Privacy hedges

Asked June 16, 2014, 8:39 PM EDT

I'm.ive in lower Merion and have 80 year old boxwoods that are dying. I want to plant a new privacy hedge ( 400 feet ) that will be fast growers. I would like to buy them at 3-4 feet and have them grow at least one foot a year. I do,not want arbor vitae and I would like to buy the locally pa,NJ, md and at a fair price (!imwill probably need about 135 plants. Can you give me suggestions please and if you know inexpensive growers, all the better. Thank you, Steve Yassky

Montgomery County Pennsylvania trees and shrubs master gardener program boxwood

3 Responses

There are a number of options available for privacy hedges but I’m not aware of any that would meet your exact specifications. It would also be helpful to know if the hedge is in a sunny, shady, or part sun/shade location and the soil acidity. Do you want a year round privacy hedge which implies evergreen or is a deciduous hedge acceptable? Finally, do you want the hedge to reach a certain height and stop or grow to 10 feet or higher?

It would also be helpful to know if the boxwood are dying due to boxwood “decline” which might limit your options. The cause of boxwood “decline” is a nematode that could also infect subsequent plantings unless the soil is treated. The following link provides additional information on boxwood “decline” and other boxwood diseases. Perhaps your current boxwood are suffering from the severe winter and might still be salvaged.

In the interim you might want to investigate abelia, privet, or another boxwood variety for lower growing evergreen hedges or Leyland cypress for taller privacy screens. If deciduous hedges are acceptable consider some varieties of forsythia such as balled and burlapped Forsythia X Intermedia or one of the many low maintenance knockout rose varieties if there is adequate sun.

There are many additional choices but sun exposure, height, maintenance requirements and cost are all additional considerations which typically involve trade-offs.

Master gardeners don’t endorse any particular nurseries but that if you are willing to travel to Eastern Lancaster County you will find a few nurseries operated by the Amish and Mennonite that provide extensive selections and exceptionally good prices. Considering the number of units you will likely be purchasing I would avoid the big box store nurseries. Also, recognize that many nurseries may be low on inventory this time of year for items that are marketed seasonally such as forthysia.

Good luck with your efforts and feel free to provide additional inputs or questions during your decision making process.

the hedges are in full sun. They have been deteriorating for years. There is ivy at the base and it is very hard to get rid of. There is an interior fence. I would like the optimal height to be 6- 61/2 feet. I want it to be evergreen. I don't know how to test the soil. Can you tell me how to do that?

Steve, you can obtain a soil test kit from your local Penn State extension office for about $10. The kit includes instructions on how to sample the soil and mail the sample to Penn State. The results normally take about 2-3 weeks. However, the soil sample results will likely only provide recommendations on soil alkalinity and how to increase or decrease. The test results won't be able to tell you if you have a fungus or nematode infestation that is affecting your boxwood. You could take a sample cutting in a plastic bag to your local office in Montgomery County for evaluation if you would like them to inspect for disease. It's also possible your boxwood are suffering from aphid infestation which is prevalent this time of year.

If you want to pursue a strategy of saving the box wood you could consider a heavy pruning which would remove about 1/3 of the braches to allow more sunlight to penetrate and perhaps rejuvenate the boxwood. You should also spray with horticulture oil if there is evidence of aphids.

If you want to change to another privacy hedge then after you remove the boxwood you should spray the bed with roundup at least 2 -3 times to kill any remaining ivy. Ivy is difficult to kill because of its rooting system. If there is ivy nearby it is likely to continue to infest the bed.

Since you have a sunny location and you want something that is evergreen and will top out at about 6 -6.5 ft. and grow a foot or so a year your choices are limited. Privet golden and privet golden vicary varieties are the closest to meeting your specifications. There are a couple of holly varieties that might come close to specifications but are expensive, require a lot of care as well as a mix of male and female to allow for cross pollination.

If you were to consider some deciduous or semi deciduous shrubs then the options increase and at a likely lower cost. Ninebark Diablo, American Beautyberry, blue muffin Viburnum, redtwig dogwood would be a few of the options.

You should do some specific research to understand the characteristics, appearances, and maintenance requirements before you make your decision. Here is a good website that provides information on some of the recommendations

Good luck with your efforts.