Angus StewartCreating a hedge with Australian plants

One of the principal defining features of many of the great gardens of the world is their hedges. European gardens long ago elevated the hedge to an art form with centuries old plantings forming the backbone of gardens such as Versailles in France and Hidcote in England. All sorts of interesting trees and shrubs are used for hedging and topiary, but several species dominate, namely English box (Buxus sempervirens), Yew (Taxus baccata) and Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus). Many other species are used of course, but there are millions upon millions of plants of the three species I have mentioned, and these are used all over Europe as hedges.

Callistemon 'Perth Pink'

Callistemon ‘Perth Pink’

 

The reason for such lack of diversity is the adaptability and sustainability of the species mentioned, as they will grow for centuries and thrive on the constant cutting that is demanded of them. Understandably early Australian gardeners relied on these tried and trusted options, particularly in southern Australia where the climate is conducive. However, the further north you go the less amenable they become. Some of the other more adaptable plants introduced for hedging, such as privet, have now become environmental weeds of significant in very damaging proportions. Wouldn’t it be good if there were Australian plants that are better adapted to our conditions to fill the bill?

Acmena Allyn Magic

Acmena ‘Allyn Magic’

 

Many of the shrubs found in the understorey of eucalypt forests around Australia are adapted to regular scorching from bushfires. Thus, many have the capacity to rise again when razed to the stump, whether it is by fire or the human hand via the pruning shears. Thus it is eminently possible to design a hedge from an Australian native plant no matter where you are, from the tropical north to the cool temperate climes of Tasmania.

Callistemon hedge

Callistemon hedge

Callistemon 'Perth Pink flowers

Callistemon ‘Perth Pink’ flowers

 

The bottlebrush (Callistemon species and cultivars) is without doubt my favourite option as a hedge plant for a variety of reasons. Not only do they cope with serious pruning, but also they are adaptable to the extreme range of climates and soils that Australian gardeners face. There are also are so many different species and cultivars to choose from, ranging from the very compact Callistemon ‘Little John’ and ‘Matthew Flinders’, to the head high ‘Great Balls of Fire’ or ‘Captain Cook’, then on up to several metres and beyond with sturdy cultivars such as ‘Perth Pink’, ‘Kings Park Special’ and ‘Endeavour’. They are rarely seen clipped into formal hedges but this is something that can easily be made to happen.

Syzygium australe hedge

Syzygium australe hedge

Acmena Allyn Magic

Acmena ‘Allyn Magic’

 

Lilly Pillies (Syzigium and Acmena species) have also become extremely popular with the hedging fraternity due to their glossy foliage, fluffy white or pink flowers and colourful, bird attracting fruits. As they have become more common, however, their pest problems have increased and the one which worries many lilly pillies is the pimple psyllid (Trioza eugeniae) which causes masses of unsightly ‘pimples’ on the new growth of plants. It can be kept at bay through two easy strategies, the first is to simply prune off affected growth when you prune your hedge; the second is to plant cultivars and species that are less susceptible such as Acmena smithii and Syzigium australe.

Cultivars of lilly pilly that I would recommend for all round performance and tolerance of pests are the various forms of Acmena smithii with the stand out in my mind being ‘Allyn Magic’ and to a lesser degree Syzygium australe and its cultivars such as ‘Tiny Trev’.

Westringia longifolia

Westringia longifolia

Westringia longifolia

Westringia longifolia

 

The various species of Westringia are also fantastic hedge plants with coastal rosemary (Westringia fruticosa) already well established with the gardening public as a reliable hedge and screen plant. There are other species worth considering such as Westringia longifolia and Westringia glabra as they all have the attributes to make great hedge plants.

Westringia fruticosa 'Seafoam Swell'

Westringia fruticosa ‘Seafoam Swell’

 

Another group that is underutilised is grevillea, with the ones to consider being the many small-leafed species and cultivars of grevillea such as Grevillea rosmarinifolia and Grevilllea juniperina.

Even the blue leafed eucalypts such as Eucaluptus cinerea can be used to make a very novel hedge if you are prepared to religiously prune it every few months. If it can be done with yew trees in Europe why not eucalypt hedges in Australia?

