but try to avoid planting during the heat of the day or during a hot spell to avoid stressing the plant.

Choose plants with strong stems and good root systems. For b-and-b plants, whose roots are not visible, be sure the roots are not exposed and the root ball is firm and moist. Container plants should not be root-bound nor too leggy.

Hedge Planting Basics

When you’re planting a hedge, you’re planting multiple plants. One of the most important considerations is how far apart to space them. Too close and the mature plants will be entangled and won’t grow well. Too far apart and you’ll have gaps. The rule of thumb is to plant slightly closer together than you normally would. For instance, if you normally plant 3 feet apart, plant 1 to 2 feet apart instead. If spacing would normally be 6 feet, go for 4 feet.[GARD align=”left”]

Start with a hole that is twice the width of the roots of the plant and slightly shallower than the root system. Taper the sides of the hole outward slightly at the bottom, and then dig deeper around the edges at the bottom of the hole to allow room for the roots to grow downward and to prevent the soil from settling. Shape the soil in the center of the hole into a rounded cone, which will serve as a base for the plant.

Soak a bare-root plant in water for four hours before planting. Situate the plant so the top of the rootball is slightly above the surrounding soil. Spread the roots over the cone and downward. Hold the plant in place and then begin filling in the hole with the soil you removed. Make sure the soil is firmly in place as you fill in the space.

When the soil is about 4 inches from the top, add water to settle the soil in place. If the plant starts to settle, add more soil under it until it is again at the proper height above the soil. Finish filling in with soil, and then water again. Don’t overwater; the soil should be moist but not soggy.

Pruning & Trimming Hedges

All hedges will require some pruning to remove dead and diseased wood and wayward branches. Other than that, the style of hedge and the plants themselves determine how you prune to shape the hedge.

For a formal hedge, prune deciduous plants back to about half their size in fall, to encourage growth in the lower part of the plant. Fast-growing evergreens with broad leaves can also be pruned back at this time, though not as severely. Small-leafed evergreens don’t need to be cut but can be shaped by pinching or removing branches that are growing out of bounds.

Once established, formal hedges should be pruned while growing in spring. The plants don’t need to be individually cut. Instead, shear the sides and top with hedge clippers or a hedge trimmer to create your final desired shape.[GARD align=”left”]

Common shapes include rectangular, cone-shaped, or rounded. In any case, taper the sides so they are wider at the bottom than at the top. This will allow sunshine to reach the lower branches and prevent them from thinning out. Fast-growing plants may need to be pruned again before midsummer, and you’ll always want to remove any wayward branches.

Semiformal hedges are pruned at the same time as formal hedges. Shearing isn’t good for these plants as it will leave bare spots and exposed cuts. Instead, use pruning shears to cut individual branches.

Informal hedges don’t need to be pruned after planting; instead, periodically pinch-back the tips to keep the plants bushy. You may need to continue pinching the second year as well. Beyond that, prune as needed, following the regular recommendations for the individual plants.

 

Shrubs, Hedges & Trees

How to Plant & Prune a Hedge

Electric hedge trimmer gives a quick and easy crew cut to an otherwise rangy hedge.Kropic1 / Shutterstock.com

Electric hedge trimmer gives a quick and easy crew cut to an otherwise rangy hedge.

Because hedges are grown from shrubs or trees, you’ll find them sold as bare-root plants, as balled-and-burplapped (or b-and-b) plants, with their roots surrounded by soil and wrapped in burlap or mesh, or in containers. The first two are usually sold in late fall and early spring; plant these as soon as you buy them.

Keep in mind that while the combination of roots and soil that form the balls of b-and-b plants can be heavy, the roots themselves are delicate. Handle these plants with care when moving them. Container plants can be put out at any time the ground can be worked, but try to avoid planting during the heat of the day or during a hot spell to avoid stressing the plant.

Choose plants with strong stems and good root systems. For b-and-b plants, whose roots are not visible, be sure the roots are not exposed and the root ball is firm and moist. Container plants should not be root-bound nor too leggy.

Hedge Planting Basics

When you’re planting a hedge, you’re planting multiple plants. One of the most important considerations is how far apart to space them. Too close and the mature plants will be entangled and won’t grow well. Too far apart and you’ll have gaps. The rule of thumb is to plant slightly closer together than you normally would. For instance, if you normally plant 3 feet apart, plant 1 to 2 feet apart instead. If spacing would normally be 6 feet, go for 4 feet.[GARD align=”left”]

Start with a hole that is twice the width of the roots of the plant and slightly shallower than the root system. Taper the sides of the hole outward slightly at the bottom, and then dig deeper around the edges at the bottom of the hole to allow room for the roots to grow downward and to prevent the soil from settling. Shape the soil in the center of the hole into a rounded cone, which will serve as a base for the plant.

