Hedge Alternatives- Part 2

January, 2021
Article by Sigrie Kendrick and Mark Godlewski

This is the second in a pair of blog articles discussing appropriate hedge choices for the Okanagan. This article will address non-native options.

European Privet (Ligustrum vulgare) is a good candidate for a hedge in our valley. It has been used extensively in the UK since Victorian times. Given its’ frequent use in rainy Britain people often do not realize that it is actually very drought tolerant. Privet is a fast-growing hedge that can reach up to 12 feet high with a spread of 10 feet. It takes pruning very well so it can be kept to a much smaller size. How frequently it needs to be pruned depends on whether you are looking for a traditional clipped hedge or a more casual natural look. The clipped hedge will likely require two or more clippings per year. Once established, Privet will require supplementary irrigation only in the hottest Okanagan summer months.

European Privet hedge

Fig. 1 – European Privet (Ligustrum vulgare), Mark Godlewski

Mugo pines (Pinus mugo) can make an excellent evergreen hedge. There are many cultivars of Mugo pine available, from dwarf to those which can reach a height and spread of 15 feet or more. The cultivar ‘ Columnaris’ slowly reaches a height of 10 feet, spreading 3-4 feet and as such it is perfectly suited for use as a drought-tolerant hedge. It can be successfully grown in an area of full to part-sun and once established will only require minimal water. Pinus mugo ‘Columnaris’ has finely textured foliage and produces small ornamental cones. It is not bothered by deer.

Amur maple, (Acer ginnala), is another option for a large hedge. It is really a small tree, but it can be pruned to a large multi-stemmed shrub suitable for use as a hedge in full sun or part sun, reaching up to 20 feet. Amur maples feature early-season yellowish-green flowers followed by red-winged samaras. The glossy, green-lobed leaves of Amur maples turn shades of yellow, red, and purple as the days cool in the Autumn.

Amur Maple hedge

Fig. 2  – Amur maple (Acer ginnala), Mark Godlewski

Hedge Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster lucidus) should also be considered, especially for smaller spaces. Native to Siberia and China, Cotoneaster lucidus is well adapted to the cold Okanagan winter and can eventually grow to 8 ft in both width and height. However, it responds very well to pruning, and can easily be kept to less than half of this maximum. The plant has small pink spring flowers transitioning to black fruit in the fall. It features stunning fall foliage in shades of orange and red. Flowering is best in full sun but Cotoneaster lucidus will tolerate partial shade, poor soil, and windy locations.

Cotoneaster lucidus hedge

Fig. 3  – Cotoneaster lucidis, Mark Godlewski

Cotoneaster lucidis hedge in late fall

Fig. 4  – Cotoneaster lucidis late fall, Mark Godlewski

Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii) can make an admirably attractive hedge if you are content with its natural dimensions of 6 feet by 6 feet. It certainly discourages through traffic with its thorns. There are several shorter varieties if you are looking for a shorter hedge. Barberry hedges are often best pruned only occasionally which is a relief because it can be a painful experience.

Japanese Barberry hedge

Fig. 5  – Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii), Mark Godlewski

Dwarf Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus ‘compactus’) and Golden Currant (Ribes aureum) are two other deciduous shrubs that can make excellent hedges. You can look up their attributes on the OXA Plant Database.

Dwarf Burning bush hedge

Fig. 6  – Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus) above and Golden Currant (Ribes aureum) on right, Mark Godlewski

Golden Currant hedge

Or, if you are looking for a more modern-looking line of plants to delineate your property, why not consider a grouping of one of the many ornamental grasses on the market? A favorite is Andropogon gerardii or Big Bluestem. This is a warm season grass, meaning it will not offer you early-season privacy, but by midsummer the foliage will reach 5 feet and the attractive late season flowers extend another 2 feet on top of this. The foliage that starts out bluey-green, and transitions through the season to end with russet tones. If you want a grass that starts out early in the spring, you should consider Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’. Most ornamental grasses are not bothered by deer and their extensive root systems makes them good candidates for erosion control on many of our sloped Okanagan properties.


Whatever you choose to plant it is important to have a definite long-term strategy for pruning. The strategy will depend on the type of plant you are using and the maximum dimensions you want. Many homeowners plant and forget – until it is too late. All hedges need to be pruned regularly and some, conifers especially, respond very badly to heavy deep pruning. Some other hedges (e.g., Privet, Amur maple, Golden Currant) are prone to getting leggy if they are not pruned heavily sometime around their third year of growth after transplant. Hard pruning should be done in the late winter or early spring.

With all these fine choices for reliable, drought tolerant hedges listed in these blog articles, hopefully landscapers and gardeners will think twice before simply defaulting to cedar hedges.

As a group blog and forum, we really appreciate your contributions and comments and hope to create a blossoming community of xeriscape gardeners well as a valuable archive of articles.


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