Translated by Nick R
Have you ever seen, in your neighbors’ gardens maybe, this kind of division with plants to delimit certain areas? Well, these divisions are called shrubs and hedges.
These shapes can also be combined into compositions with an incredible and beautiful variety of plants to make your garden look stylish, colorful, natural and enviable. Are you eager to learn a little more about these elements? Well, this is the perfect blog for you.
Here you’ll find the definition of shrubs, hedges and compositions. And of course, I’ll also tell you about the care and cultivation of shrubs, the characteristics of hedges, and what kind of compositions you can make.
Finally, I’ll mention 6 plants with which you can create your shrubs and hedges. For you being able to find plants of various sizes that are ideal for these displays.
Table of Contents
How to structure your garden with shrubs, hedges and compositions?
As I mentioned to you before, there are 3 ways in which you can give your garden a wonderful appearance. But before we start talking about each of them, it’s necessary to keep in mind a couple of details to ensure the success of your project.
Before planting any type of plant, you must be conscious of and properly examine the area where you want to settle your garden. It’s vital to assess the available space, the climatic conditions of your area, and how accessible it is to maintain the plants or the components you have (hedges, shrubs, compositions).
It’s recommended to start by taking topographical measurements of the terrain to place harmoniously these features outside your home. These measurements can be made with a rigid meter or a tape measure, whichever will work for you.
After measuring, you should illustrate what you have planned to do with them. That is to say, the plans of your garden to create shrubs, hedges, or compositions, in this case.
You don’t have to be a professional in drawing or architecture to plan how you want to arrange your garden, it’ll be enough to help you with some graph paper, a pencil, a ruler and your wits.
As you have already taken the measurements, this process won’t be complicated. You just need to consider the areas, the type of plants, and the style that best suits your garden.
The above image is an example of how you could capture your dream shrub and hedge garden on paper. The circles represent the shrubs, and the solid line at the top represents the hedges.
The part where you see a cloud shape are those plants you would choose to contrast with other elements. The squares section represents the path, and the white part is the lawn.
As I mentioned, this is just an example of how you could capture on paper the element or elements you want for your garden. You’ll see that you don’t need professional drawings.
Next, I’ll explain in detail what each item is about so that you can use it to create a unique view of your garden.
Shrub plants have a woody stem that reaches a height of about 3 to 5 m (10 to 15 ft). These plants can have one or more stems arising from a single stock, that is, that part of the plant attached to the roots and underground. They may also have a single stem with branches growing from the base.
Shrubs are part of the broadleaf plant species, which means that they have broad leaves and are either deciduous or evergreen. Depending on the species, they can bloom in summer, spring, or autumn and have a great diversity of colors.
This feature allows you to use shrubs to create colorful patches, which I’ll explain later, to create compositions, mixed borders, and more. Plus, a great advantage is that you can use little, medium, and large shrubs for your garden.
In case you don’t have a garden, shrubs can also be grown in pots. This way you’ll have a chance to beautify your terrace or balcony with species such as cherry trees, Japanese brambles, azaleas, spirea, and viburnum.
Unlike shrubs, which can be made up of several plant species, hedges are structures formed by only 1 species in most cases. They generally follow a linear pattern and are composed of evergreen plants, that is to say, they keep their foliage all year round.
In case you’re wondering if you can have multi-species hedges, the answer is yes. That’s why this type of composition is recommended for small gardens, as hedges can play a protective role and provide aesthetic appeal at the same time.
What you should keep in mind to creating hedges of various species is to choose those that won’t compete with each other for nutrients. You can combine shrub species and evergreen species or shrubs with variegated leaves (of different colors), purpurea (with thick stems and purple flowers), or glauca (light green).
Hedges are used to mark the property boundaries or protection against wind, dust, and sounds from outside. You can also find them in different sizes, small, medium, and large.
Shrubs or different plants can be used to create diverse compositions in your garden and give it a very eye-catching look. Below, I’ll tell you about 4 of them.
