Examining the pros and cons of using hedges as a fence

Consider a hedge if you need a fence. When properly managed, hedges cost less, outlast wooden fences, are more attractive than most walls, and produce berries and flowers that will please wildlife and pollinators.

But decide exactly what to expect from a barrier before buying supplies.

Standard fences, other than the white picket variety, will last a decade or more and require little or no maintenance. No watering, weeding, fertilizing or molding is required when using treated wood or metal.

However, living fences include a variety of attractive ornamental plants (lilac, quince, weigela), deciduous shrubs with vivid autumn foliage (oak leaf hydrangea, viburnum, sedum) and evergreen plants (arborvitae, boxwood, yew, hollies) that provide texture and texture all year round.

They all look different or perform different functions, ranging from security and privacy to setting boundaries and controlling traffic. Some provide food for wildlife, provide soundproofing and visual shielding, create shade, or act as a windbreak.

“When you’re building a barrier, it’s a little harder to do with vegetation,” said Wayne Clatterbuck of the University of Tennessee Forestry Extension. “The main problem with a living fence is maintenance. It wants to grow and spread. “

“Unlike standard fences, hedges don’t provide instant gratification. They take time to mature – to get the size and shape you want, ”he said.

A normal fence does its job as soon as you put your tools away. “But it is stagnating. It also needs maintenance and eventually needs to be replaced, ”said Clatterbuck.

“A living fence is more functional and attractive,” he said.

Avoid easy-care shrubs like formalized box trees or topiaries to keep a hedge animal-friendly. Many flowering hedges are traditionally pruned, but few require them. Birds, animals and beneficial insects prefer naturally formed hedges with pollen-laden flowers, nutritious berries and fruits. Thick hedges with thick foliage also provide shelter from storms and protection from predators.

But beware of the intimidating family of shrubs – barberry, quince, pyracantha, cactus. Their barbs can be painful to trim and even more difficult to remove.

There are no landscaping rules against mixing different types of plants (e.g., evergreens with deciduous shrubs) or incorporating them into commercial fences (Boston Ivy climbing posts and gates, grapevines clinging to walls). Vines and bushes soften the look of chain links and privacy fences.

But living fences should have environmentally sound shrubs, said Michael Kuhns, director of wildlife resources at Utah State University.

“Native plants are the way to go if you live in a place that supports them, especially in low water areas,” said Kuhns. “You will not get lush growth with infrequent rainfall.”

Permits may be required to install fences and local regulations may determine the amount and type of materials allowed. Checking out fence restrictions from the town hall can save you time and money.

Often there are also problems with the property line. So let your neighbors know what you have planned before you start.

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