Coppiced Eucalytpus cinerea hedge

Coppiced Eucalytpus cinerea hedge

 

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Angus Stewart

About Angus Stewart

Gardening Australia TV presenter, author of 'Creating an Australian Garden', 'Australian Plants for Year-round Colour' and 'Let's Propagate', garden travel guide, native plant specialist and breeder. Central Coast, NSW. Find out lots more about native plants at Gardening with Angus.

36 thoughts on “Creating a hedge with Australian plants

  1. Great blog Angus. I’d add Syzygium luehmannii and S. ‘Cascade’ to the good lillypilly list. Both have weeping growth form so great for people wanting a less formal hedge. ‘Cascade’ also has lots of colourful fruit that persist into winter. Not such a fan of ‘Tiny Trev’ as it is too prone to pimple psyllid for my liking but ‘Allyn Magic’ a winner for dwarf hedging. New Acmena ‘Sublime’ also seems quite pest free and is a good option for those wanting an all-green lillypilly hedge without the coloured new growth that is such a lovely feature of most lillypillies. And for tall hedges I like blueberry ash (Elaeocarpus reticulatus) and eumundi quandong (Elaeocarpus eumundii). Loads of native choices!

  2. Carol Griesser on said:

    Thank you very much for your great article on Australian plants suitable for hedges. It is something that many gardeners do not realize; how beautiful and better suited for hedges our native plants are compare to the traditional ones. Also, better suited for our harsh climate.
    You only have to see a hedge of Syzygium “Cascade” in flower to be convinced. “What ‘s the Big Idea Garden” at the Australian Botanic Garden – Mount Annan has such a beauty and it amazed me as much with its colour as any Azalea hedge, many years older and harder to keep pest free!

  3. PeterG on said:

    Hi Angus,
    I recently planted out a hedge with Acmena smithii along one side of my block – they’re still small & and had to replace a couple due to rabbits, but hopefully it will perform well as a windbreak as well as providing privacy!

    I’ve got another couple of areas where I’m thinking of using hedges. One is approx 40m long – what do you think about using natives in a similar way to the mixed hedges in the UK. I’m thinking of a mixture of callistemons, grevilleas and banksias. The other area I’m looking using Correa glabra, in a mixture of both red and yellow flowers.

    Finally, is there some accepted rule about the planting distance between plants in a hedge, especially if there is a mixture of different plants (is it based on a percentage of the actual width of the plant?).

    cheers
    Peter

  4. Absolutely love the callistemon hedge. Allyn magic rules!
    Great blog.
    Robyn

  5. Sue Neale on said:

    Hi Angus,
    Just love the look of the Callistemon Pink Perth and was wondering it it will grow on the Blackall Range – Sunshine Coast hinterland? We grow different bottlebrush – was concerned that Pink Perth May not like our normal wet season – today we are having the best rain for several months!!
    The garden will be soooo happy
    Many thanks
    Sue

    • Angus on said:

      Hi Sue
      I think Perth Pink will be fine for your climate. Bottlebrushes are incredibly adaptable plants.
      Cheers
      Angus

  6. Eugene on said:

    sigh…….I can’t think of any Oz native hedge that is worth a bumper, but then I’m just a curmudgeonly old coot that refuses to wear inch thick botanical beer googles while wrapping himself in the australian flag before he chooses a hedging plant.

    🙂

    • Angus Stewart on said:

      Hi Eugene,
      Sorry you feel that way. I have seen all of the plants in the article used to perfection as hedges. Having seen a number of exotic plants like privet that were introduced as hedge plants go completely feral prompts me to suggest Australian alternatives. I actually appreciate exotic plants when they are used wisely, for example deciduous trees used to shelter gardens from the westerly sun in summer whilst letting the sun shine in in winter. Or the many well developed food plants that make our vegetable gardens so productive.

      It is not about “wrapping himself in the Australian flag” for me, rather choosing ‘horses for courses’. 🙂

  7. Don Williams on said:

    Our recently planted hedge of 9 Syzygium Cascade (approx. 1 yr in ground has been absolutely ravished by Myrtle Rust so much so that we have dug them up to be replaced by something else not from the Myrtaceae family. Hugely disappointed

    • Angus on said:

      Hi Don
      That is a tragedy. I have not see Cascade affected by myrtle rust before this and it is widely planted. Many thanks for the new information so I can alert others to a potential problem as it is not something you want in a hedge planting. You may want to avoid replanting with any of the other Myrtaceae family such as bottlebrush as well. Maybe try Westringia or grevillea.

