Best Short Hedge Plants – Low Maintenance

Short hedge plants can make a wonderful leafy perimeter or an ornamental centerpiece depending on your needs. 

It is often assumed that hedge plants are a high-maintenance investment requiring much time and effort but there are many varieties that are fast-growing and self-sufficient. 

Whether formal or informal, a short hedge plant will provide essential shelter for wildlife as well as interest, privacy, and noise filtering for your home. 

In this article, I have listed a range of different types of short hedge plants so that you are equipped with the relevant facts when making your decision on what to choose. 

Whether you are creating a new design for your garden or simply adding some interest to your borders, there is sure to be something to suit your needs. 

Short Flowering Hedges

Not all hedges are the functional, green cubes we see guarding suburban homes against prying eyes. Flowering hedges can add aesthetic interest, heady aromas, and pollen for a bee-filled haven. Whilst also offering a sanctuary for nesting birds and insects.

The informality of a glossy, colorful demarcation line can frame your garden with a dazzling, fragrant fence. Plus, a flowering hedge with an extended blooming season usually means far less clipping than a regulation Privet. 

Some varieties like Crape Myrtles, have papery pink petals which bloom for months. And others such as the ‘Limelight’ Hydrangea require very little care but reward you with creamy-white and pastel-green blooms which turn pink in autumn. 

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Low Hedges with Berries

When winter has turned your colorful garden to yellows and browns, there is one way to maintain a flash of color until spring returns and that is with an evergreen, berry-producing hedge. 

A wonderful source of food for birds, a shrub with brilliant red, pink, orange, yellow, purple, or blueberries will keep a garden alive with natural beauty through frost and blizzards. 

Short, hedged plants with berries – often evergreen – can provide popular, year-round interest and make the perfect addition to a smaller garden where perhaps there is limited space to grow fruit or vegetables. 

Usually easy to grow and low maintenance, these ornamentals are not only striking but also terrifically versatile and functional, providing year-round, evergreen interest, color in the gloomiest of months, plus food and homes for visiting wildlife.  

Types of Low Hedge Plants

From classic evergreens to elaborate, colorful blooms, hedge plants can create structure, define pathways, and provide patterns and shade for your outdoor space.

 All you need to establish is which species will fulfill your intentions. Before investing your money and effort, consider your requirements. Do you need shelter from the wind? Are you looking to mitigate flooding or capture pollution? Perhaps you want to wall off a garden while also providing a haven and food for wildlife at the same time. 

Whatever the reason, short hedge plants are species-rich hives of activity offering corridors of biodiversity and improving air quality. Of course, they are also a steady green offset to the colorful panoply of your other botanical cultivations. 

Here is a detailed look at some of my favorites along with examples of the most popular and easy-to-care-for varieties.

Holly (Ilex)

Holly (Ilex)

  • Full sun or partial shade
  • Slow growing but easy to care for
  • Berries are poisonous to people and pets

Native to Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia, Holly enjoys a variety of climates from tropics to temperate zones, remote woodlands, and urban gardens. 

Hardy in USDA Zones 5 through 9, North Carolina State University recommends this low-maintenance shrub receives partial or full sun and acidic soil of PH between 3.5-6.5. 

Easy to recognize by their spiny, elliptic leaves, and glossy red berries, these evergreen hedges range from 15 to 80 feet tall. 

Holly requires very little care – just an annual pruning to keep it looking its best. This is best done during its dormant phase, late winter to early spring, and is also the best time to take cuttings to propagate or collect seeds and used them for germinating outside.

Although beautiful to look at and a firm favorite with many bird species, Holly berries are unsafe for humans, and animals and ingestion must be avoided. 

Box Honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida)

Box Honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida)

  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Drought resistant but needs biannual pruning
  • Mildly toxic for humans, dogs, and cats

Native to temperate zones, box honeysuckle can be grown in both sun and shade but requires a little protection from very intense heat. They grow best in USDA Zones 5-9 and were left to meander, can reach a maximum height of 8 feet! 

The soil surrounding your box honeysuckle will ideally have a PH of between 5.5 and 8.0. They prefer consistently moist soil when first planted, but become more tolerant once established. 

Box honeysuckle is a popular, hedging plant with small, white-scented flowers which produce sweet nectar. 

To propagate, take cuttings in the early morning when flowers are full of sap and they will root easily in a simple jar of water. Take care to frequently refill the jar with fresh water as stagnancy will have an inhibiting effect on the available oxygen.

Box honeysuckle is mildly toxic to people and pets, especially dogs.

Cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus)

Cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus)

  • Sun or partial shade
  • Drought resistant. Poorer soils may require feeding
  • All parts are toxic, especially seeds and leaves

This pretty evergreen can tolerate different levels of light but prefers more sun in cooler temperatures and more shade in warmer temperatures. 

It is hardy in USDA Zones 6-9 and can grow to an incredible 20 feet tall! However, many prefer to use prudential clipping to avoid chaotic leaves, where instead, a beautiful low hedge plant can be formed to border paths and flowerbeds with the intoxicating scent of sweet almonds. 

