Gardening Advice: Privacy Hedges

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Gardening Advice: Privacy Hedges

October 4, 2001
08:00am

Q: New neighbors have cut the tall spruces in their yard. What can we plant to restore our privacy, quickly? Claudia Hope, Cleveland, Ohio

A: A tall fence, covered with vines, is the quickest remedy. Boston ivy and Virginia creeper will hide the fence in two or three seasons. An evergreen hedge is a friendlier gesture toward the neighbors, though it won’t fill in overnight. The speediest fix would be a row of American arborvitae, Thuja occidentalis (‘Emerald,’ also sold as ‘Smaragd,’ grows upright and stays green; many other varieties turn brown in cold weather). Hardy in zones 3 to 7, this slender shrub is upwardly mobile: start with 3-foot plants, and you could have a hedge anywhere from 6 to 10 feet high and 3 feet wide in five years. Plant arborvitae 3 feet apart, and apply a mulch of composted bark or leaf mold in a 3-foot-wide band to hold moisture and reduce competition from grass. Left alone, the trees will ultimately reach 40 to 60 feet. Or you can clip them once a year, in early summer, for a shorter, formal hedge. Scott Mehaffey, a landscape architect at Chicago’s Morton Arboretum, recommends white pine, too, especially for drier soils. A pine hedge must be sheared annually in early summer to keep this rapid grower within bounds and to impede lower-branch loss. Mehaffey also suggests informal screens of mixed evergreens fronted with smaller flowering trees. Such plantings are slower to mature (15 years or more) and occupy a larger area (at least 30 feet wide), but they become a year-round garden focus, not just a barrier.  

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