Teague: Looking beyond boxwood? Here are some ideas

November 1, 2013 

We still have a couple of weeks left in our fall planting season, so I'd like to make my annual plea to think outside the box(wood) when considering planting or replacing hedges.

Boxwoods are easily sheared to maintain size and shape, but they don't add much in the way of color, texture and seasonal interest in a garden. There are quite a few evergreen hedge plants that are very well-suited to our arid climate and that also produce pollen-bearing flowers that attract bees and other pollinators as well as winter berries that provide food for birds.

The foliage of many of these hedges will change color throughout the year. Size and shape can be managed by buying dwarf varieties if necessary and by learning the proper methods and timing of pruning.

Nandina or heavenly bamboo, wax privet or ligustrum and pyracantha are three of the most popular secondary (to boxwood) hedge choices.

Pyracantha can be sheared into formal shapes and still will flower and produce berries. Shearing will reduce the flowering of nandina and wax privet. Instead, cut out older canes at the base every winter to rejuvenate nandina and shear wax privet less frequently to preserve more flowers and berries.

Toyon, or Christmas berry or California holly, is a native plant. Toyon can be shaped into hedges of any size. It blooms on year-old wood; trimming should preserve as much older wood as possible.

Manzanita and cotoneaster are available in many sizes. They make excellent, drought-tolerant informal hedges when established.

Many varieties of manzanita and cotoneaster have low, spreading growth habits that will require careful pruning to control.

Deciduous barberry plants, especially the Japanese barberry family, have a wider range of flower and foliage color than the evergreen varieties. Thin out old wood and prune rather than shear barberries. Barberry branches have sharp thorns. Plant them away from traffic areas or use them as barrier hedges.

Myrtle, an old-fashioned hedge plant, has pleasantly fragrant foliage. Because it is slow-growing, size and shape can be maintained more easily than with some more vigorous species. Variegated leaves on some myrtle varieties have a light, lacy appearance.

Members of the rosaceae plant family, including pyracantha, toyon and cotoneaster, are susceptible to fireblight, a bacterial disease that is a common problem in our climate (warm, wet springs). Check labels to verify resistant varieties before buying.

Visit local nurseries this fall to check out fall foliage and winter berry color.

New varieties and new hybrids of old favorites become available every year; the suggestions above are among the most readily available.


Elinor Teague is a Fresno County master gardener. Send her plant questions at etgrow@comcast.net or features@fresnobee.com ("plants" in the subject line).

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