Outdoor Living

Give your garden structure with these top 10 shrubs

  • Houzz_Hedgers3

     (Lear & Mahoney Landscape Associates/Houzz)

  • Houzz_Hedgers2

     (Katharine Webster Inc/Houzz)

  • Houzz_Hedgers1

     (Land Architects, Inc/Houzz)

Whether planted for privacy, as a wind buffer or to outline a planting bed, evergreen shrubs can be useful plants to hide problem areas and define garden spaces. Selecting the right shrub for each role in the garden can cut down on maintenance and ensure that your garden will look good year-round. Here are 10 hardworking evergreen shrubs and small trees to use as garden hedgers and edgers.

1. Arborvitae

(Thuja occidentalis)

Native to the upper Midwest, eastern U.S. and eastern Canada

Arborvitae is a tough hedge plant that can withstand harsh conditions such as high winds and cold temperatures, and is useful as a dense privacy screen or windbreak. The plant thrives with regular water, so it is best planted in areas with regular rainfall.

RELATED: More Plants and Trees for Natural Privacy

Arborvitae grows quickly to between 12 and 15 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide. To form a dense hedge, space plants twice as close as recommended on the planting label and keep them pruned to the desired height.

Where it will grow: Varies by species; many are hardy to minus 45 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 42.8 degrees Celsius (USDA zones 2 to 8)

Water requirement: Regular

Light requirement: Full sun

2. Barberry

(Berberis spp.)

Native to various regions around the world

The foliage color of this versatile shrub ranges from chartreuse (B. thunbergii ‘Monlers’) to rich ruby red (B. thunbergii ‘Atropurpurea Nana’). The color on red varieties deepens in full sun. Plant barberry back from walkways and lawns to reduce contact with their spiny stems.

Barberry makes a great hedge or edge plant, and can be pruned into any shape well. Slow-growing dwarf varieties of barberry are best for low borders and formal parterres.

Note: Barberry can be invasive in some areas of Canada, New England and the West Coast. Check with your local nursery and select sterile cultivars (particularly of Japanese varieties).

Where it will grow: Varies by species; many are hardy to minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 31.7 degrees Celsius (zones 4 to 8)

Water requirement: Low to regular (in hot climates)

Light requirement: Full sun to light shade

3. Boxwood

(Buxus spp.)

Native to parts of Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas

Boxwood is one of the most popular evergreen shrubs, and all varieties can be clipped into neat borders and globes or left untrimmed for a more informal hedge.

For low-growing hedges, plant dwarf varieties of boxwood, such as dwarf littleleaf boxwood (B. microphylla ‘Compacta’) or dwarf English boxwood (B. sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’), to reduce time spent clipping.

Where it will grow: Varies by species: B. sempervirens is hardy to minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 26.1 degrees Celsius (zones 5 to 8); B. microphylla is hardy to minus 5 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 20.6 degrees Celsius (zones 6 to 9); B. sinica var. insularis is hardy to minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 31.7 degrees Celsius (zones 4 to 9)

Water requirement: Regular; low once established

Light requirement: Full sun to partial shade

4. Carolina Laurelcherry

(Prunus caroliniana)

Native from Texas east to North Carolina

A low-water alternative to cherry laurel (P. laurocerasus), drought-tolerant Carolina laurelcherry has glossy leaves and an upright growth habit. Plant it as a hedge or grow dwarf varieties (Prunus caroliniana ‘Compacta’) in containers as accent shrubs.

Nondwarf plants naturally grow 20 to 30 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide but can be kept smaller with pruning. Given the robust growth habit of Carolina laurelcherry, it makes a great choice for tall privacy screens or dividers between garden rooms.

Note: Can be toxic to pets if ingested.

Where it will grow: Hardy to 15 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 9.4 degrees Celsius (zones 8 to 10)

Water requirement: Moderate in hot climates; otherwise low

Light requirement: Full sun to light shade

5. Cherry Laurel

(Prunus laurocerasus)

Native to parts of Europe and Asia

Prized for its large, glossy leaves and vigorous growth habit, cherry laurel, also called English laurel, is a favorite choice for creating dark backdrops. Shear frequently to maintain a neat and tidy hedge or semiannually for a more natural-looking screen.

