Do you feel like you’ve been gardening in a “fish bowl” or providing entertainment for the neighbors? Making a space that feels private and intimate in your urban garden can sometimes pose a challenge. Privacy screens and hedges can be great solutions!

Benefits of Screens/Hedges

  • Privacy (living fence)
  • Block unsightly views
  • Reduce noise/light (sound barrier)
  • Protect against harsh weather (windbreak)
  • Wildlife habitat
  • Lush appearance compared to fences

Before Getting Started

Determine the primary purpose of the hedge/screen; decide how tall it needs to be (use a ladder or tall pole to visualize height); how deep/wide can it be (for extremely narrow spaces a trellis with a vine or an espalier may work better than a more traditional hedge); consider evergreen vs. deciduous (do you need privacy/screening year-round or only during warm months when most outdoor ‘living’ occurs; observe the area’s exposure to sun/shade; decide on style (formal or informal, single specimen or mixed hedge-row look). An informal hedge requires the least amount of work to grow and maintain, because the plants are treated as if they were individual shrubs that just happen to be growing in a row.

Screens vs. Hedges

Screens provide vertical aspects without adding much width; can be made of almost any material including plants (usually vines); are often used in areas where in-ground planting is not an option; can create visual distraction from unpleasant view or total blockage like an espalier.

Hedges are usually planted in the ground and span a distance of at least 12-15 feet or more; they can be anywhere from 2 feet tall to 20 feet or more.

Vines for Screening

Evergreen or Semi-Evergreen:

  • Akebia quinata (sun-shade)
  • Clematis armandii/Evergreen Clematis (sun-part shade)
  • Holboellia coriacea (sun-shade)
  • Trachelospermum jasminoides/Star jasmine (sun-part shade)

Deciduous:

  • Hydrangea anomala petiolaris/climbing hydrangea (part shade-shade)
  • Parthenocissus tricuspidata, Parth. quinquefolia/Boston Ivy (sun-part shade)
  • Actinidia kolomikta/kiwi

Herbaceous:

  • Humulus/hops

Annual Vines for Quick Summer Screening:

  • Pole beans (especially Scarlet Runner Bean)
  • Black-eyed Susan vine
  • Hyacinth bean
  • Annual morning glory

Hedge Plants for Sun (6 or More Hours)

  • Abelia grandiflora: semi-evergreen, 4-6’ tall/wide
  • Buxus (Boxwood): many varieties of B. sempervirens with range in size from 6’ tall/wide to 15’ tall/wide, growing about 6”/year. B. microphylla ranges from 1-4’ tall/wide an is slower growing
  • Ceanothus: usually large shrub, can grow almost 12”/year, evergreen drought tolerant/needs good drainage
  • Choisya ternata: evergreen, 6-8’ tall/wide, can grow 6-8”/year
  • Escallonia: evergreen or semi-evergreen, can grow 6-12”/year, tolerant of drought and salt spray, 5-6’ tall/wide
  • Ilex sp. (Holly): many varieties of I. aquifolium and I. cornuta can grow 6-15’ tall/wide at 6-12”/year and are easily pruned. I. crenata and I. glabra can reach 6-10’ tall/wide at about 6”/year, evergreen
  • Ligustrum texanum (Privet): different varieties range in size from 6-12’ tall/6-8’ wide at 1-2’/year
  • Myrica californica (Wax myrtle): reaches 6-12’ tall, grows 8-12”/year, evergreen
  • Nandina domestica (Heavenly bamboo): evergreen/semi-evergreen, size varies by type, grows 8-12”/year, dramatic fall/winter color
  • Osmanthus heterophylla, O. delavayi, O. burkwoodii: growing on average to about 8-10’ tall/wide at around 6”/year, evergreen, fragrant flowers in early spring
  • Pieris japonica: 4-6’ tall/wide depending on variety, grows about 6”/year, does well with rhodies, azaleas, & other acid-lovers
  • Pyracantha: evergreen or semi-evergreen to 15’ tall, white spring flowers turn to orange or red berries in late summer/fall, sharp-stiff thorns (can be espaliered)
  • Taxus sp. (Yew): slow growing conifers with soft texture, can reach 15’ tall at 6”/year depending on variety, some forms are low and spreading, red berries in winter are attractive but very toxic
  • Viburnum tinus: ‘Spring Bouquet’ is a dense shrub 4-6 tall/wide, blooms twice a year, evergreen
  • Vaccinium ovatum (Evergreen huckleberry): an Oregon native, sweet spring flowers ripen to small edible fruit in late summer, needs good drainage
  • Blueberries: most varieties are deciduous with great fall color and attractive stems and bark, ‘Sunshine Blue’ and ‘Bountiful Blue’ are semi-evergreen varieties that grow to 3-4’ tall and wide
  • Bamboo (clumping and running varieties): clumping styles can be sheared into hedges and do not need to be planted with barrier; running style grows tall, is spreading/invasive, and needs to be planted with a barrier installed underground ($5.99/linear foot), most varieties of bamboo can tolerate light shade with certain varieties can tolerate significant shade. Bamboo is not drought tolerant and needs regular watering year-round, especially in a container.