Soak a bare-root plant in water for four hours before planting. Situate the plant so the top of the rootball is slightly above the surrounding soil. Spread the roots over the cone and downward. Hold the plant in place and then begin filling in the hole with the soil you removed. Make sure the soil is firmly in place as you fill in the space.

When the soil is about 4 inches from the top, add water to settle the soil in place. If the plant starts to settle, add more soil under it until it is again at the proper height above the soil. Finish filling in with soil, and then water again. Don’t overwater; the soil should be moist but not soggy.

Pruning & Trimming Hedges

All hedges will require some pruning to remove dead and diseased wood and wayward branches. Other than that, the style of hedge and the plants themselves determine how you prune to shape the hedge.

For a formal hedge, prune deciduous plants back to about half their size in fall, to encourage growth in the lower part of the plant. Fast-growing evergreens with broad leaves can also be pruned back at this time, though not as severely. Small-leafed evergreens don’t need to be cut but can be shaped by pinching or removing branches that are growing out of bounds.

Once established, formal hedges should be pruned while growing in spring. The plants don’t need to be individually cut. Instead, shear the sides and top with hedge clippers or a hedge trimmer to create your final desired shape.[GARD align=”left”]

Common shapes include rectangular, cone-shaped, or rounded. In any case, taper the sides so they are wider at the bottom than at the top. This will allow sunshine to reach the lower branches and prevent them from thinning out. Fast-growing plants may need to be pruned again before midsummer, and you’ll always want to remove any wayward branches.

Semiformal hedges are pruned at the same time as formal hedges. Shearing isn’t good for these plants as it will leave bare spots and exposed cuts. Instead, use pruning shears to cut individual branches.

Informal hedges don’t need to be pruned after planting; instead, periodically pinch-back the tips to keep the plants bushy. You may need to continue pinching the second year as well. Beyond that, prune as needed, following the regular recommendations for the individual plants.

 

Shrubs, Hedges & Trees

Planting & Caring for Shrubs

Given a good start, shrubs are reasonably hardy. You’ll find them sold three ways: as bare-root plants; with a ball of soil around the roots, which is then wrapped in a burlap or synthetic mesh (known as balled-and-bur lapped or b-and-b); or in containers. The former two are usually sold in late fall and early spring; plant these as soon as you buy them.

Keep in mind that while the combination of roots and soil that form the balls of balled-and-burlapped plants can be heavy, the roots themselves are still delicate. Handle these plants with care when moving them.

Container plants can be put out at any time the ground can be worked, but try to avoid planting during the heat of the day or during a hot spell to avoid stressing the plant.

Choose plants with strong stems and good root systems. For balled-and burlapped plants, whose roots are not visible, be sure the roots are not exposed and the root ball is firm and moist. Container plants should not be root-bound nor should they be too leggy.

Planting Shrubs

No matter what type of shrub you’re planting, start with a hole that is twice the width of the plant’s roots and slightly shallower than the root system. Taper the sides of the hole outward slightly at the bottom and then dig deeper around the edges at the bottom of the hole to allow room for the roots to grow downward and to prevent the soil from settling. Shape the soil in the center of the hole into a rounded cone, which will serve as a base for the plant.

Soak a bare-root plant in water for four hours before planting. Situate the plant so the top of the root ball is slightly above the surrounding soil. Spread the roots over and down the cone. Holding the plant in place, start filling in the hole with the soil you removed. Firm the soil in place as you fill in the hole. When the soil is about 4 inches from the top of the hole, add water to settle the soil in place. If the plant starts to settle, add more soil under it until it is again at proper height above the soil. Finish filling in with soil and then water again. But don’t overwater; the soil should be moist but not soggy.

For a balled-and-burlapped plant, the top of the root ball should be about 2 inches above the soil line. If the covering is burlap, untie the top, pull the burlap about halfway down the root ball, and leave it in place. If the covering is synthetic, remove it completely. Fill the hole with soil, firming it as you go, until you are about 4 inches from the top of the hole. Moisten the soil, and add more soil beneath the plant if it has settled. Continue filling the hole, firming the soil; when you’re finished, moisten the soil until it is thoroughly wet but not soaking.

