Planning and Laying Out Hedges

Hedges are a critical part of a garden, providing privacy and shelter. Gardens inside hedges are warmer that exposed ones, and they allow you to grow a wider range of plants, especially ones at the limits of their hardiness. With a more private garden you will find yourself using it more, and feeling more relaxed, knowing you are not the object of casual – or deliberate – gazes. Planning those hedges is therefore an important job, and one often done at the start of creating a garden. Often, though, we see hedges that have not been planned well, and that don’t serve the intended purpose as well as they might, and can lead to problems with neighbors, your city, or just within your family. With all that in mind, let’s take a look at the planning stage of hedge planting.

Follow These Tips for the Perfect Hedge

  • Decide where they are needed – spend some time figuring out exactly where you need the screening and shelter. Wind direction can be important.
  • Space back from property lines – make sure all your hedge is yours. Anything hanging over a neighbor’s land can legally be cut off, and that could be most of your hedge.
  • Find the minimum effective height – a bit of simple math will show you exactly how high you need to go – it may be less than you think.
  • Create Internal Screens too – creating garden rooms with hedges turns a large, open property into a wonderful series of varied spaces

Where Do You Need That Hedge?

If we split the main functions of hedges into their parts, we can look at privacy, screening and shelter. These goals may conflict, or they may mesh with each other. Reconciling them with the best outcome is obviously a good idea!

Privacy is usually the more obvious need, and it may also be the easiest to satisfy. Stand in your garden and look around – do you look onto a highway or road? Are there windows overlooking you? If there are, is this a part of your garden where that matters? After all, in the front yard may want to be seen – remember that important ‘curb appeal’ – and most of us don’t use the front garden for private activities anyway. If you do plant a hedge, just to mark your boundary, the chances are that you won’t want it tall, and 2 or 3 feet will probably be best. You might also want to consider something informal, like a row if flowering shrubs, all of a similar size.

As well, if you only have a few points where your privacy is invaded, then maybe a cluster of upright evergreens will do the job, without a full hedge. The same is true of ugly views – maybe you don’t need a complete hedge to obscure it, and can be more casual, with clusters of evergreens strategically placed. Working with another person to see just where you need to be to give you the desired screening is a good way to go with this.

When it comes to shelter, and reducing wind, you need to first off all find out the direction of the prevailing winds where you live. Maybe you need shelter from cold winds in spring and winter, or maybe hot, dry ones in summer. Neighbors may know but try your local weather station for the best information on this. Then use a compass to figure out that direction. To be effective in filtering wind, a hedge needs to cut across the wind direction at right-angles, or close to it. This may or may not correspond to your property boundaries, so some creative design might be needed! There really is no hard-and-fast reason why a hedge has to run along a boundary.

Set Your Hedges Back from the Property Line

A common error when planting hedges is to plant along the property line. This can seem like a good idea, as it leaves you with the most space. The problem is that it puts everything over the line onto your neighbor’s land. That might not be a problem at first, but if that property chances hands, you have no idea of what could happen. In most places a neighbor can cut back everything overhanging their property, and if your hedge is throwing shade, for example, they may do just that, leaving you with a very poor hedge indeed.

Much better is to run the planting line at least 3 feet inside the property line, and 6 feet it better, especially when planting larger evergreens like Thuja Green Giant. That way it is all yours, or at least, enough of it is to avoid future damage.

Calculate the Height You Need

A simple bit of school math will show you exactly how tall a hedge you need. Say you want to hide the upper windows of a neighboring house. Estimate how high up the top of that window is, and how far away the house is. Then measure how far from the hedge you want to be screened. Use this formula to calculate the height of hedge needed.

Multiply the height of the window by the distance you are from the hedge. Divide the result by the distance away of the house. The resulting number is the height of hedge needed. For example, if you have a window that is 18 feet up, and the house is 100 feet away, then to screen up to 50 feet back from your hedge, you need a hedge that is 9 feet tall. (18×50 ÷ 100).

The taller a hedge is, the more effort and time is needed to trim it. Using this formula will minimize the height you need, and save a lot of trimming time, as well as minimizing any shade effect.

Use Hedges to Create Rooms in Your Garden

Many people think a hedge is just for the property line, and in a smaller garden that may be true. But on a larger property, internal hedges turn a big open space into a series of rooms, making a much more intimate and magical garden. They only need to be about 6 feet tall, and they allow you to separate the different activities – like a vegetable garden from a party/barbeque area, or to create a children’s play zone that is visible from the kitchen window. Or of course to make a retreat, completely private, to find peace in solitude.