With glossy, elliptic leaves which taper both toward the tip and base, the cherry laurel is a vigorous yet ornamental shrub with clusters of white flowers during May and June.

Very easily propagated, cuttings are best taken in autumn before the shrub becomes dormant. They are known to take root and flourish when planted straight into the ground. 

All parts of the cherry laurel are poisonous to humans and animals and may even cause severe illness if ingested.

Daisy Bush

Daisy Bush

  • Full sun or partial shade
  • Easily grown, drought tolerant
  • Mildly toxic to humans and pets

Although highly adaptive, this virulent perennial thrives best in mountains or woods, roadsides, or meadows. Outside of its native surroundings, it prefers field-like habitats and is hardy in USDA Zones 8 through 11. 

The daisy bush will bloom all through the summer with rosettes of delicate white or lilac petals centering a bright yellow or deep wine-colored middle. 

Dark green leaves and stalks offset these feathery flowers and altogether, will make a stunning backdrop to a lush, horticultural display. 

Very well disposed to propagation, the best times to do this are in the Fall or Spring. This is best done by dipping a 5–6-inch stem in rooting powder and placing it in potting soil. 

It is also possible to divide the existing plant and transplant it to another area. This is highly recommended as daisy bushes are prone to wandering and will grow bigger and bolder with each year. 

The daisy bush is known to be mildly toxic if ingested, especially by children and animals.

Elaeagnus (Elaeagnus x ebbingei)

Elaeagnus (Elaeagnus x ebbingei)

  • Full sun or partial shade
  • Relatively easy to care for
  • Non-toxic

Native to Japan and China, Elaeagnus is found in wildlands and undisturbed areas. This deciduous shrub is particularly beneficial to wildlife and has been distributed to suitable habitats and shelter belts throughout the world. 

Especially hardy in USDA Zones 9-10, Elaeagnus has beautiful dark green leaves and small aromatic petals. This heady scent may take you unawares as it advances in late summer. It is produced to attract pollinators and has been described as a pungent lemon ginger that lingers in the air. 

To propagate, take semi-soft cuttings in summer or autumn, and having removed buds and lower leaves, trim down to 5cm and push down into a moist compost covering with clear polyethene. 

Purple Beech (Fagus sylvatica purpurea)

Purple Beech (Fagus sylvatica purpurea)

  • Does well in full sun or shade
  • Relatively low maintenance
  • Non-toxic to humans and animals

Also known as the copper beech hedge, this magnificently dense shrub can tolerate a range of soils as long as it is not waterlogged. 

Hardy through USDA Zones 4-7, it will display the deepest hues when exposed to full sun but is so versatile that it will delight you with rich coloring all year round in most conditions. 

Displaying green and purple hues in spring and summer, it will transform into copper and burgundy when the cooler weather arrives. Even through the winter months, you will still see some of its autumnal vestments warming your frosty garden with reds and golds. 

This has an impressive growth rate of 40-60 cm per year and it is known to be a wildlife magnet. 

Consider also that these living structures last longer than any fence whilst also filtering pollution. The purple beech hedge is a striking way to enhance the biodiversity of your environment. 

Propagating is notoriously challenging and requires the ground to be prepared for the season ahead. Even then, cuttings often do not survive the winter. 

Purple beech hedges are non-toxic to humans and animals.

Photinia ‘Red Robin’ (Photinia x fraseri)

Photinia ‘Red Robin’ (Photinia x fraseri)

  • Full sun to semi-shade
  • Easy plant to take care of once established
  • Toxicity reported in grazing animals and humans

This hardy evergreen produces its most colourful leaves in full sun but can manage well with a degree of shade. It likes well-drained soil with a PH from 1-7 and can withstand sandy, loamy, clay, or even chalk. 

Winter tolerant in USDA Zone 7 or 6 if it has adequate protection, it can be expected to grow as much as one foot in a year. 

The intense red leaf tips will turn green as it matures and when left to grow, white flowers will bloom come June. 

Once established, a Photinia Red Robin requires very little in the way of care. It will only require watering if subjected to extreme drought conditions. 

This is a most versatile plant and an ideal choice if you want to choose the exact size and shape of your shrub. Able to withstand severe pruning, this is best done during May when growth will be vigorous. 

To propagate, take semi-ripe cuttings in late July or early September and place them in a pot of moistened propagating mix. Set this down in a well-lit spot with plenty of light.

There are some reports that Photinia Red Robin is toxic to grazing animals. It may also worsen allergies in humans and is not suitable for consumption. 

Short Hedge Plants FAQ

When should I reduce the height of my hedge?

Although there are exceptions to this rule, developmental pruning should generally be carried out in winter or early spring during the first 2 to 3 years after the hedge is planted. 

Unless in evidently bad condition or severely overgrown, annual maintenance will suffice thereafter. This should be performed in spring and summer to prevent dead or dying parts of the hedge from inhibiting fresh shoots, flowers and fruits from thriving.  


Pender County Center – Great Evergreens for Screen Hedges