University of Illinois Extension

Using Low Hedges

“Low hedges might be the answer to unwanted visitors in your yard. My neighborhood is a collection of ranch homes with mature trees, well-established landscapes, and no fences,” explained Barb Bates, U of I Extension horticulturist. “As it is in an unincorporated area, there are no sidewalks. But this means the children and pets often cut across lawns and landscape beds. I think a low hedge might be the answer to that problem.”

Bates said to avoid spiny hedges like barberry, roses, or holly--all of which make an unfriendly statement and might present a hazard when mowing.

“All you need is just a modest barrier to direct traffic. Low hedges formalize landscapes, define spaces, and frame floral displays and garden statuary,” she said.

To ensure a successful and sustainable low hedge, Bates recommends beginning by thoughtfully selecting the plants. Match site conditions to plant preferences and plant maintenance requirements to your expectations.

“Plants with faster growth rates and more relaxed habits will require more attention, especially when placed in highly visible areas of the landscape,” she said. “Slower growing, neatly-mounded plants typically require less pruning.

“Choose plants that maintain neat habits and mature at less than four feet. When evergreen plants such as boxwood or yews are selected, low hedges provide year-round interest.”

The hardiest boxwoods (Buxus) for an evergreen hedge are ‘Green Mountain’, ‘Winter Gem’, and ‘Wintergreen’. For an evergreen hedge with a more relaxed appearance, try the juniper (Juniperus virginiana) ‘Blue Mountain’. This three to four-foot shrub spreads to eight feet, has a blue cast to the foliage, and sets a heavy crop of dark blue berries in the fall. It stands well alone or as hedge, but with its strong horizontal habit has room to spread.”

Bates noted there are several newer cultivars of old standards that make great flowering, low hedges. These include ‘Miss Kim Lilac’ (Syringa patula), ‘Snowmound Spirea’ (Spirea nipponica), and St. Johnswort ‘Ames’ (Hypericum kalmianum).

If seeking fragrance and multi-season interest in a plant, she recommends the smaller Korean spice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii) ’Compactum’.

“It is just four feet tall but smells so much larger,” she said.