13 Best Shrubs for Making Hedges

From Classic to Unique

Hedges in a formal garden
brytta/Getty Images

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. Here are 13 shrubs with many different qualities that can fill all your decorative and privacy needs.

Warning

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

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Tips for Selecting the Right Shrubs

  • 01 of 13

    Japanese Holly (Ilex crenata)

    Ilex crenata

     

    igaguri_1 / Getty Images 

    Japanese holly looks more like a boxwood shrub than 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 sun
    • Soil Needs: Acidic soil that drains well
  • 02 of 13

    English Holly (Ilex aquifolium)

    English holly with berries.
     Angel Villalba/Getty Images

    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 plant with thorns and berries.
    wydynd/Getty Images 

    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 sun
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained soil
  • 04 of 13

    Boxwood Shrubs (Buxus)

    Buxus (Buxus sempervirens) hedge bordering gravel path
    Francois De Heel / Getty Images

    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: 6 to 8
    • Sun Exposure: Partial or dappled shade
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained soil in the 6.8 to 7.5 pH range
    Continue to 5 of 13 below.
  • 05 of 13

    Mountain Laurels (Kalmia latifolia)

    Mountain Laurel in Bloom
    Georgianna Lane / Getty Images

    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 (Taxus baccata) berries. October
    Colin Varndell / Getty Images

    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: 2 to 10, 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)

    Purple lilacs next to a fence.
    OGphoto / Getty Images

    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
    • Soil Needs: Loamy soil with neutral pH
  • 08 of 13

    Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus)

    Image of pink rose of Sharon flower with deep pink throat and prominent stamen.
    David Beaulieu

    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

     

    KenWiedemann / Getty Images 

    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: 5 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained
  • 10 of 13

    Privet Hedges (Ligustrum)

    ligustrum vulgare (privet) pruned into round flowing shape - hedge, front town garden, april
    Janet Johnson / Getty Images

    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: 5 to 8
    • 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)

    Hedge of pink azaleas at top of ocean-side cliff.
    Maya Karkalicheva/Getty Images

    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 8
    • Color Varieties: Fertile, well-drained, and kept evenly moist
    • Sun Exposure: Partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Fertile, well-drained, acidic, and kept evenly moist
  • 12 of 13

    Arborvitae (Thuja)

    Arborvitae trees


    rlat / Getty Images

    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)

    Hemlock tree branch with cones.
    lauraag/Getty Images

    Although Canadian hemlocks grow as trees in the wild, they are often sold in shrub form for use in hedges. The MacPhail Woods site states, "Prune hemlock lightly but often during the first few growing seasons (two to three times from late June to late August for two to three years). After three years, prune once, in late June, as with white spruce." The site cautions against cutting the leaders until the hemlock hedge or windbreak has attained the height you envisioned for it.

    • 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

Tip

Do not prune hedge plants so as to form a wall that is straight up and down. Rather, prune them so that the base is wider than the top (a shape sometimes referred to as an inverted keystone). This will allow sufficient sunlight to reach the growth at the bottom, keeping it healthy.