Parterres and embroideries
Parterres are gardens or parts of gardens made up of lawns, plants and pathways. The embroidery works to define boundaries in the garden, for example, between the paths and the beginning of the crop.
For these compositions, it’s recommended that you use aromatic plants, as well as dwarf and small evergreen shrubs. The latter help to convey geometric shapes to the parterres and embroideries.
As in the previous composition, it is used to border spaces in the garden. What characterizes this particular composition is that you can use flowering shrubs and lively plants.
Thanks to the fact that you can plant several species of plants for this composition, you will have a continuous presence of flowers, colors, and shapes throughout the year. In addition, there is a strong preference for using shrubs for mixed borders because it gives a base form to the composition.
Flowering plants are responsible for making up natural gardens. It may sound a bit simple, but that’s the main feature of this composition. You can use bulbous plants, roses, jungle plants like orchids, or other species.
The blooms of the plants you use for this type of composition will represent an atmosphere of discretion and naturalness in your garden. You can also accompany it with a variety of deciduous hedges.
Spots of color
For this type of composition, you use flowering plants or shrubs that guarantee a diverse blooming all year round. In nurseries you can find a wide variety of hybrids with this feature.
In order for you to grow your shrubs the best way and use them in any of the above-mentioned elements, you need to take into account the following aspects.
This is one of the most important aspects for any plant because, as you know, the survival of the plant species depends on the type of climate of the area where you live.
Temperature, sun exposure, pollution, strong winds, frost, etc, are factors that undermine the development of plants. For this reason, it’s imperative that you inform yourself adequately about the climatic conditions of the species you want to plant.
In this case, you can use rustic plants, that is to say, plants resistant to diverse conditions, which can also be seen as local plants.
Shrubs need soil rich in hummus and with sufficient drainage. In addition, you must identify the nature of your garden soil so that you can make the necessary adjustments to suit your shrubs.
To identify the type of soil, you can use the fist test. In our blog on how to start planting your vegetable garden, you’ll find a guide to perform this test. Once you know the soil type, you can add compost to nourish the plant or some substance that helps drainage, such as sand.
Remember that all plants require primary macronutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium; secondary macronutrients such as calcium, magnesium, and sulfur; and micronutrients such as iron, zinc, manganese, and boron. In specialized stores, you can find fertilizers that already have the right proportions of these compounds according to the plant to be planted.
At this point, the soil pH is also an aspect to consider since shrubs prefer a neutral pH, no higher than 7 or lower than 6. You can measure it with a pH meter, in the user’s manual, you’ll find the indicators needed for determining this information.
Before planting the shrub, you should prepare the area where it’ll be placed. As there are various sizes of shrubs, you should dig a hole based on their current proportions and the ones they will have when growing into adults.
It should be a loose hole so that the roots can receive water and aeration and settle into the soil. It’s here when you should add the organic matter and other substances necessary to adapt the soil to the shrubs.
You can use wet river sand to promote drainage and avoid waterlogging. Make sure that the soil is not wet when preparing it for planting; otherwise, it’ll be harder to handle.
Later I’ll explain how to reproduce shrubs; however, it’s very usual that people buy them in nurseries already a little developed or grown. In this case, they’ll be sold in pots or with the root ball uncovered.
When in pots, you’ll be able to transplant them at any time of the year, avoiding strong frosts or excessive heat. If, on the contrary, you buy the shrubs with the root ball uncovered, it means that they have been planted in soil and then transplanted. You’ll have to wait until the vegetative rest of the plant to plant it in a new place.
Once the shrubs are planted, cover the spaces with the soil or substrate you prepared for these plants. You must compact the soil slightly so that the plant settles and there are no air bubbles that could damage the roots.
If you plant in autumn, you won’t have to water the shrubs, however, it’s necessary to cover the lower part of the stems to protect them from frost; you may use bark or foliage.
In case you plant your shrubs in spring, you do need to water them slowly, this way, the plant can settle and establish itself in the soil. A tip is that you can create a bowl shape in the earth around the shrub. This retains and absorbs the water needed after watering.