  8. Jane on said:

    Both Perth Pink and whatever our large viminalis is are both very attractive to birds – our favourite visitors are the noisy friar birds who are around right now where we are in north east Victoria. We are building a new house and are considering a Callistemon hedge so found this article and the comments very helpful.

  9. Matt Barton on said:

    I’m looking at using native plants for a border hedge on my proprty in SEQld. What spacings would you recommend to get dense coverage?

    • It depends what variety you choose to use but I would suggest using a one metre spacing for plants such as lilly pillies or callistemons. And make sure you tip prune the plants every month or so in the first year to get a good dense coverage. Good luck.

  10. Catherine on said:

    What about banksias as hedging plants? Would they work and if so, which species?

    • Angela on said:

      I am very interested in this too. Would love to know. I’ve read that banksia spinulosa and robur may be suitable but I haven’t been able to find any good images or information on this.

      • Carol Griesser on said:

        Hi Angela
        I have seen a beautiful hedge of Banksia spinulosa dwarf at the Eurobodalla Botanic Garden at Batmans Bay, South of Sydney. No need to prune it and produces the wonderful cone flower, typical to the normal sized Banksia spinulosa.

  11. Mai on said:

    Angus, I’m keen on the native hedges, my westringa glabra offers little native birds shelter and safety. However, some parts of the hedge has woody patches. How do I rejuvenate my hedge so that it is uniform and thick? Also some hedge plants have taken much longer to grow. I live on top of a hill and the soil isn’t good. I’ve recently put compost around them and hoping that helps. Can I feed with native fertiliser. Thanks for you excellent article.

  12. Cranky Ray Addison on said:

    How I hate to see one of the very beautiful eucalypts used as a hedge, and not allowed to reach its glorious maturity.

    Ray Addison.

  13. Cec on said:

    Hi, great info 🙂 can you please do a blog about gumtrees and which are the best option to plant based on ones that drop less leaves and branches 🙂

    And ones that can form large tall hedges that live a long time. Council is chopping down damaged tree hedge and replacing with gum trees. Old hedge was a noise barrier. Hoping to get them to plant ones to help with noise reduction I suggested bottle brush – was told they only live for 10 yrs so not good enough- help pls!!

    • Hi Cec – for any plant recommendation you need to say where you are located and what height you want this hedge to be – what sort of trees are being removed?

  14. Linda on said:

    Hi. I am looking to plant a native hedge full of colour. The perth pink sounds great but what hight would it get to? Can I control this through clipping or are there varieties that don’t grow too tall?

    • Hi Linda – Callistemon Perth Pink can grow to 4m in good conditions but it can be kept trimmed to a lower height of around 2 metres if you prefer. You can read about other varieties of bottlebrush at Gardening with Angus

      • Linda on said:

        Hi Catherine. Thanks for your reply. Perth pink is way too high for what I need. I’m looking for something about 1-1.5m. I am planting in a wall which runs for about 30 metres and would like to create an impact with colour while still attracting birds. And easy care, not asking much am I?

        • No more than any gardener! What exactly do you mean though when you say you’re planting IN a wall? Any shrub will develop sizeable roots over time, even a small one.

          • Linda on said:

            The wall is on 3 levels and surrounds our home as a retainer. The top is our ground level from the house the next is about 800 wide and about 1 m deep that’s where I’m looking to plant at the moment then the next level is a grassed path.

  15. Jenny Bigelow on said:

    Great article. I’m wanting to plant a screen of callistemons along an ugly fenceline. The area gets heavy frosts and snow falls some years so I’m wondering what callistemons might cope with these conditions?

    • Hi Jenny – Angus is away in the north of WA at the moment so I will help you with this. The most frost resistant callistemons are Callistemon pallidus, lemon bottlebrush, which grows to around 2-4 metres and can be hard pruned into a dense hedge, and the lower-growing Callistemon pityoides, the alpine bottlebrush. Both are native to the cold, frosty parts of Victoria and NSW.

      • Jenny Bigelow on said:

        Hi Catherine, thanks very much for the feedback. I was hoping to use a few bottlebrushes with different colored flowers for the screen, and read that Call. Candy Pink, Call. Kings Park Special & Call. Viminalis Slim were also very frost tolerant. Do you think I could use them along with the pallidus & pityoides plants?

