Top 5 Formal Hedges for Alberta

Posted by shane - March 11, 2015 - A-Z Plant Maintenance, Hedges, Pruning Techniques, Shrubs - No Comments

Hedges are an important part of the urban landscape, softening the hard lines of existing structures, and providing a sense of enclosure or privacy.  They mark our territory, provide a screen to funnel or block a view, and help to control dust and noise.  They can also prevent the mailman from cutting across our yard and wearing a trail in our lawn!  So what are some of the best hedging plants I’ve encountered in Alberta?

Typical mature mountain ash branch structure.  R. LePage photo 2013.

Fall colour on a cotoneaster hedge. R. LePage photo 2013.

1) Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster lucidus) – whether or not you like this plant, it makes an excellent hedge with beautiful fall colour, which ranges from yellows to orange and reds.  It tolerates repeated clipping better than most other plants,  can be grown to 8′ or more, and can be maintained as a thick or narrow hedge.  Old or overgrown hedgerows can be cut back to the ground, and new plants will readily grow from the existing root systems.  Despite being prone to a number of insect and disease problems (fireblight, aphids, oysershell scale, scurfy scale), cotoneaster is resilient and hardy.  This is probably the most common hedge in Alberta, and for good reason.

2) Common Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) – This is probably my favourite formal hedging plant.  A properly hand-cut lilac hedge is truly regal, and there is little that can compare to it in our region.  That being said, it is rare to find a properly hand-cut lilac hedge, probably because it is a difficult, time-consuming, and expensive task to fulfill.  Common lilac, like cotoneaster, tolerates repeated trimming, and hard-cutting into old wood.  It readily rejuvenates from a freshly cut stump.  Common lilac is essentially bomb-proof.  I’ve seen hedges maintained at widths from 18″ to 10′, and heights from 4′ to 14′.  This is a versatile formal hedging plant, and I highly recommend it.  Be prepared for some work, however.

Lilac hedge in Ponoka

Common Lilac hedge in Ponoka.  Notice the hand shears!  S. LePage photo 2009.

3) Dwarf Korean Lilac (Syringa meyeri ‘Palabin’) – This is an uncommon hedging material, but only because I believe the plant’s properties are poorly understood.  When repeatedly clipped, it forms a tight mass of tiny ovate-shaped leaves, which are perfect for creating straight or rounded hedges, or cloud forms.  For hedges up to 4′ in height, I have seen no equal to this plant.  The best way to shape this plant is to trim it once per season, in July, after the flowers are finished.  While the fall colour is not remarkable, the summer flowers and associated fragrance are a “must-have” when growing this plant.  Dwarf korean lilac plants are very hardy, and insect- and disease-resistant.  Like common lilac, overgrown plants can be cut back to the ground and will grow new plants from the root system.

4) Mugo Pine (Pinus mugo) – Mugo pine is overlooked as a a hedging plant in Alberta, but makes an easily maintained, easy to control evergreen hedge up to about 5′.  In 13 years as an arborist, I’ve only maintained one truly formal mugo hedge, but it is so attractive that I am hoping people read this and decide to plant one of their own.  Trimming is done not by hedgers or hand shears, but with hand pruners (aka. secateurs) or pruning scissors.  You simply maintain an the overall shape that you want by clipping back wayward branches.  Breaking the candles each year in June will help to thicken the hedge and control the height as well.  Mugo pine is one of the hardiest plants for Alberta, and rarely has any insect or disease problems.  The one drawback with conifers is that if you cut them back hard into old wood, they will not sprout like broad-leaf species, and you will have ruined the hedge.

(5) Saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia cultivars) – I’m going out on a limb here because I’ve never seen a truly formal hedge of saskatoon in a residential yard.  So scoff at me if you must.  However, I have seen a row of native saskatoon, in a public wooded area, across from a residential house, repeatedly clipped by a the homeowner, and it was so lovely and unusual as a hedge, I noticed it right away as I was driving by, backed up the truck, and got out and examined it.  It really was a great tall hedge to about 12′.  The leaf size and shape are well-suited to hedging, and tolerate regular clipping, which is not surprising since many hoofed animals commonly use saskatoon shrubs as winter browse.  Saskatoon also has an excellent floral display and exceptional fall colour in oranges and maroon.

I hope this helps when deciding on what to plant as a formal hedge.  If you have tried any other plants as a hedge and are pleased with the results, please send a picture to me.  I’m always interested in what people are trying to do with different plants.  Happy hedging!

(c) 2015 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service Inc., Red Deer, AB.