The best way to reproduce shrubs is by means of cuttings, as this guarantees that the genetic traits of the mother plant are preserved.
The cutting you take should be at least 30 cm long, and you’ll need a container with a substrate that favors drainage and the necessary moisture retention.
To develop roots, these cuttings need a temperature of at least 68°F (20°C), which you can provide by using the boxes. Between 15 to 45 days, they’ll be able to develop roots.
The best time for you to take these cuttings is in summer because it allows you to plant the cuttings directly on the ground.
Care of shrubs
Now that you know the processes prior to planting, you should know about the care required to keep the shrubs in optimal conditions after cultivation.
This activity is carried out at the beginning of March and consists of transforming carefully the surface around the stem. A hoe is used for this process, a tool for digging soil, removing manure, and other activities.
Tilling will prevent weeds from growing, provide proper oxygenation on the root surface and increase the water retention and absorption capacity. This procedure should be repeated in the vegetative stage of the shrub.
Fertilizing is done annually in spring or autumn and you may use the fertilizer or compost of your choice; what matters is that the fertilizer contains the necessary macronutrients and micronutrients.
If they are flowering plants, in spring they require a fertilizer rich in nitrogen and potassium, as it helps them to bloom abundantly. In summer, you can fertilize a second time but using a better-balanced ratio to help them withstand the winter.
It’s recommended that, when tilling, you add a little mulch and compost on the surface of the soil where the shrub is planted. This is intended to add extra value to the compost.
Mulching is done in order to protect the roots. You can cover the soil with elements such as leaf litter, vegetable fiber, or bark. It should be at least 7 cm thick and be placed at the bottom of the bushes.
It’s best to mulch with biodegradable material: although it’s used more in agricultural fields, it favors air circulation, protects the stem and roots, increases humidity, prevents the growth of weeds, and favors the development of helpful microorganisms.
This is a fundamental process for healthy shrub development and to control the height and thickness of hedges. The techniques and time to prune depend on the type of shrub or hedge.
Deciduous flowering shrubs (shrubs that lose their leaves each year)
They should be pruned according to the age of their branches (one year, second year, at least two years old).
Those that flower on the one-year-old branches should be pruned in winter. Remove all the shoots that grow from the shrub base, in the second or third node (point from which the leaves come out). Also, remove any damaged, weak, diseased, or dry branches.
In shrubs that flower on second-year branches, only remove damaged, dry, diseased, and excess branches during the winter. After flowering, pruning should be done to reduce by half those to remove the overgrown branches.
For shrubs whose flowering occurs on branches at least 2 years old, prune in winter to shorten the 1-year-old shoots and emerging lateral branches. During the vegetative rest, remove the weak stems leaving the new stems that are emerging from the base.
Also, cut the old stems a few centimeters above the ground. The following year, the weak shoots will be removed then also. In this way, your shrubs can be renewed.
Broadleaf evergreen shrubs
They should be pruned in late winter, so you must remove the withered flowers and the branch they are on. As with the previous shrub, remove the old stems a few centimeters above the ground to renew the plant in May.
The following year, you’ll remove the new shoots growing on the vine and leave the strongest and best-positioned ones.
Hedges formed by scion-producing species (young shoots)
They are pruned extensively in winter but gently and superficially in summer.
Hedges that don’t produce scions
They are pruned during the growing phase in winter. Remove the lateral branches to obtain the shape you want. In summer, prune them to maintain volume and size.
Hedges formed by coniferous plants
As for example the pine, you’ll remove the lateral branches, without the top, during August and in winter. Maintenance pruning can be done in summer and when it reaches the desired height.
Watering is essential for the shrubs to absorb nutrients and promote their growth. It’s best to water first thing in the morning to avoid water evaporation or burning the leaves in the sunlight.
The volume of water for irrigation varies according to the shrub species you want in your garden; however, avoid waterlogging and over-watering. Also, keep in mind the climatic conditions of the area where you live.