Plant dwarf cherry laurel (P. laurocerasus ‘Nana’, zones 7 to 9) for a low hedge along a fence, wall or foundation.

Notes: Cherry laurel can be invasive in some parts of the western U.S., so check with your local nursery before planting. It can be toxic to pets if ingested.

Where it will grow: Hardy to minus 5 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 20.6 degrees Celsius (zones 6 to 10)

Water requirement: Looks lushest with regular water

Light requirement: Full sun to partial shade

6. Fern Pine

(Podocarpus gracilior)

Native to eastern Africa

Fern pines look lush and delicate but are some of the toughest, most pest- and disease-free shrubs out there. Their graceful willow-like leaves create a soft, feathery look.

Left unchecked, fern pine forms a full-scale tree, growing from 20 to 60 feet tall and 10 to 20 feet wide. Keep the plants at more garden-friendly sizes with semiannual pruning. Take advantage of their height by using them as a hedge plant in urban settings to screen adjacent buildings.

Note: Fern pine can be mildly toxic to pets if ingested (causing vomiting in dogs and cats).

Where it will grow: Hardy to 25 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 3.9 degrees Celsius (zones 9 to 11)

Water requirement:Moderate; low once established

Light requirement: Full sun to partial shade

7. Hebe

(Hebe spp.)

Native to New Zealand

Most hebes grow best in temperate climates, but some small-leaved varieties will tolerate colder conditions. All are relatively low-growing shrubs, from 3 to 4 feet tall and wide, and make excellent border plants and globe topiaries. Some hebes have been cultivated to grow into globes without pruning, such as H. ‘Green Globe’, H. topiaria and H. ‘Baby Marie’.

As a general rule of thumb, hebes with smaller leaves (such as H. carnosula) are more drought-tolerant and resistant to wind and salt spray than those with larger leaves and showier flowers (such as Hebe x andersonii ‘Variegata’).

Where it will grow: Hardy to 15 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 9.4 degrees Celsius (zones 8 to 10); some varieties tolerate nighttime lows of 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 9.4 to minus 6.7 degrees Celsius

Water requirement:Regular

Light requirement: Full sun to partial shade in hot climates

8. Kōhūhū

(Pittosporum tenufolium)

Native to New Zealand

Kōhūhū is an excellent fuss-free shrub for screens, hedges and other garden accents. Most are dark-stemmed, with leaf colors ranging from light green to purple.

P. tenufolium ‘Silver Sheen’ grows 10 to 15 feet tall with an open, airy habit. This variety can be useful as a fence screen while allowing light to filter through.

Top picks for low hedges and small shrubs include P. tenuifolium ‘Golf Ball’ and bronze-leaved P. tenufolium ‘Tom Thumb’, which both stay under 3 to 5 feet tall and wide.

Where it will grow: Hardy to 15 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 9.4 degrees Celsius (zones 8 to 11)

Water requirement: Moderate; low once established

Light requirement: Full sun to partial shade

9. Privet

(Ligustrum spp.)

Native to Europe, North Africa, Asia and Australasia

These dark-leaved shrubs make excellent hedges and privacy screens. Small-leaved privets, including California privet (L. ovalifolium) and European privet (L. vulgare), are most commonly used as clipped hedges in formal gardens.

RELATED: Enhance the Privacy Around Your Patio With These Ideas

Privets can be pruned into any shape desired, from geometric hedges to pyramid- or globe-shaped topiaries. European privet naturally grows 10 to 15 feet tall and 8 to 15 feet wide.

Note: Privet can be invasive in parts of the Midwest and western U.S., so check with your local nursery before planting. Privet stems and leaves can be toxic to pets if ingested.

Where it will grow: Hardy to minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 31.7 degrees Celsius (zones 4 to 7)

Water requirement: Moderate; low once established

Light requirement: Full sun to partial shade

10. Yew

(Taxus spp.)

Native to North America, Europe and Asia

A European favorite for formal gardens, yew is a type of coneless conifer with dark green needle-like foliage. English yew (T. baccata) and Japanese yew (T. cuspidata) — as well as a cross between the two, (Taxus x media) — are the most widely available. All are cold-hardy and slow-growing and make excellent hedges.