Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Coastal Landscape Planning: Hedges

Japanese holly hedge, neatly sheared
We might all dream of a place in the country with acres to spare between our house and the neighbor's... but the reality is that most of us live within view of each other.  Hence, hedges.

As a coastal landscape gardener and designer, a good share of my time is spent maintaining --and subsequently thinking about-- hedges. The usual motivation for planting a hedge is quite frankly, to shield one's eyes from the fellow next door and his laundry on the line.  Or perhaps to create a nice backdrop for colorful blooming plants.  They can also define the edges of adjacent spaces, creating outdoor "rooms."

Whatever the reason, choosing a hedge material is one of the more important landscape decisions.  First, planting a hedge can be a large investment, depending on the length and how large (instant) the plants are you want to purchase.  Some hedge plants are available from 1 gallon container size all the way up to 6' tall.

Some species are certainly cheaper than others, due to their popularity and subsequent supply by nurseries, but please don't let that be your guide.  The bigger investment will be in maintaining your hedge for years to come.  If the plant you choose is needy, requiring multiple shearing sessions per year, or poorly suited for the coast and needs babying... your "bargain" purchase at the big-box store may be anything but.

Based on my experience working in landscapes throughout Lincoln City, Depoe Bay and surrounding areas, here are my picks for coastal evergreen hedges.  Evergreen is usually preferred for year-round screening.

Wax myrtle at far left
Tall Hedges (5' tall or more, depends on variety)
Ceanothus impressus 'Victoria' - shiny evergreen leaves, profuse early summer bloomer, bee magnet.  Be sure you get the right kind, some are low groundcovers.  Ceanothus thrives on neglect, don't overwater.

Myrica californica or Pacific Wax Myrtle - great native, best where it can be unsheared but will take it, very attractive larger foliage than most hedge plants and birds like the fall berries.

Escallonia - most varieties, 'Pink Princess' common, 'Newport Dwarf' smaller.  Get ready to cut hedges, these plants grow like crazy on the coast and need frequent shearing annually.  Will outperform all others on the oceanfront.

Viburnum tinus in bloom
Viburnum - for example, V. tinus 'Spring Bouquet'.  Probably not ideal for oceanfront but highly adaptable.  Look for a future post on this vast genus.  Should be chosen for an unsheared hedge to highlight flowers and shape.

Rhododendron - often used as a very large, unsheared (please!) hedge where there is plenty of width for the plants to grow.  So many to choose from, and they grow magnificently on the central coast.

Low Hedges (4' or less usually, good for defining edges or hiding unsightly structures)

Hebe - another large collection to choose from, a favorite is 'Patty's Purple' on the coast.  Highly tolerant of coastal wind and drought, some with lovely blooms.  H. buxifolia is a good choice to stand-in for boxwood.

Salal - a champion native in our area, salal can vary from a groundcover to a medium hedge depending on its location and method of pruning.  Almost no work, tolerant of most locations on the coast.  Sun or shade.

Ilex crenata or Japanese Holly - another good stand-in for boxwood that is much more tolerant of coastal conditions.  Can vary from low hedge with gold foliage to tall highly sheared and shaped hedge.

Vaccinium ovatum or Evergreen Huckleberry - another great native with the bonus of wonderful fruit.  Lightly shaping this plant instead of hard shearing will deliver more fruit.  Takes well to most conditions, taller in shade, needs a little shelter from the oceanfront winds.

Final cautions:  Popular hedge plants include arborvitae, laurel and boxwood in the Willamette Valley.  They are cheap, available, and familiar.  I don't generally recommend them here, at least not within a half-mile of the sea.  Arborvitae tends to get "burned" on the ocean side, and soon becomes unsightly.  Boxwood does the same and tends to hold onto that hideous orange-leaf color on the coast,  instead of greening up in spring.  Laurel grows fine... but maybe too fine?  If you know how fast it gets out of control inland, imagine what it does here in our mild climate.  Use only if you have an estate-sized property and room for a giant green wall.


  1. I used my mulberry bushes which has to be pruned once every 2 months to keep them at about 6 feet tall, as hedges to create privacy to my garden. Here in Malaysia, more and more housing areas are gated properties, with solid fences and walls to keep prying eyes! But in the villages, we still use plants as hedges to mark a rough boundry between neighbour's house.

  2. Thanks for your comment. I just read your post yesterday on mulberries (on your blog) and was quite interested... they are hardy enough for winter, but I'm not sure if we get enough warmth on the Oregon coast... love your idea of using them as a hedgerow. How wide do they get in this form?