        • Jenny, I’d be very surprised if Callistemon viminalis is that frost resistant. If that advice comes from a nursery, (online rather than one local to you), I’d be sceptical. I think that the best indication of real frost tolerance is to look at where the plant grows naturally, and you find Callistemon viminalis all the way up the Queensland coast into to the Wet Tropics. The cultivar Callistemon ‘Kings Park Special’ also turned up in a warm, frost-free environment in Perth, with one of its parents suspected to be Callistemon viminalis precisely because of the cultivar’s susceptibility to frost damage. I don’t know about Candy Pink’s heritage but again, if grows well in subtropical areas then I’d be doubtful about its frost resistance. Angus does not mention its frost tolerance on his website.
          From your description of “and snow falls some years“, I’m thinking that you’re up in the mountains/tablelands somewhere which means your frosts are pretty severe? Most plants will become at least partly frost tolerant as they age into taller shrubs and small trees and their foliage is higher from the ground. But if you want to prune these lower as hedges, then there’s always going to be new foliage close to the ground and I think they would get repeatedly damaged, especially if you had frost in the late spring.

          • Jenny Bigelow on said:

            Thanks so much for that feedback, Catherine. It makes things a lot clearer for me, and I am happy to use the plants you have suggested. The project I am involved with is creating a bird habitat garden at the Mount Victoria Public School, which is in the Blue Mountains. This has been a very challenging project so far, due to the difficult conditions, and severe weather during winter. We have a Facebook page, As the Smoke Clears, which shows the progress of the bird garden and also another project we are doing in Winmalee, restoring a small park damaged by the 2013 bushfires. Both projects are using native plants, and indigenous plants where appropriate.

          • A very worthy project Jenny! I’ve done a lot of work in schools myself over past years and I can appreciate your difficulties. Great to see from your FB page that you’re getting support from local businesses.

          • Jenny Bigelow on said:

            We are also very lucky up here to have a number of great indigenous nurseries, where we are attempting to source plants from for the bird habitat section of the garden. I have great enthusiasm for this project, but not a lot of native plant knowledge, so I am imagine some of the local nursery managers are getting quite tired of my endless questions 🙂

          • Jenny Bigelow on said:

            Catherine, it doesn’t look like we can source some Callistemon pallidus plants at a price that we can afford. Do you think a screen of banksia marginata & banksia ericifolia would do ok in these conditions? I know they are both grown locally at the indigenous nurseries, but not sure how they’d cope with the frosts & snow falls.

          • I’m no Banksia authority but I wouldn’t think the majority are very frost resistant. They are one of those native plants where a single species can have developed into many different forms (shown as ‘f.’ in its name) depending on its local habitat. So it will depend on the habitat provenance of the plant from which the Banksia marginata plants you buy have been propagated. According to my ‘Banksias, Waratahs and Grevilleas’ book by Wrigley and Fagg, there are high-altitude forms of Banksia marginata that cope with frost, and low altitude forms that don’t. Banksia ericifolia is similar – there are Blue Mountains forms but the majority of plants for sale are propagated from coastal forms.
            Lambertia formosa (mountain devil) is a species local to you that birds LOVE, although its sharply pointed foliage is not very child friendly!

          • Jenny Bigelow on said:

            Thanks again for your feedback, Catherine, much appreciated. There are 3 indigenous nurseries up here which are all at a similar elevation to Mount Victoria. I am fairly sure the plants they grow are propagated from local sources. What you wrote above reminds me to focus on these locally grown plants. I think I was getting a bit carried away with some of my plant suggestions, but I would love the screen to be a highlight of the garden, as it faces the road and is seen when people enter the school. The money for this project [and 2 other projects] was raised through the sale of As the Smoke Clears books. If you would like a copy could you message me an address to send it to on the As the Smoke Clears Facebook page. And yes, I love the mountain devils, and we will definitely be planting them in the bird habitat haven section of the garden.

  16. Kylee crabb on said:

    I’ve just moved to merredin WA and would like to plant a native border hedge no more than 30cm tall. It is very warm in summer and needs to be frost tolerant. I have only used European hedges in previous gardens but am thinking natives will better suit this environment

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