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Hedge Care

Style and Form Dictate Aftercare Maureen Sexsmith-West ISA Certified Arborirst, PR4600A There are lot of potential uses for a hedge: living fence or wall, border a walkway, create privacy or block wind. When selecting your plants think about the space limitations of the sight (how wide will your plant spread and how tall will it grown), the amount of sun, and the zone rating. Decide if you want a formal hedge (requiring more maintenance to keep tidy looking), or an informal hedge (that optimizes on the plants colors or growing habits). It is always best to match the plant to the growing location.

You also want to consider how much time and money you want to invest into keeping it maintained. Some plants adapt to shaping and others need traditional pruning. Mechanical hedge trimmers are frequently used for shaping shrubs and hedges. This is fast and easy. The down side to hedge trimmers I have found is that they create a thick outer layer of leaves that shade out the inner parts of the plant which results in die back. Cuts are irregular leaving stubs. This often results in insect and disease problems. Even when I have to utilize a hedge trimmer, I usually go back and do finish pruning with my secateurs to remove torn twigs or eliminate stubs. As always, sanitation of your tools and equipment is recommended to prevent the spread of diseases.


By making minor adjustments to shape of your hedge, you allow better sun to the entire plant.


Define the edge of your hedge to keep grasses and weeds from creeping into the base of your plants. Once they take hold – there is little you can do to eliminate them short of removing the entire hedge.

You can use pretty much any plant for borders – the key is embracing its natural growth habit and you will keep your maintenance requirements to a minimum. Here a few ideas:

Boxwood sets the standard for formal clipped hedges. It is a marginal plant in our zone requiring special care and attention to be successful. Yew: This zone 4 evergreen plant provides year round colour in part to deep shade locations. It is slow growing and requires a protected location and a bit more attention in the garden. It needs consistent moisture. It makes a great feature plant in the right location. Shearing distorts it form. Cedars (Thuja occidentalis): Available as either globe for columnar forms. Plant location will keep maintenance costs down. Globes should have room to spread along walks or driveways and columnars should hot have any overhead barriers. Light shaping keeps them tidy but over shearing will leave holes that are unlikely to leaf back out. Shaping should not remove more than 1/3 of the current year growth. Thickened ends will droop particularly under snow loads. Selective tip thinning helps prevent breakage. A favourite browse for deer, particularly in winter. Few pest problems. Lilac (Syringa) : Lilacs are best as an informal hedge with full sun. Hedge trimming minimizes their best feature – flowering. Lilacs flower on old wood. Annual thinning and reduction pruning are the best means of size/form management and to promote flowering and to allow for air circulation to prevent disease problems. Typical insect issues include leaf miners, mites and scales. Lilac borers are the larvae of the ash borer moth, a wasp like moth with translucent brownish wings. They create small holes near the base of stems. Caragana : A drought hardy plant with bronze bark, bright yellow flowers in late Spring and pods that spread seed in late summer. When the seeds are ripe the plant releases the seeds – sounding a little like popping corn. It is drought tolerant and can grow in any soil. They fix nitrogen into the soil. Chinook winds and snow loads are only an issue if the stems are allowed to get too tall. It does best in a sunny location. It is subject to powdery mildew.

Barberry (Berberis thunbergii): Barberry bears sharp spines that provide a nearly impenetrable barrier on this 3- to 6-foot-tall shrub. The formidable thorns make this an ideal plant to prevent shortcuts and trespassers. Its has a fantastic form that needs little or no shaping to look great. There are a variety of colours from deep burgundy to lime green. Low water requirements and few pests. NOTE: This bush is deer resistant. Common barberry “Berberis vulgaris” is listed as a prohibited noxious plant in Alberta – so be sure to read the plant tag. Alpine Currant (Ribes alpinum) : A sturdy plant that stand up to shaping or pruning. Subject to aphids and mites.

Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster acutifolia): Drought hardy, vibrant fall color. They are susceptible to a variety of insects includes scales, aphids, mites and leaf rollers, and disease issues such as powdery mildew and fireblight. Spirea: These pretty shrubs lend themselves well to borders. They can be rejuvenated regularly to keep them compact. Some flower in spring and others in summer which will dictate when to prune them. Few pest problems. Viburnum: This includes cranberry, nannyberry, wayfaring tree and snowberry. Great plants for our zone that offer both flowering and fall colour. Best pruned during the dormant season, not shaped. Subject to a variety of insects and disease issues.

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