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Best plants for low hedges


Low box hedging surrounding parterre beds at National Trust Wimpole Estate. Image: Canva

There are many situations that call for a low hedge. It could be a formal edging to a border or path, a way to divide up a small garden into separate areas without cramping the space, a structural backdrop to other planting or simply a way to separate your drive from your neighbour’s. The beauty of a low hedge is that it creates a divide whilst still maintaining an open and spacious feel.

Whilst the size of almost any hedge can be limited by how often and how hard you trim it, there are certain plants that lend themselves particularly well to low hedges without wearing out the hedgetrimmer. The ideal candidate is a compact, small-leafed evergreen shrub that is not too fast-growing. Here we’ve picked out some of the best plants for a low hedge – whether you’re looking something formal, informal, flowering or prickly, read on to find the best for you!

Box

Buxus sempervirens is an absolutely classic low hedging plant and for good reason. A bushy habit with masses of small, densely packed deep green leaves makes box ideal for trimming into precise shapes and offsetting complex planting schemes. Box is often used to enclose formal beds, forming the backbone of parterres and knot gardens around the world. However, as almost anyone who has tried to maintain a pristine box hedge will know, it can suffer from blight and the increasingly common box caterpillar. If this is a risk you’d rather avoid, there are some great box alternatives out there – read on to discover some of the best.

Height: to 200cm (79in)
Type of hedge: formal
Great for: stepover hedges, topiary

Box is traditionally one of the most popular plants for low hedges in a formal setting.

Box is traditionally one of the most popular plants for low hedges in a formal setting. Image: Canva

Lonicera pileata

Lonicera pileata or box-leaved honeysuckle is one of the most convincing box lookalikes that can be used in many of the same situations, but won’t succumb to box blight or caterpillar. This tough, drought-tolerant evergreen will quickly fill out to form a dense, compact hedge, which can be easily kept to a desired shape and size by trimming in summer or autumn. The display is enhanced by creamy flowers in spring and purple berries in autumn.

Height: to 100cm (39in)
Type of hedge: formal
Great for: stepover hedges, topiary

Lonicera pileata is a box lookalike that avoids the risk of disease. Image: Canva

Euonymus

A low-growing Euonymus such as ‘Emerald ‘n’ Gold’ is another great alternative to box without the risk of disease. ‘Emerald ‘n’ Gold’ is the variety of choice for edging small formal beds at renowned National Trust garden Hidcote Manor.

Height: to 60cm (24in)
Type of hedge: formal
Great for: stepover hedges, adding colour with variegated leaves

Euonymus 'Emerald 'n' Gold' makes a great alternative to box for formal low hedges.

Euonymus ‘Emerald ‘n’ Gold’ makes a great alternative to box for low formal hedges. Image: Canva

Pittosporum

For a more informal hedge, Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tom Thumb’ is a great option for mild areas. Boasting attractive deep glossy purple foliage, ‘Tom Thumb’ forms a dense, rounded shrub that is ideal for a cloud-pruned hedge.

Height: to 100cm (39in)
Type of hedge: formal or informal
Great for: coastal gardens

The glossy purple foliage of Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Tom Thumb'.

Pittosporum ‘Tom Thumb’ boasts stunning purple foliage and is a great choice for mild or coastal regions. Image: Sempra

Hebe

Compact hebes such as ‘Red Edge’ make a great low hedge that requires virtually no maintenance. Year-round interest is provided by the small, pointed greyish-green leaves attractively edged with red. The display is enhanced in summer by conical clusters of pale lilac flowers, which are attractive to bees and butterflies.

Height: to 45cm (18in)
Type of hedge: informal, flowering
Great for: wildlife, low-maintenance gardens

The attractive pink-tinged foliage of Hebe 'Red Edge', a great low-maintenance plant for low hedges.

The attractive pink-tinged foliage of Hebe ‘Red Edge’. Image: Canva

Ilex crenata

Ilex crenata ‘Stokes’ is another great alternative to box for a low formal hedge, producing small, glossy dark green leaves with a gently scalloped edge. White flowers in May are followed by glossy black berries. Japanese holly is an extremely cold tolerant hedging plant that won’t scorch like box, while its compact habit and slow growth rate means it won’t need trimming very often.

Height: to 60cm (24in)
Type of hedge: formal
Great for: stepover hedges, topiary

With its small, glossy green leaves, Ilex crenata makes a great alternative to box for low hedges.

With its small, glossy green leaves, Ilex crenata makes a great alternative to box. Image: De Nolf

Sarcococca confusa

This gorgeously scented winter-flowering evergreen makes a lovely informal or informal hedge, depending whether you allow it to take on its natural form or trim it into shape. Year-round interest is provided by the glossy deep green, spear-shaped leaves and shiny black berries, but the plant really excels in January when it fills the air with the most delicious, heady scent from its clusters of small cream flowers. This makes winter box the perfect plant for low hedges near paths, doorways and patios, where its fragrance can be enjoyed to the full.

Height: to 150cm (5ft)
Type of hedge: formal or informal, flowering, scented
Great for: wildlife, winter gardens

Sarcococca confusa makes a highly fragrant low hedging plant.

Sarcococca can be used for either an informal or formal hedge and fills the air with gorgeous scent in winter. Image: Thompson and Morgan / Derek St Romaine

Lavender

A row of lavender makes an attractive, drought-tolerant, fragrant divide that will attract bees and butterflies. Little maintenance is required other than a light shearing back after flowering to retain a compact shape and prevent legginess. Producing a haze of blue-purple flowers above attractive greyish evergreen foliage, lavenders such as ‘Munstead’ are a great low hedging choice for dry areas.

Height: to 45cm (18in)
Type of hedge: formal or informal, flowering, scented
Great for: wildlife, dry sites

Lavender 'Munstead' makes a fragrant and wildlife-friendly plant for low hedges that is ideal for dry sites.

Lavender such as ‘Munstead’ makes a fragrant and wildlife-friendly low hedge that is ideal for dry sites. Image: Shutterstock

Shrub Roses

Compact shrub roses such as ‘The Fairy’ can make a beautiful low hedge. Tresses of lavish pink blooms are produced throughout summer and autumn on arching stems that form a shapely mounded plant. This prickly hedging choice is ideal if you’re looking to discourage animals such as cats from passing through.

Height: to 60cm (24in)
Type of hedge: informal, flowering
Great for: summer colour, deterring animals

Rose 'The Fairy' is a great choice for a floral low hedge.

Rose ‘The Fairy’ is a beautiful choice for a flowering low hedge. Image: Shutterstock

Hypericum calycinum

Thriving almost anywhere, including in deep shade, Hypericum calycinum or St John’s Wort is an ideal choice for difficult spots. Though it can be easily trimmed to shape if desired, Rose of Sharon requires virtually no maintenance. This versatile shrub becomes festooned with large yellow flowers in summer and autumn, which are followed by decorative red berries. You can view our full range or flowering hedges here.

Height: to 60cm (24in)
Type of hedge: informal, flowering
Great for: shade, wildlife, low maintenance gardens

The large yellow flowers of Hypericum calycinum, a great shrub for low hedges.

Hypericum calycinum is a versatile low hedging plant producing pretty buttery yellow blooms throughout summer in autumn. Image: Canva

We hope we’ve given you plenty of ideas for the perfect low hedge for your garden. You can view our range of low hedging plants here and our full range of hedging plants here. For further tips and helpful advice, head over to our dedicated tree and hedge hub page.

 

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