Hedges are a ubiquitous part of most landscapes, especially in urban and suburban areas. Homeowners often grow hedges to define their property line, block an unsightly view, or keep animals and people from wandering through their yard. Hedges are friendlier than fences and offer the edible gardener an opportunity to grow some delicious fruits and vegetables for themselves and their neighbors. Growing an edible hedge is a good way to soften the blow of blocking out a neighbor's yard. With an edible hedge you can offer sweet berries and vegetables they can harvest on their side of the property line.
There are some things to keep in mind when growing an edible hedge in your yard. Decide the function of the hedge before planting. If you really want to keep wildlife or neighborhood dogs out of your yard select hedge plants with sharp thorns such as blackberry, gooseberry, and rugosa rose. Plant these thickly so they fill in quickly, forming an impenetrable wall.
Consider the ultimate height of the hedge if you're growing it to block a view. While hedges can be trimmed, most edible hedges will look their best, and produce the most fruit, if allowed to grow to their natural height. If you only want a hedge to grow 3 to 4 feet tall it's better to select bush cherries instead of American cranberry (Vibrurnum trilobum) bushes. American cranberry will grow to 8- to 10-feet tall and won't appreciate frequent trimming. Select a few different varieties of each fruit to insure cross-pollination and fruit production.
While most of the attention for edible hedges goes to berry bushes, don't forget vegetables and nuts. Once the ferns have grown up, asparagus makes a beautiful edible hedge if properly fenced. Corn and sorghum make a thick row that can block a summer view and provide vegetables. Nut bushes, such as filberts and hazelnuts, make an attractive hedgerow while providing edible nuts for wildlife and people.
You can also train fruit trees into fences and hedges that make crossing difficult. Espalier and Belgium fences take apples, cherries, peach, figs, pear, and citrus trees and turn them into an edible fence that provides fruit and blocks a view or entrance. I still fondly remember the edible fences at Thomas Jefferson's home in Monticello, Virginia that define the garden beds.
Also, consider the growth habit of the hedge. Brambles and roses are some of the plants that will spread by underground roots. This could be a benefit if you want your hedge to fill in quickly, but also can get out of control when suckers show up in flower beds and other unwanted areas.
Finally, instead of planting all of one type of shrub, consider a mixed hedge. Mixed edible hedges provide diversity of plants for wildlife and an interesting mix of foliage, flowers, and berry colors and textures. While the shrubs don't all have to be the exact same size in the hedge, it's good to select ones that are similar in growth habits so that no one shrub dominates the hedge.
Here area few hedge shrub possibilities to try in your yard. Most hedges grow best in full sun on well drained soil unless otherwise noted.
Bush cherry and plums – Bush cherries and plums offer an easy way to grow these hardy fruits in a yard where you may not have the room for the tree versions. These bushes grow 4-to 6-feet tall and wide. It's best to plant a selection of seedlings and varieties to insure pollination and fruiting.
Natal plum – Although only hardy in frost-free areas, the natal plum is an evergreen with white flowers and small red fruits. Tall varieties grow to 8 feet and the berries make an excellent jam and jelly.
Roses – The best roses to grow as a barrier are hip-producing selections such a rosa rugosa and its hybrids such as 'Hansa'. The roots send up suckers and produce a solid hedge in a few years time with little care. Use the hips for making jams and teas.
Rosemary – Hardy to USDA zone 7, in warm areas rosemary makes a great low growing, 3- to 5-foot tall hedge. The bush grows densely, produces beautiful blue flowers, and the aroma when you rub against it makes your mouth water for dinner.
Tall vegetables – As I mentioned tall growing vegetables, such as asparagus, sweet corn, millet, and sorghum, can be grown as a summer screen in your yard. Asparagus is a perennial and should be planted with care since it will take 3 years in the landscape to start producing edible spears, but last for many more years as a permanent planting. After harvest season in spring the ferns will grow and provide a visual block when propped up with fencing. Select old fashioned or tall varieties of corn, millet, and sorghum and plant in multi-row blocks to insure the screen stay erect all summer. If you only plant a row or two, the summer winds may blow them over.
Brambles – Blackberries and raspberries make great 5- to 6-foot tall hedges. However, the plants sucker freely and will spread into lawns and other garden if you aren't careful. Select everbearing varieties that will produce fruit and summer and fall and prune in summer only to remove dead canes.
Currants ands gooseberries – Red, white and black currants and gooseberries form a low, 4-foot tall hedge loaded with berries for fresh eating and juicing. Some varieties will have thorns and others not, so select the right varieties depending on the use.
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