“Good fences make good neighbors.”
I did a bit of research to find out if Robert Frost agreed or disagreed with this maxim. But his poem, “Mending Wall,” leaves things a bit ambiguous. And both within and without the poem, the notion of the ironic neighborly benefit of fences seems to well precede the 1914 publication of Frost’s poem, with similar concepts in Benjamin Franklin and even Solomon.
Now, if Frost really meant that “good fences make bad neighbors,” then logically only bad neighbors would need doorbells and locksmiths.
Ironically, there is something communal about proper separation.
I think foliage is the most neighborly tool for creating this type of separation, and hedges are the most space-efficient, plant-based wall there is. But there are no hedges for sale at nurseries. Instead, they have to be built. Hedges must be cultivated, and this takes time and effort.
So, how do you build a hedge?
The first step is to select the plants.
For several reasons, the best formal hedge will be composed of only one kind of plant. While the majority of trees and shrubs can be trained into hedges, the best hedging plants will sprout vigorously from latent buds when trimmed. The more vigorous the sprouting, the denser the hedge. At the same time, a plant like forsythia is undesirable for hedges because it sprouts so often, grows so fast, and does not reward its owners with lovely foliage.
The next step to building a hedge is to buy and plant the plants.
The more plants you buy, the faster you will have a dense hedge. After planting the hedge, you have to wait.
You have to wait at least a year to let the roots grow.
From a biological perspective, clipping the hedge sooner will subtract from root growth which will eventually slow shoot growth.
After waiting a year or two, it’s time to clip the shoots. The junior varsity way to clip is with “hedge clippers” or shears. Yes, you can use them next year or the year after, but they do not allow interior cuts. The varsity way to clip a new hedge not only cuts back the shoots to the desired shape, but also pinches or clips each shoot tip throughout the entire plant from bottom to top.
Because this interior clipping doesn’t change the look much, it may seem like a waste of time. But it helps to remember that building a hedge is the opposite of pruning a tree. With a hedge we are not trying to prune a natural-looking, safe crown. Instead, we want to force dense foliage growth throughout the plant. By cutting off terminal buds and removing natural central leaders, we are able to use the plant’s own growth response to create that warm-looking, community-preserving wall of foliage.
Joshua Arp is an ISA-certified municipal specialist, Clarks Summit’s municipal arborist and an operator of an organic lawn and landscape maintenance business. Reach him at email@example.com.