If planting from a container, gently remove the plant; you may need to tap on the bottom of the container to loosen the root ball. Place the plant on the cone so the root ball is slightly above the surrounding soil. Spread the roots out around the cone and fill in the hole with soil, firming it as you go. Once you’ve finished filling in the hole, water the plant until the soil is moist but not soggy.

Watering shrubs. Once your shrub is planted, keep the soil moist as the plant settles in. During the growing season, form a berm of soil around the planting area to create a watering basin. Water newly planted shrubs when the soil is dry to 2 inches deep. Once a plant is established, water only as needed. Many shrubs won’t need any supplemental watering.

Fertilizing Shrubs

Every shrub has its own nutrient needs. Some, especially the flowering ones, may benefit from an annual application of fertilizer. Others may do fine with the nutrients from the soil they’re in. If a plant looks weak and leaf color is pale, then adding an appropriate fertilizer may be a good idea.

Pruning Hedges & Shrubs

Every shrub has its own pruning needs, but there are some rules that hold true for all shrubs. Removing damaged or dead branches, cutting out branches that have become too thick, and eliminating branches that detract from the overall look of the plant are all reasons to prune. You may also want to prune to keep flower production high or to create a specific look, such as an espalier or a rounded form.

When you prune is of equal importance. Deciduous non-flowering shrubs can be pruned in late winter and early spring, after the danger of frost has passed but before new growth has begun.

You can also prune these plants in mid-summer, to remove excess growth, suckers, and water sprouts. Broad-leafed, non-flowering evergreen shrubs can be pruned in late winter and early spring as well, but they also will do fine if pruned in summer.

Conifers seldom require pruning, but if they do, prune whorl-type conifers such as fir, spruce, and most pines in early spring, cutting new shoots back by about half to a point just above a growth bud. Prune random-branching conifers such as cedar and juniper in late winter or early spring right before growth begins, making sure that the cut branches have some foliage.

Flowering shrubs are fussier about when to prune. If plants bear flowers on wood that grew during the previous year, prune them just after they finish blooming. If plants produce flowers on the current season’s growth, though, prune them in late winter. To be sure, double-check with a reliable resource on a particular plant’s pruning requirements.

Caring for Shrubs

Because every shrub has different care needs, you’ll need to check with your local nursery for exact watering and feeding needs. For all plants, though, consider installing a drip irrigation system or watering basins to encourage direct watering to the roots. Adding mulches will help retain moisture and discourage weeds.

Flowering plants usually benefit from an annual application of fertilizer. However, if a plant looks weak and leaf color is pale, fertilizing is called for. Apply a complete fertilizer.

Pests and diseases may also be a concern, although most plants used for hedges are fairly resistant. If you notice the start of a problem, use non-toxic solutions, such as increasing watering and fertilizing, keeping the garden clean, and using insecticidal soaps and biological controls. If you take care of the problem when it first starts, it will usually not increase.

 

Shrubs, Hedges & Trees

Planting & Caring for Shrubs

Given a good start, shrubs are reasonably hardy. You’ll find them sold three ways: as bare-root plants; with a ball of soil around the roots, which is then wrapped in a burlap or synthetic mesh (known as balled-and-bur lapped or b-and-b); or in containers. The former two are usually sold in late fall and early spring; plant these as soon as you buy them.

Keep in mind that while the combination of roots and soil that form the balls of balled-and-burlapped plants can be heavy, the roots themselves are still delicate. Handle these plants with care when moving them.

Container plants can be put out at any time the ground can be worked, but try to avoid planting during the heat of the day or during a hot spell to avoid stressing the plant.

Choose plants with strong stems and good root systems. For balled-and burlapped plants, whose roots are not visible, be sure the roots are not exposed and the root ball is firm and moist. Container plants should not be root-bound nor should they be too leggy.

Planting Shrubs

No matter what type of shrub you’re planting, start with a hole that is twice the width of the plant’s roots and slightly shallower than the root system. Taper the sides of the hole outward slightly at the bottom and then dig deeper around the edges at the bottom of the hole to allow room for the roots to grow downward and to prevent the soil from settling. Shape the soil in the center of the hole into a rounded cone, which will serve as a base for the plant.