Shrubs can present some diseases due to inadequate environmental conditions. They can be physiopathologies or parasitic diseases.
Pathophysiological diseases can be caused by burns due to excessive heat, chlorosis due to alteration of the chlorophyll function, or cold weather when strong frosts and low temperatures.
6 plants to create hedges and shrubs
Now that you know a bit more about these wonderful elements that you can implement in your garden or terrace, I’ll present 6 plants to start creating your dream garden. They are divided by features and sizes.
Small flowering shrub – Erica carnea
This species of decorative shrub is widely used because of the small white, pink, or red flowers and bushy bright green leaves it possesses. You can plant this shrub in sunny or semi-shaded locations, avoiding extremely dry climates.
These plants are native to Europe and can reach a height of 40 m (16 in.) and a diameter of 50 cm (18 in.).
You can grow this species by cuttings from July to October. The winter flowering should be pruned at the end of this process, while the summer flowering in spring.
If you don’t have a garden, these plants are suitable for pot cultivation to decorate your balcony or terrace. They can also be used to create low hedges along with other species, such as dwarf conifers.
Medium flowering shrub – Ceanothus
This is a shrub genus that varies according to the species. It flowers in summer, and the flowers gather in spikes that are usually blue or white. They are shrubs that like direct sunlight and tolerate semi-shade.
They develop best in fertile and deep soil, and you can use heather soil for them. Protecting the Ceanothus from the wind is vital, so you should place them where they only receive regulated aeration.
You can reproduce them by cuttings during autumn. Evergreen species should be pruned after flowering, while deciduous species are pruned to remove the previous year’s shoots in spring. These shrubs can be planted in pots, groups, or alone in the garden.
The species in the image is called Ceanothus thyrsiflorus. It’s native to California and can reach 5 m in height and 3 m in diameter. Its leaves are bright green, light green on the underside, toothed, and oval. Its flowers are globose and blue.
Large flowering shrub – Amelanchier lamarckii
Ornamental, rustic, and decorative shrubs with white flowers and shiny, autumn-colored leaves. Flowering occurs in May, and they prefer direct sunlight, as well as moist, drained, acidic soil rich in organic matter.
No pruning is required, and they can be planted alone in the garden or in hybrid compositions. It’s native to Canada and can grow up to 10 m with a diameter of 5 m.
Short hedge – Lonicera nitida
These are evergreen shrubs that can tolerate direct sunlight yet prefer semi-shade. They can adapt to any type of soil and can be propagated in autumn by cuttings.
Pruning can be done in spring and summer. Besides, they are suitable for planting in pots and for creating hedges.
The picture shows shrubs originating from China. They can grow to 2m tall and 1m wide. It has a bushy shape and its leaves are bright green.
Medium-sized hedge – Ilex aquifolium
These are evergreen and rustic shrubs. Capable of tolerating direct sun but still better in shady areas. They can adapt to any type of soil, although they prefer those slightly acidic.
You can reproduce these shrubs in August by cuttings, and pruning should be done in July and August. They are suitable for pots and hedges. Also, originating from tropical and temperate zones, they can reach a height of 7m and a diameter of 3m.
Their leaves are bright green, acicular (needle-shaped), and ovate (egg-shaped). Some varieties of this species may contain red berries.
Tall hedge – Cupressus arizonica
This is a genus that includes several species of coniferous plants. They prefer direct sun exposure, although they can tolerate semi-shade. They thrive in deep, fertile, and well-drained soils.
You can reproduce them by cuttings in autumn and prune them in spring each year. It’s a genus suitable for creating tall, compact hedges.
They are native to Arizona and grow to a height of 20m and a diameter of 4m. Their leaves are silver-gray, scaly (scale-like), small, and evergreen.
We’ve reached the end of this wonderful blog about shrubs, hedges, and compositions that you can use to liven up your garden. Remember to follow the recommendations for the care of the plants and for the plan of your garden; I’m sure it’ll look beautiful.