For homeowners wanting to create a little privacy in their yards, an evergreen hedge is an affordable and environmentally sound solution. Unlike a deciduous shrub, an evergreen shrub keeps its leaves all year long.
In our turn of the century neighborhood, homeowners use evergreen shrubs to define property lines and to create niches in the yard for family gatherings. These hedge shrubs require very little maintenance aside from a once a year pruning, grow in standard soil conditions, and provide habitat for birds and other small animals. For homes situated close to busy streets, an evergreen hedge makes an excellent sound buffer.
Some of my neighbors use English Laurel or English Yew to define their yards and provide privacy. While these evergreen shrubs can grow up to 10 feet in height and make an attractive, dense hedge, the leaves and berries of both these plants are highly toxic. For families with young children and pets, these are varieties to avoid.
The following list of evergreen hedge plants and bushes, however, are wonderful choices for natural fencing that will stay green all year long.
The Common Boxwood ( Buxus sempervirens ) is the classic hedge shrub which can reach a height and width of 15 feet, though typically it is pruned much smaller. It can be pruned into a box shape and can be used to line walkways and formal gardens. The leaves are a matte green and oval in shape; it grows in zones 3-6 but can not tolerate hot summers. Even though our community sees triple digit summer temperatures, as long as the boxwood hedge sees afternoon shade, it seems to manage the hotter temperatures just fine.
The American Arborvitae is another classic hedge plant that can reach heights of 40 feet, with a mature spread of 15-20 feet. Arborvitae are a coniferous tree with a pyramidal shape, and not only provide dense screening for privacy, but are a favorite habitat for birds and squirrels. While the outside of the tree is covered with dense foliage, the inner part of the tree is strictly a network of branches. We discovered the hard way that once the tree is allowed to get out of control, there really isn’t anyway to prune it back into a nice, neat hedge. This tree is hardy in zones 3-8 and drought tolerant once established.
The Evergreen Euonymus ( Euonymus japonicus ) is a very dense, evergreen shrub that reaches nearly 10 – 15 feet in height. While it’s not as attractive as it’s more colorful deciduous cousins, it grows quite well in the shade of other trees. It produces small white flowers and waxy green leaves that are 1″ to 3″ in length. It’s drought tolerant, making it ideal for low water gardens. This species of Euonymus grows in zones 6-9.
The Oregon Grape ( Mahonia aquifolium ) is another drought tolerant evergreen that is related to the barberry. It has lovely green holly-like leaves, and takes its name from the purple berries it produces in the fall. Oregon grape is a marvelous crafting shrub and is often used for making wreaths or as filler in floral arrangements. The inner bark of the larger stems yield a natural yellow dye. Oregon grape is a native plant on the North American west coast, is drought tolerant, and can grow between 3-10 feet in height. Oregon Grape is one of the few evergreen shrubs I know of that can grow beneath a pine tree. Oregon grape grows in zones 5-8.
Leyland Cyprus ( Cupressocyparis leylandii ) is a quick growing alternative to the yew, growing nearly three feet a year, with a mature height of 60 feet and spread of 15-20 feet in ideal gardening conditions. It’s fragrant and thick foliage makes it an ideal wind break as well as a dense privacy hedge. The Leyland Cyprus grows in zones 6-9.
Nellie Stevens Holly
Several years ago, someone in my neighborhood planted Nellie Steven’s Holly ( Ilex ‘Nellie R. Stevens’ ) as an evergreen border. It was the first time I had seen this delightful tree which reminded me very much of the old fashioned Christmas holly. These small evergreen trees grow between 15 to 25 feet in height with a 10 to 20 foot spread. They can be pruned into trees or left wild to resemble more of a hedge. The Nellie Steven’s Holly is hearty and fast growing and tolerates heat quite well. This hedge tree will grow in zones 5-8.