If you need a fence, con­sider hedge in­stead

Orlando Sentinel - - STYLE & HOME - By Dean Fos­dick

Con­sider a hedge if you’re in need of a fence. When man­aged prop­erly, hedges cost less, out­last wooden fences, are more at­trac­tive than most walls, and pro­duce wildlife- and pol­li­na­tor-pleas­ing berries and blooms.

But de­cide just what it is that you want from a bar­rier be­fore shop­ping for sup­plies.

Stan­dard fenc­ing — aside from the white picket va­ri­ety — will last a decade or more re­quir­ing lit­tle if any main­te­nance. No wa­ter­ing, weed­ing, fer­til­iz­ing or shap­ing re­quired when us­ing treated wood or metal.

But liv­ing fences can in­clude a great va­ri­ety of at­trac­tive or­na­men­tals (lilacs, quince, weigela), de­cid­u­ous shrubs with vi­brant fo­liage in au­tumn (oak leaf hy­drangea, vibur­num, se­dum) and ev­er­greens (ar­borvi­tae, box­wood, yews, hol­lies) that pro­vide tex­ture and color through­out the year.

All give off dif­fer­ent looks or serve mul­ti­ple func­tions, rang­ing from se­cu­rity and pri­vacy to es­tab­lish­ing bound­aries and direct­ing traf­fic. Some pro­vide nour­ish­ment to wildlife, of­fer sound abate­ment and vis­ual screen­ing, cre­ate shade or serve as wind­breaks.

“If you’re mak­ing a bar­rier, it’s a bit more dif­fi­cult to do it with veg­e­ta­tion,” said Wayne Clat­ter­buck, with Univer­sity of Ten­nessee Forestry Ex­ten­sion. “The main prob­lem with a liv­ing fence is main­te­nance. It wants to grow and spread.

“Un­like stan­dard fences, hedges don’t pro­vide in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion. They take time to ma­ture — to reach the size and shape that you want,” he said.

A reg­u­lar fence be­gins ful­fill­ing its func­tion the mo­ment you put your tools away. “But it’s stag­nant. It also needs some main­te­nance, and even­tu­ally it will need re­plac­ing,” Clat­ter­buck said.

“A liv­ing fence is more func­tional, more ap­peal­ing,” he said.

To keep a hedge wildlife­friendly, avoid high-main­te­nance shrubs, like for­mal­ized box­woods or top­i­aries. Many flow­er­ing hedges are tra­di­tion­ally pruned, but few re­quire it. Birds, an­i­mals and ben­e­fi­cial in­sects fa­vor nat­u­rally shaped hedg­ing with pol­len­laden blooms, nour­ish­ing berries and fruit. Thick hedges with heavy leaf cov­er­age also fur­nish shel­ter from storms and pro­tec­tion from preda­tors.

Be­ware, how­ever, the in­tim­i­dat­ing fam­ily of shrubs — bar­berry, quince, pyra­can­tha, cac­tus. Their barbs can be painful to prune and even more un­com­fort­able to re­move.

There are no land­scap­ing rules against blend­ing plant va­ri­eties (ev­er­greens with de­cid­u­ous shrubs, for in­stance) or in­te­grat­ing them into com­mer­cial fenc­ing (Bos­ton ivy climb­ing posts and gates, grape vines cling­ing to walls.) Vines and shrubs soften the look of chain link and pri­vacy fenc­ing.

But liv­ing fences should have shrubs ap­pro­pri­ate for the envi- ron­ment, said Michael Kuhns, a wild­land re­sources depart­ment head with Utah State Univer­sity.

“Na­tive plants are the way to go if you live in a place that sup­ports them, es­pe­cially low-wa­ter ar­eas,” Kuhns said. “You won’t get lush growth with in­fre­quent pre­cip­i­ta­tion.”

In­stalling fenc­ing may re­quire per­mits, and lo­cal codes might dic­tate the height and kinds of ma­te­ri­als al­lowed. Check­ing with City Hall about fenc­ing re­stric­tions may save you time and money.

Prop­erty-line is­sues also arise fre­quently, so tell your neigh­bors what you have planned be­fore get­ting started.

“Most neigh­bors won’t get that worked up about some­one mak­ing a nice hedge in their yard,” Kuhns said.

DEAN FOS­DICK/AP PHO­TOS

An ivy-cov­ered fence near Lan­g­ley, Wash., un­der­scores that there are no land­scap­ing rules against blend­ing plant va­ri­eties or in­te­grat­ing them into com­mer­cial fenc­ing. Vines can soften the look of tra­di­tional fences.

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