Hedging your best

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By Matt Swinerd of Waikato Garden Care

Let’s take a closer look at selecting and caring for boundary hedges in the Waikato.

A boundary hedge is not only a more natural and inexpensive alternative to building a fence, it can also add long lasting structure and value to your property.  

Being one of the first features people see as they enter, the hedge on your front boundary is a great way to introduce the style of your garden beyond.  You can opt for native or exotic, formal or informal, colourful or monochromatic.

A well selected and maintained hedge can also provide privacy, shelter, security, help with soil erosion, attract bird life, and even soften noise from neighbours and vehicles.

When choosing your plant variety you need to first consider the site conditions such as soil type and light levels.  This is important to ensure that your plants will thrive, without needing too much extra attention.  Then work out what ultimate clipped height and width will fulfill you requirements.  Also bear in mind that a fast growing species will reach the desired height more quickly but then require more regular trimming to keep it looking tidy and within the space you’ve provided.  Once you have those items covered you can then consider the style of your garden and what suits your personal taste.  Do you want a flower/seasonal interest?  Do you like a tightly clipped, perfectly square looking hedge, or something more casual?  As a general rule, finer foliage clips into a formal style better than large leaves do.    

Ground preparation, timing, and maintenance within the first few years are critical in the success of establishing your new hedge.  Firstly, make sure you have completely cleared the area of weeds by spraying or manually removing them.  You don’t want to be battling weeds once your new plants are in place.  At this point you can also improve your soil’s structure with the incorporation of compost and manure, although Waikato soils are often very good as is.  If drainage is poor you will want to either sort this out prior to planting, or be sure to choose a variety that will cope in the wet. 

We can’t stress enough the need for mulching and/or a layer of biodegradable (or synthetic) weed-matting beneath your new hedge.  I have never seen a juvenile hedge doing well with grass and weeds growing around it!  Your mulch and matting layer will save you hours of weeding work over the next few seasons, and it will boost growth due to the plants not drying out during summer.  It’s imperative that you keep on top of water and weed control during the first couple of years of establishment.      

Autumn and winter are the optimal seasons for planting.  Light applications of fertiliser are helpful at planting time, and again every spring and autumn.

Here are some plants capable of growing to, and being controlled within, 1 to 3 meters in height.  These five popular species are suitable for use as boundary hedging in the Waikato region.

Griselinia littoralis varieties:

This moderately fast growing native, with large glossy green leaves and beautiful texture is very popular for hedging. It can be planted in part shade, but does better in full sun.  Requires good drainage and will not tolerate areas that are very wet in winter.  One serious downside for Griselinia is its susceptibility to dieback that can occur after extended dry spells.  This is actually caused by Phytophthora (fungus) attacking the roots damaged by drought.  Watering and/or mulching to avoid drying out during the height of summer is advisable.  Popular cultivars include Griselinia ‘Ardmore Emerald’, ‘Broadway Mint’, and ‘Canterbury’.  Avoid Griselinia lucida for use as a hedge because the leaves are too large and the stems too thick for easy trimming. 

Camellia sasanqua varieties:

Sasanqua variety Camellias are well suited to hedging due to their upright growth habit, thin stems, and relatively fine foliage that takes well to tight clipping. Able to be grown quite narrow relative to height, therefore suitable for narrow spaces.  Once established they are long-lived and relatively trouble free, with very few pest or disease issues.  Tolerant of part shade, but more flowers will be produced in full sun.  Avoid wet or heavy soils.  There’s a good range of flower options to suit your colour scheme.  Readily available cultivars include: Camellia ‘Early Pearly’, ‘Setsugekka’, ‘Hiryu’, and ‘Yuletide’.  Google those names to get a look at the flower colours.

Laurus nobilis (Bay): 

Bay trees have beautiful dark green, matte leaves which give a colour contrast and look great as a background hedge. The leaves give off a lovely aroma when crushed or clipped, and can be used in cooking. They are versatile in that they can be grown either large or small, and are generally easy care.  One problem we often see is a tendency to send out ‘sucker’ growth from around the roots.  For that reason they are better grown right to the ground, rather than ‘pleached’ or under-planted.  Prefers full sun and good drainage. Great for attracting birds and bees to your garden. 

Michelia varieties:

Michelias always seem to grow well and with minimal fuss in the Waikato.  There is quite a range to choose from, dependent on the ultimate size and look you’re after.  They all offer handsome, pest-free foliage, and fragrant flowers as an added bonus.  Michelias do well in full sun and part shade, and they also tolerate poor soils.  Michelia figo, gracipies, and yunnanensis are all suitable for hedging.  Michelia figo (Port Wine Magnolia) can sometimes develop yellow leaves.  This is normally remedied with an application of chelated iron.  

Carpinus betulus (Hornbeam):

If you want a deciduous option, consider Hornbeam.  It is a fast grower that can be very tall and narrow, or clipped short if you require.  They are super hardy to high winds, poor soils, and heavy frost.  Yellow/orange tones in autumn.  The finished foliage holds on through most of winter, and is soon replaced by magnificent fresh new growth in spring.  Hornbeam are also great if you want to create a ‘pleached’ or ‘floating’ hedge.

  • Matt Swinerd is owner of Waikato Garden Care, a landscape and gardening company that loves to create and care for beautiful gardens. This is the first of a regular column on landscaping and garden care. To contact Matt, phone 07 838 9956 or click here for his website.

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