13 Best Shrubs for Making Hedges

From Classic to Unique

hedges along a paver

The Spruce / Autumn Wood

A hedge is a living wall composed of plants. Some hedges are purely decorative, while others serve primarily a practical function. Hedge plants used decoratively are often trimmed to precise sizes and shapes and may be either evergreen or deciduous shrubs. Shrubs used for the practical function of security should be densely growing and possibly have thorns (such as hawthorns) or prickly leaves (such as English holly). Also, hedges are useful as privacy screens and windbreaks. For these two purposes, you need taller shrubs.

types of shrubs for hedges

The Spruce 


Yews and English Holly are too poisonous to grow around children or pets.

Here are 13 shrubs that can meet your decorative and privacy needs.

  • 01 of 13

    Japanese Holly (Ilex crenata)

    Japanese holly branch with black berries and small light green leaves closeup

    The Spruce / David Beaulieu

    Japanese holly looks more like a boxwood shrub than a holly shrub, bearing small, oval leaves. Many cultivars of this broadleaf evergreen are available. For hedge plants, most people select those that reach 3 to 4 feet in height with a similar spread. 

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8
    • Color Varieties: White flowers
    • Sun Exposure: Full to partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Acidic soil that drains well
  • 02 of 13

    English Holly (Ilex aquifolium)

    English holly bush with red and light green berries hanging on branches with waxy green leaves

    The Spruce / Autumn Wood

    English holly, with its prickly leaves, makes a better hedge plant than Japanese holly if you wish to combine security with aesthetic considerations. This is one type of holly that grows big enough to serve as a privacy screen (the 'Ferox Argentea' cultivar is 15 feet tall by 8 to 10 feet wide). Holly berries are toxic and should be kept away from children and pets.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Greenish-white flowers and red berries
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained, slightly acidic, fertile soil
  • 03 of 13

    Barberry Bushes (Berberis thunbergii)

    Barberry bush branches with small purple-red leaves and bright red berries in sunlight

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Sharp thorns line the barberry's branches, making it a traditional choice for security hedges. Its bright red berries persist through the cold-weather months to provide visual interest in winter. The thorns are present year-round. Until recently, barberry had fallen out of favor in North America due to its invasive nature. But the development of new, noninvasive cultivars may lead to a North American barberry revival.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Red berries; some varieties have purple foliage and yellow-orange flowers
    • Sun Exposure: Full to partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained soil
  • 04 of 13

    Boxwood Shrubs (Buxus)

    boxwood shrub hedge

    The Spruce / Cara Cormack

    Boxwoods are the quintessential hedge plants. These broadleaf evergreens were adored by aristocratic Europeans for centuries as defining elements in formal garden design. North Americans living in deer country have found a new reason to love boxwood hedges: they are deer-resistant shrubs.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained soil
    Continue to 5 of 13 below.
  • 05 of 13

    Mountain Laurels (Kalmia latifolia)

    Mountain laurel bush branch with small white blossoms and pink buds clustered together closeup

    The Spruce / K. Dave

    The mountain laurel is another broadleaf evergreen suitable for hedges. One of its best features is that it blooms in late spring to early summer. However, do not try to trim laurels as you would boxwoods. Laurels look best when they are allowed to grow into their natural mature shape. The pink-flowering types are the most popular.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Rose, pink, white; may have purple markings
    • Sun Exposure: Partial shade to full sun
    • Soil Needs: Cool, rich, moist, well-drained acidic soil 
  • 06 of 13

    Yew Bushes (Taxus)

    Yew bush branches with small evergreen needle-bearing leaves and small red berries closeup

    The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

    Among needle-bearing evergreens, yew bushes are perhaps the most classic hedge plants. They are popular partly because they tolerate shade. While some yews grow tall enough to serve as privacy screens, yews are slow growers.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8, depending on the variety
    • Color Varieties: Non-flowering; dark green needles and red berries
    • Sun Exposure: Sun, partial shade, or full shade depending on variety
    • Soil Needs: Well-draining soil with a neutral pH
  • 07 of 13

    Lilacs (Syringa vulgaris)

    Lilac bush with small white and pink flowers and buds clustered on branches closeup

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Deciduous hedge shrubs look great while in bloom but are just so-so during the winter. Also, because they drop their leaves and stand naked for part of the year, deciduous shrubs make for less-than-ideal privacy screens.

