Hedge your bets…

…and think before you plant.

Conifer hedging plants, such as Lawson cypress and Leyland cypress are perennially popular plants and frequent landscape features, demarcating back gardens and providing seclusion to their owners.

These trees grow fast, forming a dense, living wall from ground level to the tips of their shoots.  The speed of growth ensures that they cover up an eyesore or block a view in a couple of years, depending on the size at which they’re planted.

In the right location they can look very effective.  But a major problem with these trees is that they don’t stop growing once they’ve reached the desired height. There’s a million to be made for the first nurseryman to market a cypress that stops growing at the height you want.

The problem arises from the family background of the trees.  Cypresses are large, forest trees from North America, Japan or Taiwan. We often plant them in postage-stamp-sized gardens and have to keep the lid on their size by regular trimming as their natural tendency is to reach for the sky as though they were still in the forest.

Leyland cypress is a hybrid of two large forest species that shows ‘hybrid vigour’, meaning it’s faster and bigger than either of its parents.

But cypresses have other disadvantages.  Once the branches are shaded they turn brown and die, and when this happens they never return to green and remain as a blot in the hedge.  Disease and pest attack can have the same effect and render a fine, regimented hedge a patchwork of camouflage colours.  The answer to this problem is to use other species.

Western red cedars, or Thuja, are also trees from North America (or Asia) and they look a lot like cypress but they have the welcome characteristic that they resprout from cut branches no matter where you prune them.

Or, if you can take a little more time, plant large evergreen shrubs that aren’t trying to be forest trees, they are far easier to control.

Article written by Steve Cox on November 17, 2009