Soak a bare-root plant in water for four hours before planting. Situate the plant so the top of the root ball is slightly above the surrounding soil. Spread the roots over and down the cone. Holding the plant in place, start filling in the hole with the soil you removed. Firm the soil in place as you fill in the hole. When the soil is about 4 inches from the top of the hole, add water to settle the soil in place. If the plant starts to settle, add more soil under it until it is again at proper height above the soil. Finish filling in with soil and then water again. But don’t overwater; the soil should be moist but not soggy.

For a balled-and-burlapped plant, the top of the root ball should be about 2 inches above the soil line. If the covering is burlap, untie the top, pull the burlap about halfway down the root ball, and leave it in place. If the covering is synthetic, remove it completely. Fill the hole with soil, firming it as you go, until you are about 4 inches from the top of the hole. Moisten the soil, and add more soil beneath the plant if it has settled. Continue filling the hole, firming the soil; when you’re finished, moisten the soil until it is thoroughly wet but not soaking.

If planting from a container, gently remove the plant; you may need to tap on the bottom of the container to loosen the root ball. Place the plant on the cone so the root ball is slightly above the surrounding soil. Spread the roots out around the cone and fill in the hole with soil, firming it as you go. Once you’ve finished filling in the hole, water the plant until the soil is moist but not soggy.

Watering shrubs. Once your shrub is planted, keep the soil moist as the plant settles in. During the growing season, form a berm of soil around the planting area to create a watering basin. Water newly planted shrubs when the soil is dry to 2 inches deep. Once a plant is established, water only as needed. Many shrubs won’t need any supplemental watering.

Fertilizing Shrubs

Every shrub has its own nutrient needs. Some, especially the flowering ones, may benefit from an annual application of fertilizer. Others may do fine with the nutrients from the soil they’re in. If a plant looks weak and leaf color is pale, then adding an appropriate fertilizer may be a good idea.

Pruning Hedges & Shrubs

Every shrub has its own pruning needs, but there are some rules that hold true for all shrubs. Removing damaged or dead branches, cutting out branches that have become too thick, and eliminating branches that detract from the overall look of the plant are all reasons to prune. You may also want to prune to keep flower production high or to create a specific look, such as an espalier or a rounded form.

When you prune is of equal importance. Deciduous non-flowering shrubs can be pruned in late winter and early spring, after the danger of frost has passed but before new growth has begun.

You can also prune these plants in mid-summer, to remove excess growth, suckers, and water sprouts. Broad-leafed, non-flowering evergreen shrubs can be pruned in late winter and early spring as well, but they also will do fine if pruned in summer.

Conifers seldom require pruning, but if they do, prune whorl-type conifers such as fir, spruce, and most pines in early spring, cutting new shoots back by about half to a point just above a growth bud. Prune random-branching conifers such as cedar and juniper in late winter or early spring right before growth begins, making sure that the cut branches have some foliage.

Flowering shrubs are fussier about when to prune. If plants bear flowers on wood that grew during the previous year, prune them just after they finish blooming. If plants produce flowers on the current season’s growth, though, prune them in late winter. To be sure, double-check with a reliable resource on a particular plant’s pruning requirements.

Caring for Shrubs

Because every shrub has different care needs, you’ll need to check with your local nursery for exact watering and feeding needs. For all plants, though, consider installing a drip irrigation system or watering basins to encourage direct watering to the roots. Adding mulches will help retain moisture and discourage weeds.

Flowering plants usually benefit from an annual application of fertilizer. However, if a plant looks weak and leaf color is pale, fertilizing is called for. Apply a complete fertilizer.

Pests and diseases may also be a concern, although most plants used for hedges are fairly resistant. If you notice the start of a problem, use non-toxic solutions, such as increasing watering and fertilizing, keeping the garden clean, and using insecticidal soaps and biological controls. If you take care of the problem when it first starts, it will usually not increase.

 

Shrubs, Hedges & Trees

Choosing Hedges

How formal should a hedge be to work with the style of your house and garden? This guide will help.

Hedges are living walls. Formed by shrubs or small trees, they can be used to block views, delineate boundaries, create garden rooms, or serve as a backdrop for other plantings. Depending on the plants you choose, hedges can be formal with a mass of green foliage or wildly exuberant and covered with blooms.

Foliage, whether accompanied by flowers or not, defines hedges. Plants that make good hedges have close-set branches with lots of leaves that start at ground level and continue to the top of the plant.