    Lilac bushes are one of your more fragrant choices. To form a hedge with lilacs, simply plant several of them in a line, and do not fuss with making them conform to precise dimensions. 

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7
    • Color Varieties: Lavender-blue, white, burgundy, deep purple, lilac
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Loamy soil with neutral pH
  • 08 of 13

    Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus)

    rose of sharon

    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

    Another deciduous shrub commonly found in hedges is the rose of Sharon. It is a valuable plant for gardeners wishing to maintain a continuous sequence of bloom because it is one of the late-summer flowering shrubs that display color during a part of the season when many other bushes have already finished blooming for the year.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Color Varieties: White, red, lavender, or light blue
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich and moist
    Continue to 9 of 13 below.
  • 09 of 13

    Forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia)

    Forsythia bush with long arching branches with small yellow flowers in front of lamp post

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Forsythia bushes are among the first plants to bloom in spring. You probably will not want to prune them as meticulously as you would, say, boxwood. Most people agree that these early-spring flowering shrubs look best when allowed to "have a bad hair day." 

    • USDA Growing Zones: 6 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained
  • 10 of 13

    Privet Hedges (Ligustrum)

    Privet hedge with small green leaves clumped together and trimmed in a box-like form

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Like mountain laurels, privets are broadleaf shrubs that put out flowers, although their white flowers are not much of a selling point. However, not all varieties of privets are evergreen, and those that are will not necessarily grow well in your zone. Check with your local county extension to see if you can grow evergreen privets in your area. Also, ask if they are invasive in your region.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 7
    • Color Varieties: White flowers
    • Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun
    • Soil Needs: Tolerant of a variety of soil types
  • 11 of 13

    Azaleas (Rhododendron x Gable Stewartstonian)

    Azalea bush with red flowers and green leaves on dense branches

    The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

    As with privets, azaleas can be either evergreen or deciduous, but their flowers are far superior to those on privets. Stewartstonian azalea has it all: Its dense branching structure makes it a good hedge plant (in contrast to the Exbury-type azalea, which has a looser branching structure). And, it is a shrub that blooms in early spring and offers good fall color. Azaleas also bear flowers in a range of colors, including red, pink, white, orange, and yellow.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Brick-red to red-orange
    • Sun Exposure: Partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Fertile, well-drained, acidic, and kept evenly moist
  • 12 of 13

    Arborvitae (Thuja)

    Arborvitae dense bushes trimmed in a pyramidal form next to white and blue building

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Arborvitae shrubs have a dense growth habit that makes them popular privacy screens or windbreaks. There are many types of arborvitae that come in various sizes, shapes, and colors. '​North Pole' and 'Emerald Green' are just about the right size for most hedge growers. 'Green Giant,' which can become 60 feet tall, is too big for small properties.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 7
    • Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun
    • Soil Needs: Tolerates a range of soils but prefers moist well-drained loams
    Continue to 13 of 13 below.
  • 13 of 13

    Canadian Hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis)

    Canadian hemlock growing as tree with long curving trunk and small needle-like leaves on branches

    The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

    Although Canadian hemlocks grow as trees in the wild, they are often sold in shrub form for use in hedges. Canadian hemlocks do well with yearly pruning. They do not tolerate wind or draught.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7
    • Color Varieties: Small, yellow to light green
    • Sun Exposure: Partial sun to partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, acidic
  • How far apart should you space plants for a hedge?

    It depends on the type of plant you have chosen for your hedge. Typically they should be spaced approximately 18 to 36 inches apart. Check with the nursery on the care and planting specifications of the plant you've chosen to use.

  • How often should a hedge be watered?

    Newly planted hedges will need to be watered once or twice a week, while you can water established hedges one time a week or every other week.

  • How often should you trim a hedge?

    Hedges typically need to be trimmed at least two to three times a year, but some types of plants will need to be trimmed more often.

Watch Now: Tips for Selecting the Right Shrubs

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Ilex aquifolium. NC State Extension

  2. Yew. Yale University.

  3. Holly Berries. National Capital Poison Control Center.

  4. The Invasive Japanese Barberry. Penn State Extension.

  5. Deer. Missouri Botanical Garden.

  6. Privet. PennState Extension.

  7. Pruning Evergreens in the Landscape. University of Vermont Extension.

  8. Canadian Hemlock. University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.