Hedges in desert climates

Hedges and shrubs to line and cool garden walls

Cool your garden with a living green wall by choosing a traditional shrub or select something unusual, like a tall grass or edible plants, for your hedge. If you have concrete block walls, a hedge will cool your garden significantly by blocking the heat absorbed by the wall.  This in turn can make your home cooler and reduce air conditioning costs.

Traditional shrubs for hedges

Korean boxwood (Buxus microphylla koreana) – slow growing to 2 1/2 feet high, this shrub does well in a hot, dry climate. It can be sheared to a geometric shape or left untrimmed and still be a tidy plant.  It looks like the common boxwood or English boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) which does not do well in desert conditions.

photiniahedgebetter cropPhotinia (Photinia x fraseri) is a moderate to fast growing shrub to 10 feet high. Has reddish-bronze leaves in Spring and white flower heads that can be as big a small saucer. Sometimes suffers from lack of iron (chlorosis), which results in yellowing leaves with green veins. Ask at your garden center about treating this.  In this photo Pittosporum tobira ‘Wheeler’s Dwarf’ grows at this Photinia hedge’s base.

Indian Hawthorne Rhaphiolepsis indicaIndian Hawthorn (Raphiolepsis indica) – perhaps best known as a low mounding plant with dark green leaves and pretty pink blooms in the spring. There are also taller varieties that grow to 5 or 6 feet tall–and new choices seem to keep showing up every year. May need some shelter from afternoon sun. Relatively low water usage.

Myrtle hedge Myrtus communisThe evergreen Myrtle (Myrtus communis) hedge takes care of itself. This shrub has  a naturally globular shape with fine textured, bright green foliage that does not need much trimming.  It has small white flowers and, later, blue-black berries in the Fall. Low water usage with good drainage required. Makes a wide hedge.

pittosporum in bloomPittosporum (Pittosporum tobira), comes in dwarf, shrub and tree forms, all of them evergreen and drought-tolerant. The dwarf size is an excellent foundation plant. The mid-size is ideal for a loose, rounded hedge that can reach 8 to 10 feet in height. The Pittosporum tree grows to 25 feet tall.  The shrub and tree forms have incredibly fragrant flowers in Spring.

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Hedges full of glorious color

Lantana camara hedge mixed colorsFor color all summer long, even in the hottest weather, plant a mix of Lantanas side by side. Be sure to get the Lantana camara, which grows upright to 6 feet tall. The Lantana montevidensis is the low growing variety suitable for ground cover.

Japanese privet ligustrum japonicum
You can have a hedge with white blooms when you plant a
Japanese privet (Ligustrum japonicum). It grows incredibly fast–up to a foot a year. It needs regular trimming and not much water. The flowers have a pungent fragrance which some people find unpleasant.

 Smoke Bush Continus CoggygriaSmoke Bush (Cotinus coggygria “Royal Purple“) – beautiful dark reddish purple leaves are the hallmark of this small tree. Grows either as a multi-trunk shrub or a single trunk tree to 15 feet high. The hybrid C. ‘Grace’ has blue-green leaves and seed pods that appear to be large airy cloudlike puffs of cotton candy. In Fall the leaves turn to orange and bright red. A new introduction is the “Golden Spirit” variety, which has brilliant golden yellow leaves. Low water usage for all three varieties. NOTE: There is another tree called the Smoke Tree. It is tall and virtually leafless. Be sure you get the right one.


The Edible Hedge

Pineapple guava (Feijoa sellowiana) – have your hedge and eat it too! You will often find this South American native plant in nurseries as a small tree, but it can be a multi-trunk shrub for an unusual and beautiful informal hedge. Soft gray-green leaves with very pretty white blossoms in the spring. And fruit to eat in the Fall. It may need some shelter from full sun. Low to moderate water usage.

Natal plum (Carissa macrocarpa) – another edible hedge, this one from South Africa. A fast growing upright shrub with deep dark, leathery green leaves that can be clipped to a formal hedge. Blooms fragrantly year ’round and produces small fruit with a cranberry-like taste. Most natal plums are thorny but the ‘Boxwood Beauty’ variety is thornless, as is the ‘Tomlinson’.

pomegranate fruit on bushPomegranate (Punica granatum)- fast growing even in alkaline soil and direct sizzling sunlight.  Choose the ‘Wonderful’ variety for its delicious fruit in Fall when its leaves turn a golden yellow.  Grows very fast.

 The grassy hedge
privet hedge deergrass skirtThis Japanese privet (Ligustrum japonicum) has a skirt of drought-tolerant deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens). Together they keep heat away from the wall.

Pampas grass hedgePampas grass
(Cortaderia selloana) – fast growing to 8 feet tall in one season with even taller white or pale yellow “plumes”.  Cut back every couple of years to 18 inches during January or it may end up 20 feet high. Leaves are toothy and will cut into skin so do not plant it near a walkway.  Note: Do not plant the Pampas Grass Cortaderia jubata, an invasive weed.
Heavenly Bamboo Nandina domesticaHeavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) – looks like short bamboo but has brilliant yellow, orange and reddish leaves. Can grow slowly to moderately to 6 feet. In the desert needs some shelter from blasting sunlight. It may need treatment for iron-deficiency which turns the leaves yellow with green veins. Very drought tolerant.
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