So what, It’s a hedge – who cares, except perhaps Edward Scissorhands or those overly-zealous Floridian hedge-fences grown to keep out the entire universe? The problem is that in the BVI, the hedge is often overlooked when designing a landscape.  Everyone wants to concentrate on flowers, palm trees and lawn, but forget how aesthetically practical such a frame can be. Hedges can be used to create discrete spaces and boundaries.  They’ll also keep out intruders, provide privacy from overly-curious neighbors and mask some of your less desirable views.  Hedges also provide shelter from storms and act as wind breaks.  Stop the soil erosion on a slope with a hedge or reduce noise pollution from busy roadways.  Everyone has a different set of uses but your choice of hedging will depend upon intended use.

7 Types of Hedges
Hedging plants can be trees, shrubs, vines, Agaves, Bromeliads, Cacti or Yuccas.  The ever blooming Hibiscus and Oleander Nerium or the dry season bloomer Bougainvillea offer a nice floral arrangement but are also chosen for their ornamental foliage.  The foliage hedges are generally the Cordyline, Dracaena, Croton or variegated-leaved Hibiscus.  Plants like the sweet lime, Bougainvillea and Cactus Hedge(Euphorbia Lactea) on the other hand can be used to provide excellent security barriers because of their thorny nature.  On steep hillsides, plant low hedges across the slope at intervals to control soil erosion.  Khus Khus grass works miracles for this.

The Formal Hedge
Durable, slow-growing plants with dense growth and small leaves, are used for formal hedging and topiary work.  Sweet lime is a good choice for most Caribbean gardens.    The dwarf forms of Ixora Coccinea, Plumbago Capensis and Rondeletia Odorata all make colorful and formal hedges because they bloom in response to pruning – Edward’s favorite.  Pruning can be done 3 or 4 times a year to keep that very formal, neat appearance.  

But formal hedges need regular maintenance in order to retain that tidy form.  Growth is especially rapid in the tropics and even more so during the rainy season.  If you neglect the trimming of your hedge most plants will lose their lower leaves and become straggly. So if you’re only here a few months of the year and don’t have Tropical Landscapes (hint, hint) for upkeep, you may want to opt for a lower maintenance plant.  

Semi Formal and Informal Hedges
If you are that person without time to muck about in the garden perhaps the informal hedge is more your speed,  just plant sections of hedging that needs no trimming.  Not surprisingly, informal hedges are more popular in the BVI!  Pandanus and Columnar cactus such as Cereus peruvianus or Pilosocereuis nobilis are good examples of informal hedging plants.  All that’s required to keep your plants tidy is simply removing dead and damaged foliage or the occasional wayward branch.  

Dracaena are useful in semi-shaded locations while Agave Americana makes a very attractive, low maintenance barrier along an exposed cliff.    These are good semi-formal hedges that still need trimming but less frequently.  A good pruning once or twice a year will encourage new shoots and will fill out the bare areas.  Bougainvillea is a good example of a plant ill suited for use as a formal hedge (unless flowers are unimportant) but appropriate to semi-formal management.   Choice of Bougainvillea is very important, as is a sunny location.  Use Bougainvillea glabra and its hybrids as they bear flowers along the stem.

How to Establish a Hedge
A hedge should be established in a prepared bed and given enough space to grow.  Remember to discuss the prep work in detail with a landscape professional to ensure success.  You need to decide how far apart you wish to position the hedge plants and whether you need to plant a single or double row.  Spacing between plants will depend upon their growth rate and eventual size and shape.  A hedge may grow faster if two rows are planted, the plants in one row being opposite the spaces in the other.  This makes a wider hedge and insures the avoidance of gaps produced by dead plants. Remember that a hedge is made up of many plants. Set up double row plantings too when establishing a wind break.  

Try to choose a drought-tolerant species if your only source of gardening water also drains your cistern.  Choosing the right irrigation system is also key to the success of your hedge.  Most drip systems will do, but if you’re not certain what’s needed, again consult with a landscape professional.  Finally when the hedge is getting established, you can plant some annuals to act as a temporary and showy ground cover to control weeds.  

Always remember to choose the right plants for your garden needs before embarking on your landscape journey.  Knowledge is the key for the success of any landscape.

by Sean Jobsz, Managing Director of Tropical Landscapes
Phone: 284-541-2378  Email: [email protected]