Most hedges are evergreen. If you don’t mind or actually want bare branches or complete dieback in the winter, though, you can find good hedge plants that are deciduous.[GARD align=”left”]

Hedges fall into three categories: formal, semiformal, and informal. Each has its own place in garden design, and each has its own requirements for pruning and training.

Formal Hedges

Formal hedges are the neatly trimmed, symmetrically shaped perimeters that most people first think of when they hear the word “hedge.” These hedges are created from a single species or variety with a dense growth habit of small leaves. They can range from just a foot high to well over 6 feet tall. The overall impression is of a solid block of greenery rather than a single plant.

Boxwood (Buxus) is the classic plant for a formal hedge, but other choices include barberry (Berberis), hemlock (Tsuga), holly (Ilex), and yew (Taxus). Bamboo can also be a formal hedge choice, but you will need to buy a clumping variety and keep it well in check.

Semiformal Hedges

Semiformal hedges are also usually composed of a single species or variety of plant. The difference is that the leaves are generally larger and stand out as individuals rather than a mass, and the overall plant form is somewhat less rigid. English laurel (Prunus laurocerasus), firethorn (Pyracantha), and photinia are all good choices.

Informal Hedges

Rather than having a rigid, geometric shape, informal hedges are casual, creating a barrier that may change from tall to short and from wide to narrow. This style works well in natural and cottage gardens, with their emphasis on loose form and a mix of plants. In fact, mixing a number of different hedge plants is a good way to create an informal hedge—a good choice for flowering plants, as they can be pruned and shaped so flower production isn’t inhibited.[GARD align=”left”]

Small, informal hedges can be created from lavender (Lavendula) or santolina; medium informal hedges may consist of junipers or weigela; taller hedges might be comprised of oleander (Nerium oleander), osmanthus, or photinia.

 

Shrubs, Hedges & Trees

How to Buy Shrubs

Shrubs are versatile. They can hide in the background while masking a home’s foundation, serve as a backdrop for showy perennials, or take center stage in a garden bed.

They come in a vast variety of sizes, colors, and shapes—and some welcome the pruning that can turn them into stylized forms.

They may remain permanently on view, or die back in the winter only to return with the warmer weather.

Whatever form they take, shrubs play a prominent role in any garden design and should be chosen with care. In addition to checking sun and watering requirements, you’ll need to take into consideration each plant’s final size, form, and look, and determine its purpose in the landscape. Fortunately, there are so many shrubs to choose from, you’re sure to find just the right ones for your yard.[GARD align=”left”]

Sizes of Shrubs

You can find shrubs in all sizes, from a dwarf heath (Erica) that may only reach 6 inches high to a 20-foot-tall bottlebrush (Callistemon). Since most shrub purchases are made when the plant is still relatively small, be sure you know the plant’s predicted size (both in height and width) so that you will have sufficient room for it.

While shrubs can be pruned to keep them in-bounds, it’s a labor-intensive process that isn’t always a success. Plants do best if allowed to grow naturally, with pruning done just to keep them healthy and enhance their natural shape.

The exceptions to this rule are the plants that are often used for formal hedges. These plants do fine with more rigorous pruning; in fact, they often look best pruned rather than left to grow naturally. One of the most popular plants for hedges is the boxwood (Buxus), but any number of other choices will also work.

Shapes of Shrubs

Some shrubs form compact, rounded balls, such as the mountain pieris (Pieris floribunda); others, such as the butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii), may be more loose and sprawling; still others may be more vertical, like some junipers (Juniperus). These distinct shapes can create a strong visual presence in your landscape, so place them with care.[GARD align=”right”]

Shrub Colors

Choose any color on the color wheel and you’ll likely find a shrub that will match it. When you think of colorful plants, flowering shrubs may be the first things that come to mind. But you can also find shrubs with colorful foliage and berries.

Roses are probably the most well known of the flowering shrubs, but you’ll find plenty of other shrubs that will provide color throughout the year, from lilacs in the spring to hydrangeas in summer and fall to forsythias for winter and early-spring bloom.

Shrubs that add color to the garden with their foliage include the yellow-spotted leaves of the gold dust plant (Aucuba japonica“Variegata”), the blues and greens of different hostas, the purple foliage of the aptly named purple hop bush (Dodonaea viscosa “Purpurea”), and the variegations of color on the leaves of the “Emerald ‘n Gold” euonymus (Euonymus fortunei).

 

Shrubs, Hedges & Trees

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