Hedgerow Revival : Grow a Living Fence

Once a common farming practice in Britain, the hedgerow is making a comeback in the U.S. as the classic hedgerow is being adapted for urban and suburban gardens. An exciting and positive direction in modern landscaping, the use of native shrubs and perennials in hedgerows is unsurpassed for increasing diversity and supporting life in the landscape.

A variety of plants will attract the greatest diversity of visitors. Even a privet hedge offers shelter, nesting sites for birds, and some nectar for pollinators – but a hedgerow comprised of native shrubs will be alive with birds and pollinators! Many butterflies and moths develop on native shrubs; the larvae are important food sources for birds raising their young.

How to Increase Hedge Biodiversity

  • Link your hedge to existing trees, water sources, woodland habitat or neighboring hedges
  • Include flowering native shrubs that provide nectar and fruit
  • Include a variety of shrubs that flower and fruit throughout the growing season
  • Merge the hedge into a planting of native perennial plants
  • Avoid the use of pesticides, including herbicides that target dandelions (an important early season nectar source).
  • Choose plants that are appropriate for your area and conditions.
  • Avoid unnecessary pruning or trimming, especially during spring through mid-summer when you are likely to disturb nesting birds.

An existing tree (in this example a large deciduous tree) offers a starting point from which to build-out a hedge. Layering shrubs creates excellent bird habitat.

More Hedgerow Benefits

Hedgerows come in many shapes and sizes to serve a variety of needs. A well-planned hedgerow is a multi-tasking feature in gardens where every square inch counts. Hedgerow width and plant selection will depend upon your landscape size, your needs, the soil and location.

  • Privacy and Noise Reduction. Maybe the most common use of hedgerow in modern urban and suburban landscapes. If you have the luxury of space, include deciduous and evergreen trees, shrubs and native perennials. You can build-out a hedgerow around an existing row of trees. Or, a low hedge of shrubs and perennials may be the right solution for the strip of land between houses on a city lot.
  • Edible Landscaping. Not just for the birds, a hedgerow can be an edible landscape feature with the use of shrubs such as American Hazelnut, Elderberry, and Chokecherry.
  • Food & Cover for wildlife. Whether an unplowed patch between agricultural fields or something small in the backyard.
  • Reduce Your Mowing Area. Always a good idea to save time, conserve resources, and increase habitat at the same time.
  • Windbreaks. A traditional windbreak hedge is around 20 feet wide, but you can still reap some benefits with a 10 – 12 foot wide hedgerow. An effective windbreak include trees (evergreens work well) and shrubs, all planted (spaced) so that they will overlap when mature.
  • Hedgerows are Beautiful. The plants in your hedgerow will offer a beautiful mixture of colors, textures and shapes that change with every season.

Hedge of American Hazelnut (Corylus americana). Edible!

Ten Things to Know about Trilliums

1. There are 39 native trilliums in the U.S. All trillium species belong to the Liliaceae (lily) family. Native to temperate regions of North America and East Asia, the genus ‘Trillium’ has 49 species, 39 of them are native to various areas across the United States.

Large Flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)

2. The plants are extremely long-lived. Trilliums are relatively easy to grow from their rhizomatous root but slow to develop and spread. To make up for it, the plants can live for up to 25 years.

3. Early season sunlight is needed. Even though it is a woodland species, the dormant plant needs to be warmed by the early spring sun. It’s best to avoid planting them in a location that never gets sun (such as the north side of a building).

4. Trilliums are either sessile (the flower sits directly on top of its whorled leaves) or pedicellate (the flower is raised on a short stalk). Sessile trilliums usually have mottled foliage, while pedicellate trilliums have showier flowers.

Yellow Wakerobin (Trillium luteum)

5. Traditional names for trilliums: Toadshade (for its resemblance to a toad-sized umbrella), Wakerobin (for its appearance with the first robins), and Birthroot (for its medicinal uses during childbirth).

6. Red Trillium (Trillium erectum) has no nectar and is pollinated by flies (Diptera) and beetles (Coleoptera). The petals of the flowers exude an odor that attract carion flies and beetles which pollinate the flower.

7. Trillium grandiflorum is pollinated by Hymenoptera insects, including honey bees, bumblebees, and wasps.

Red Trillium (Trillium erectum)

8. Trilliums are not very competitive. It’s best to avoid planting them with very aggressive species.

9. Seed germination is ‘a process’. The trillium flower produces a fruit, the seeds of which are spread about by ants and mice. Through the summer the seeds is kept warm and moist for 90 or more days. This conditioning is followed by germination when a root will emerge from the seed. In general, trillium seedlings do not produce a green leaf during their first season. The sprouted seeds are then kept damp and cool for 90 to 120 days. The seedling develops in the dark, underground, for almost a year before sending a green leaf up to find the light.