Hedge Plants for Part Sun/Part Shade: (4-6 Hours of Sunlight)

  • Boxwood
  • Camellia sasanqua (can be espaliered)
  • Choisya
  • Ilex
  • Privet
  • Pieris
  • Pyracantha: evergreen or semi-evergreen to 15’ tall, white spring flowers turn to orange or red berries in late summer/fall, sharp-stiff thorns (can be espaliered)
  • Laurel (many different varieties)
  • Rhododendron/Azalea
  • Viburnum
  • Tsuga canadensis (Canadian hemlock): a special conifer for shady gardens, if not pruned it can be large tree but when sheared becomes beautiful hedge, grows 1½-2’/year, not drought tolerant
  • Taxus sp.
  • Evergreen huckleberry
  • Blueberries
  • Nandina
  • Osmanthus
  • Bamboo

Hedge Plants for Shade (Less than 4 hours of Sunlight)

  • Aucuba japonica: 8-10’ tall/wide at 6”/year, many varieties have gold flecked or yellow variegated leaves
  • Camellia japonica
  • Fatsia japonica: grows 6-10’ tall/wide at 6-12”/year, evergreen, shiny leaves create a tropical look, does best with some winter protection
  • Laurel (many different varieties)
  • Taxus sp.
  • Canadian hemlock
  • Rhododendron/Azalea
  • Sarcococca: evergreen, 3-5’ tall/wide, tolerant of wide range of soils, fragrant flower blooms in late winter/early spring, drought tolerant
  • Skimmia: evergreen, size ranges by variety from 18” to 5-6’ tall/wide, dwarf variety ‘Reeves’ is self-fertile but other varieties require male and females to produce red winter berry (can occasionally have problem with spider mites).

Guidelines for Establishing Hedges & Living Screens

Spacing: It is recommended to leave at least 2 feet between plants (from center); fast-growing plants (1 foot/year or more) should be planted 4+ feet apart. Bamboo clumps should be spaced 5 feet apart. It is possible to plant close enough to fill in over a single season, however this could lead to overcrowding problems in the future.

Planting: Planting should be done in the cool part of the day; dig your holes twice as wide as the container and just as deep; if it has been hot and dry, fill your planting holes up with water from the hose and wait for water to drain before planting. Amend the soil with about 1/3 compost (G&B Soil Building Conditioner is great) to 2/3 native soil. Add bone meal and/or starter fertilizer to the soil in the bottom of the hole and mix some in with planting soil. Make sure plants are straight; firmly pack soil back around root ball and water thoroughly.

Timing: Spring and fall are great times to plant almost anything, transplant shock and stress to new plantings is generally less when done during cool/mild conditions. You should expect it to take 2-3 years for your hedge to fill in. Summer pruning is the best time to train your hedge to a desired form (ideal hedge shapes are slightly wider at the base to let sunlight reach the lower leaves. Trim young hedges several times per year to train as necessary; remove 1/3-1/2 of new shoots at pruning time.

Training: Depending on the hedge style and type of plant you’re growing, you may have to do a lot of heading back and pinching during the hedge’s formative years. In other cases, very little pruning will be required.

Maintenance: Your newly planted hedge needs to be watered deeply and slowly for about an hour each week (or 1/2 hour twice per week for heavy clay soils); this is an important part of the establishment process for a healthy root system and is essential for the first two years after planting with decreasing frequency as plants become established. As the plants mature, occasional deep watering during the hottest times of the year will be beneficial. Fertilizing can help your plants grow faster; we suggest feeding about three times each year with a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer. For an organic option, we use G&B Organics and Portland Rose Society Organic Blend, or if you prefer to use synthetic fertilizer, we love the granular 15-10-10 made by the Portland Rose Society.