A hedge is an excellent gardening feature for privacy, fencing, or decoration. Some plants are better suited for hedges than others, depending on the needs of the gardener and location. In general, most bushes work well in hedges, and for especially tall hedges, small trees may be used as well. To create a good hedge, the gardener must commit to constant pruning and shaping. If left unattended for too long, hedges will run wild and require several years of care to be fully restored.
The three most common shrubs used for hedges are privet, yew, and boxwood. Privet has dark green oval leaves and clusters of small white flowers which may be sweetly scented. Yew is an evergreen, needled shrub or tree with small red fruit. Yew is toxic, and should not be planted around animals or young children. It is also slow growing, and requires several years to mature. Boxwood is another evergreen shrub with small green leaves, and is a very traditional material for hedges.
Gardeners might want to consider hollies as well. There are numerous types of holly, but the basic plant is a shrub with dark green spiky leaves and bright red berries in the winter. A number of evergreen bushes, including holly, make suitable hedges and will stand out beautifully in a winter landscape. Evergreens will grow reasonably quickly and can be easily trained into a suitable hedge shape. Other evergreen choices for hedge plants include cypress and mountain laurel.
Some flowering plants make exotic and admirable hedges. Flowering hedges can include dogwood, lilac, forsythia, and rose of sharon. These hedges will not be as easy to shape, and should be allowed to run slightly rampant for the best effect. The flowers will brighten up the garden during the blooming season, although the hedge may look stark during the winter in colder areas when the plant has lost its leaves.
The plants for the hedge should be planted at least three feet (one meter) apart so that they can grow evenly and will not become entangled. Spacing recommendations vary depending on the shrub. If a hedge maze is being grown, make sure that the paths will not be obscured when the plants mature. With patience and creativity, hedges can be grown into fantastic and fun shapes.
The best way to prune hedges is to create a base which is wider than the top of the hedge. This is also known as the keystone effect, and it allows the bottom of the hedge to get light and air circulation. A hedge which is pruned evenly straight up and down may be appealing, but will not ultimately be healthy. For hedges made from shrubs, prune to encourage lateral growth, and make sure to clip away branches and protrusions which deform the shape of the hedge.