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Gain privacy, attract birds and butterflies, and add four-season interest with a hedge.
Hedge the Edge to Shrink Your Lawn
June 24, 2001 by Evelyn J. Hadden

A hedge claims what is likely to be the least used area of your lawn—its edges—while adding beauty and a degree of privacy to your garden. Hedges are not limited to clipped rows of boxwood or yew; they come in all shapes and styles. Read on for a few ideas.

Weave a tapestry hedge

Combine an assortment of species into a tapestry hedge, a row of mixed varieties of shrub.

For greatest interest throughout the seasons, include both evergreen and deciduous shrubs and select plants that produce flowers, berries, or splendid fall foliage. You may prefer a formal hedge, sheared to give a uniform, level surface and separate the shrubs, or an informal hedge where the shrubs are allowed to weave through each other (hence the 'tapestry').

If you do prune, keep the desired form of the plant in mind as you work, and understand in advance what effect each cut will have on its future growth, or you might end up with a much sparser or denser shrub than you intended.

If you go the informal route, try to choose shrubs of similar mature size and pay attention to their growth rates. If you plant a slow grower next to a fast one, you may need to step in with the shears to guard the slow grower's territory until it matures.

Tapestry hedges can be excellent habitats for many creatures. They provide dense cover and food in the form of insects and berries. A variety of birds nest in thickets, as do some mammals, and a hedge that provides adequate food will attract even more species to visit.

Paint a calming backdrop with evergreens

Evergreens make a dramatic background that sets off lighter-colored plants. Take advantage of this by building a bed along one or both sides of your hedge, and plant this bed within a couple of years to keep from damaging the shrub roots. Plant with a care for how wide your hedge will likely grow; otherwise, your new border will be smothered by foliage from above.

Don't assume all evergreens have similar requirements. There are evergreens that prefer acid soil and those that prefer lime, sun-lovers and shade-lovers, damp dwellers and dry.

Plan not to prune

For the least maintenance, use mid-sized or dwarf varieties of regionally appropriate shrubs.

How to do it

  • Step One: Create a planting bed for your hedge without removing sod by smothering your lawn.

  • Step Two: Edge the new bed to prevent lawn grass from infiltrating.

  • Step Three: Plant your hedge.

Bonus tip

If you enjoy a colorful landscape and seasonal change, interplant spring-blooming bulbs or ephemerals with later-emerging perennials under the hedge. The trick here is to either choose low-growing decoratives that won't get tangled in the lower branches of your hedge or limb up your hedge plants. Many shrubs, once limbed up, will not regenerate their lower branches, so be sure in advance that you like the leggy look.

Unless you're living in a wetland, your hedge will likely take up much of the available moisture and nutrients in the surrounding soil, so you'll want to select decoratives that grow well in dry, nutrient-poor soil. Many exist; those from alpine climates might do well on the south side of a hedge, and try dry woodland species on the north or east side and dry prairie plants on the west.

For More Information:

"Hedge the Edge" is one of a series on methods to SHRINK your lawn. See others:
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