How to grow an evergreen hedge

When and how to plant and prune it

Inspirations / Evergreen tips

25/10/2021

Estimated reading time 7 minutes

Are you thinking of planting evergreen hedge plants? A garden hedge is ideal for marking the boundary of your property and keeping out intruders, protecting your privacy, and filtering out traffic noise and pollution. Not only that, a hedge also acts as a windbreak (especially in very windswept areas), a partition between parts of the garden with different functions, a shaded shelter, a screen for keeping certain areas out of view (vegetable patch, composter, recycling bins and so on). Besides providing all this, a hedge looks much more appealing than a wooden fence, wire mesh and so on. Moreover, let's not forget that a living hedge is a haven for biodiversity (insects and other animals), which benefits both garden and vegetable patch.

Why should you choose evergreen plants to grow a hedge? Because they keep their leaves all year round without wasting time and energy shedding them in the autumn, or generating new ones in the spring. Today we talk about which plants to choose, how to plant them and how to maintain them for a perfect evergreen garden hedge.

Which evergreen hedge plants should you choose?

Evergreen plants are trees and shrubs which, unlike deciduous trees, don’t shed their leaves in autumn, but stay green all year round. That doesn’t mean they keep their leaves forever, but that they fall (and are then replaced) gradually, every 3-6 years depending on the species. In practice, the result is less clearing up to be done in the garden with a blower or rake.

Evergreens include both broad-leaved species—such as the cherry laurel and boxwood, to name two traditional evergreen hedge plants—and conifers, which typically have needle-like or flat leaves, like the yew and thuja, another two common hedge evergreens.

Evergreen trees and especially shrubs are cold-tolerant, thanks to their specially organised vital functions (for example, they can photosynthesize even in winter) and robust but flexible leaves, which protect the internal plant tissues and can withstand the force of the wind and the weight of snow and rain.

To create a garden hedge consisting of a single species, there is a huge choice of shrub types and varieties in your local garden centre. Here are some ideas: holly, boxwood, camellia, silverberry, spindle, photinia, jasmine, juniper, cherry laurel, privet, osmanthus, pyracantha, cheesewood, rhododendron, yew, thuja and viburnum. If you want to make the most of your garden, from among these types choose plants that give you an evergreen hedge which will bloom for a certain period of the year. If you live in the countryside, you can opt for typical indigenous species and, perhaps, instead of just one species you could plant two or three together.

Before deciding which plants to use for your garden hedge, start with its function (boundary, partition, etc.) and evaluate the local climate; terrain characteristics; and its orientation with respect to the sun, your house and existing vegetation.

When and how to plant a garden hedge

The right time to transplant shrubs for your evergreen hedge is from October to March: however, bear in mind that if you plant in autumn, the roots will have plenty of time to adapt and then resume growing vigorously in spring. Opt for young plants 1-2 years old with the bare roots or rootball: they take root more easily than more developed plants with richer vegetation, and are less susceptible to transplant stress.

Get ready to bed in evergreen hedge plants:

  • Depending on the situation, proceed to mow or clear the area, for example with a brushcutter or shredder.

  • With a rotary tiller or spade you can till a strip of ground measuring about 50 cm wide and as long as you need to make your hedge, in order to displace and oxygenate the soil.

  • Eliminate any stones, roots belonging to previous shrubs etc.

  • Spread manure or mature compost and bury it with light tilling or digging, to enrich the soil with nutrients and useful microorganisms and improve its physical characteristics.

  • Before planting the hedge shrubs, do some more surface tilling to refine and soften the soil.

  • Proceed to plant the seedlings, creating a small hole for each one with the spade, before covering it with the excavated earth.

  • To limit the growth of weeds (and other unwanted plants) it may be useful to lay down a mulch, either before or after planting, depending on the material you use (sheet, loose material, etc.) and the laying technique you employ. Here you will find our tips on the best way to mulch and all the reasons why it’s a good idea to do it.

If you just need to plant a few specimens for your evergreen hedge, instead of tilling the soil over an entire area, it is worthwhile digging holes of about 40x40x50 cm and separating the excavated topsoil (the first 10-15 cm layer, which is the most fertile) from the deeper soil. After placing each plant in its hole, fill it with the excavated soil mixed with manure or compost, preserving the same layering order (with the less fertile earth at the bottom and the most fertile layer on top).

Autumn is the best time not only for starting a new hedge, but also for planting new trees, roses and herbaceous plants: see what gardening jobs need doing in October.

Evergreen hedges should be watered according to the needs of the plant, the climate and season, and the type of soil: you can automate the task by installing a drip irrigation system. Especially in the first years of the hedge's life, it is also important to keep control of weeds that can deprive it of water and nutrients. If you have mulched the ground, manually remove any weeds that are infiltrating the spaces between the stems and the mulch material. If you haven’t mulched the ground, however, you need to weed or till the soil around the hedge, both to remove weeds and to aerate the soil.

Keep an eye on the health (and therefore the appearance) of your hedge: beware of aphids, xylophagous or defoliator insects, fungi such as powdery mildew and so on. You can resort to natural or synthetic pesticide treatments, that are applied with a mistblower: we talk about these products in our article on taking care of the garden with natural treatments.

It may be that, due to parasites or other reasons, not all the seedlings of your evergreen hedge take root: these should be replaced as soon as possible, depending on the season and climatic conditions, by removing the remains of dead vegetation and inserting new plants into the holes.

How to prune an evergreen hedge

An essential maintenance job for your garden hedge is pruning, which should not be drastic under any circumstances. In the first years of life of the evergreen hedge, formative pruning helps to ensure that the shrubs develop a dense canopy of intertwining branches. Evergreen hedges do not tolerate vigorous formative cutting, so limit yourself to containment pruning of the lateral branches and crown (if it exceeds the desired height) using pruning shears.

Maintenance pruning—which is performed on adult evergreen hedges—should also be kept to a minimum: eliminate dry, broken or diseased branches at the end of winter and regulate the shape of the hedge, whether geometric or elaborate (topiary), with a frequency that depends on its rate of growth.

If, as is usually the case, your evergreen is a formal hedge, i.e. with a geometric shape, every 1-2 months between April and September you should do containment pruning by trimming it with pruning shears or a hedgetrimmer (if the hedge is particularly tall or your garden is not level, a shaft hedgetrimmer maybe the best choice). This advice applies to fast-growing evergreens; for slower-growing varieties a couple of prunings during the same period will be sufficient.

The cherry laurel is a hedge evergreen that grows rapidly and vigorously — here are our suggestions on how to prune the cherry laurel and some tips on pruning all garden hedges to perfection.

We always say that maintaining your gardening tools helps to ensure safe working and less operator fatigue: this also applies to hedgetrimmers and their blades. Follow the complete guide to hedgetrimmer maintenance.

Speaking of hedgetrimmers: here is an overview of the various types on the market: electric, battery or petrol engine hedgetrimmers. Are you interested in battery hedgetrimmer models? Learn more about running times of battery-powered gardening tools.

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