10. Trillium may die-back in the heat of summer, but don’t cut them back. Picking a trillium flower does not kill the plant but damage can result if the green leaves are taken as well. If the leaves are taken you won’t see renewed growth until the following year – which may not happen at all depending on the size of the rhizome. This fact makes the colonies susceptible when they are heavily browsed by deer. Plants will die out after several years of repeated browsing.

Bonus #11!  For best results, mulch with leaf litter. This woodland native loves a leaf covering that replicates its forest home and keeps the ground tempreature and moisture ‘just right’ (one more reason to keep those leaves in your yard).

The Last Plant Standing: Native Plants in the Winter Garden

Native plants have a variety of texture, color and shapes that make the winter garden shine, even in the darkest days. Which native plants stand up to the snow and look great in a winter garden? Plants that bloom at the end of the season such as asters and goldenrods, are good contenders for ‘Last Plant Standing.’ Being late bloomers gives them an advantage. But there are others with strong stems that continue to stand through the winter, with their seed heads available to birds.

Above, Wild White Indigo (Baptisia lactea). The dark color and complex texture stands out against the light color and simpler texture of grasses. In the foreground, the fluffy silver seed heads of an aster add another element.

Ironweeds (both vernonia fasciculata, above, and vernonia altissima) have super strong stems. Ironweeds bloom later in summer, but they continue to stand through the winter, their stems are lines on the winter canvas:

Little Bluestem. Schizachyrium scoparium, below, is low in stature, but very sturdy in the winter garden. It’s a perfect backdrop for other plants, but also stands out on it’s own with great color and texture.

Stiff Goldenrod (Solidago rigida), below, has the late season advantage for being Last Plant Standing. It also has very rigid stems, as the Latin name implies.

 A wide variety of Asters bloom in fall and continue to stand strong – their fluffy seed heads are charming. Birds love the seeds:

These are just a few that I noticed this weekend, following an early season snow in Wisconsin. What’s in your winter garden? We’d love to see. Show us the native plants in your winter garden by posting on our Facebook page!

Rudbeckias: Black Eyed Susan and her sisters

Walking out in my backyard over the weekend, I was once more amazed by the profusion of blooms so late in fall.  Though we have experienced several killing frosts, and despite the chill in the air, there amongst the remains of summer in the garden I find Sweet Black Eyed Susan, Rudbeckia subtomentosa and Orange Coneflower, Rudbeckia fulgida still blooming in mid October.

Sweet Black Eyed Susan-Rudbeckia subtomentosa in mid Summer

Nearby are the faded grey remains of Black Eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta, succumbed to the frost, and long since moved from brilliant blooms to seed production.  The flower heads are backyard birdfeeders filled with seed for the clouds of Goldfinches, and enough left over  to reseed my prairie and gardens.

My relationship with Black Eyed Susan is complex.  I love the quick results of this short lived biennial.  Black Eyed Susan will bloom in the first year after planting seed or plants, and produce profusion of beautiful yellow blooms and cute brown/black centers.

Stars in summer gardens and prairies, Black Eyed Susan fulfills its role as an early successional flower brilliantly; a placeholder if you will, filling a newly planted area with blooms.

A biennial’s life is indeed short, and in a garden setting, relying on biennials to drop their seed, (and the unpredictable randomness of where the new babies emerge each year) can be a bit frustrating.  Fortunately there are some great perennials in the Rudbeckia family to choose from.  Sweet Black Eyed Susan and Orange Coneflower, the perennial Rudbeckia, “sisters” of the Black Eyed Susan are fantastic options to add to gardens. Long lived and long blooming, both plants are considered well behaved, one statuesque and the other compact.

Orange Coneflower-Rudbeckia fulgida-Blooming in July


At 4-6 feet tall, Sweet Black Eyed Susan is almost shrub-like, and a nice addition to the background of any garden.  Blooming late, from mid July until October, Sweet Black Eyed Susan is a source for pollen and nectar for butterflies and seed for Birds. An excellent cut flower, it grows in virtually any soil.  Sweet Black Eyed Susan will tolerate medium to moist conditions in full to part sun.

Lower growing and compact, at 2-4 feet tall, Orange Coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida) is the native from which the familiar cultivar Rudbeckia “Goldstrum” is derived. Orange Coneflower has a lovely form, bold yellow color, and deep green leaves makes this mid summer to fall bloomer, a great plant for borders. Happiest in any well drained garden soil including the worst clay in full to part sun.

Consider these “Sisters” of Black Eyed Susan for your garden as options or supplements to your garden!