If you are selecting hedges for clay soil, here is an introduction to some of the best available, plus an A-Z list of other species to choose from.
Clay soils demand tough plants which can cope with wet soil in winter and baked hard soils in the summer. But on the plus side, these soils are also nutrient rich. Choose the right plants and they will be strong-growing and long-lived.
- Improve your soil with bulky organic matter which contains a good proportion of fibrous material, such as strawy manure, composted bark or recycled garden waste.
- Plant when the soil is moist but not saturated.
- Remedy any serious drainage problems before planting by installing drainage pipes.
- Avoid planting too deep on clay soils as this can cause stem rot. Slightly raised planting relieves this problem and assists drainage.
- Be vigilant about watering young plants especially during spring and summer. Clay soils can dry hard and become difficult to re-wet. If you are struggling, build up the soil to form a ‘watering basin’ and minimise run-off. When you water, give the plants a thorough soak.
Laurel is a popular hedging plant for good reason. It quickly grows into a dense evergreen hedge, providing screening and privacy as well as excellent cover for birds.
The Cherry Laurel, Prunus laurocerasus, is one of the fastest growing evergreens. Bearing large, glossy, oval leaves it quickly forms a hedge with a coarse texture and bright green colour. The fragrant blooms are a magnet for pollinating insects and are followed by decorative red/black berries. This tough performer is highly versatile, coping with sun or shade, coastal gardens and poor growing conditions.
There are various cultivars available. Rotundifolia is a particularly vigorous and handsome variety which is readily available. Etna is unusual for its bronze-orange foliage when young which matures to the familiar glossy green. Novita is an exceptionally hardy and robust variety recommended for the most difficult planting situations. Caucasica has narrower, longer and darker green leaves than the common Cherry Laurel.
If you like the look of laurel but want something less vigorous and low growing both Prunus laurocerasus ‘Otto Luyken’ and Mount Vernon are dwarf varieties which are suitable for low hedging and make superb ground cover for tricky spots such as under trees and large shrubs. Mount Vernon has slender, darker green leaves.
For a laurel hedge with a darker, finer texture, then opt for Portugal Laurel, Prunus lusitanica. This is slower growing than Prunus laurocerasus and therefore a little more expensive. But its smaller, and more slender pointed leaves of a rich deep green create a shrub with more elegance than Cherry Laurel. Prunus lusitanica ‘Angustifolia’ has won an RHS AGM for its neat, dense habit with conspicuously purple coloured young stems and leaves which are smaller and narrower than the species.
If you are looking for an evergreen hedge which also offers colour then Elaeagnus is a great choice. This is another tough shrub which is excellent for difficult areas or coastal, exposed gardens. With a large range of cultivars offering different leaf variation, it offers equal interest to Holly but is much faster growing. As well as a splash of colour during the cold winter months it also produces tiny white flowers in the autumn which aren’t much to look at but have a fabulous fragrance.
The common species, Elaeagnus ebbingei, has grey-green leaves with a metallic sheen and makes a subtle backdrop. ‘Viveleg‘ and ‘Gilt Edge’ are similar in appearance with broad gold leaf margins contrasting with a darker green centre. ‘Eleador’ is an especially bright variety, with greenish yellow foliage merging into an irregular edge of darker green. It is useful for lighting up dark, drab areas.
All Elaegnus will happily cope with sun or partial shade and drought-prone soils.
Forming a dense, thorny hedge whilst also providing flowers and colourful fruit, Pyracantha is both practical and highly ornamental. Birds will enjoy it too, as it offers excellent nesting sites and food sources. Burglars won’t admire it though – its big spines are very unfriendly and good gloves are required when trimming, although there are some less thorny varieties.
Fast growing, it will cope with partial shade, but the best berries are produced in full sun. Well-trimmed hedges produce lots of short, flowering side-shoots in spring which turn into ribbons of colour in the autumn. Choose from red berried cultivars ‘Red Column’ or the less thorny ‘Red Star’; orange-berried ‘Golden Charmer’ or ‘Orange Glow’ or the yellow-berried ‘Soleil d’Or’.
A viburnum exists for virtually every garden and enjoying moist soils they will readily adapt to heavy clays. They are not flashy plants, but have an understated dignity in their foliage, flowers and fruit which makes them perfect backdrops to other planting.
Both evergreen and deciduous hedging varieties are available. Viburnum tinus makes a decorative evergreen hedge which has neat, pointed, dark green leaves and fragrant white blossom in late winter until spring followed by blue-black berries. Although flowering is best in full sun, it will cope with full shade as well as salt spray and windy situations. Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’ is a compact form with smaller leaves than the species and attractive red buds and pink tinged flowers. ‘Spirit’ is another compact variety prized for its especially lush foliage and with red-purple flower buds opening to long-lasting white blossom. ‘Lisarose’ is distinguished by its striking deep red buds which emerge in early autumn opening to pink and white flowers from mid winter to mid spring.
For relaxed, informal hedging our native Viburnum opulus is extremely adaptable to moist and wet sites which are its natural habitat. It is happy in acidic or alkaline soils. Viburnum opulus is an excellent choice for wildlife, with white spring blossom which is much loved by pollinators. The flat, white flowers are similar in appearance to lace-cap hydrangeas. The blossom is followed by especially glossy, bright red berries for the birds. The attractively lobed leaves develop red, yellow and purple hues in the autumn.