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Living Fences

Living Fences by Ogden TannerLong-time readers will know that I'm interested in hedges, even though I haven't really experimented much with them.  I like the idea of planting a living barrier that will keep deer out and chickens in even after our metal fences rot into the ground.  It would be a major bonus if that barrier also produced food for the chickens and for us.  So I was thrilled when I stumbled across Living Fences: A Gardener's Guide to Hedge's, Vines, & Espaliers, by Ogden Tanner, in our local library.

Unfortunately, the book isn't really what I was looking for (which I suspect might not exist), since it's mainly a list of species you might want to use in ornamental living fences, along with some data on their construction from a landscaper's point of view.  However, I did find some information that will be helpful when I finally get our borders weed-free enough that I can start my hedge experiments.  Here are species that might make the cut:

Spacing in a hedge
Flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa)
Thorny barrier; edible fruits; informal hedges 4-6' tall
Can fruiting quinces be used the same way?
Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas)
Edible fruit; informal or form hedges 4-15' tall

Cockspur hawthorn (Crataegus crus-galli)
Thorny barrier; informal hedge up to 30' tall
Would fruits be edible to chickens?
European beech (Fagus sylvatica)
Classic European hedge plant; formal or informal hedge 6-20+' tall
Would American beech work as well?  Can chickens eat their nuts?
Beach plum (Prunus maritima)
Edible fruits; informal hedge 6-10' tall

Alpine currant (Ribes alpinum)
Withstands shade; formal or informal hedge 2-5' tall
Will more tasty currants and gooseberries work in a hedge?
Roses (Rosa sp.)
Some have edible hips; informal hedge 6-7' tall
2' (or 3-6' for Rosa rugosa)

And, of course, if I want to screen off an area but don't need the plants to repel animals, I could use vines alone fencelines instead.  Top edible vines include hardy kiwis and grapes.

If you'd like more information on hedges, I've made a few other research posts, and also reported on an ill-fated osage-orange experiment.  (The conclusion to the experiment was: trying to start a hedge in an area that's currently covered in tall weeds and young trees just doesn't work.)  Here are the research posts to get you started:

If you've experimented with edible hedges and/or hedges used as livestock fences (or have found a good source for information about them), I'd love to hear about it!

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I think the bush, the flowering, is better for a hedge.It bears in times of stress, I think (all the rain last summer, for ex), so isn't so dependable for the fruit. It But can bush out beautifully, whereas the tree version is more like an ornamental tree. I think a goal of hedge bushes is not only that they are impenetrable, but that they can survive close together, and not have problems.For ex. if you did put a row of short, trained peaches, too close together, they might not stay healthy? You want a kind of rosa multiflora...that won't be invasive. What about witch-hazel?
Comment by adrianne Mon Nov 18 09:10:10 2013

The first year we bought fruit for our backyard we bought a gooseberry plant and it is the only plant that has thrived with the root competition of a nearby tree and with little help from us. I also mulched it heavily last year and everywhere a branch accidentally got mulched over it rooted. I would think gooseberries would be a nice tough plant to try as a hedgerow. Most of the cuttings I took last year rooted and we are going to plant them near the first one to form a hedge in that area.

Comment by Anonymous Mon Nov 18 11:55:42 2013

You may have read this before but just in case you haven't, here is an article from Mother Earth Magazine that I read some time ago.

Comment by Ned Mon Nov 18 13:33:31 2013
You have probably read this book, and I am only on Chapter 3. The author has mentioned esplaniers of apple and pear already, and one of the footnotes says to google "lorette system of pruning." Hope this helps.
Comment by Aggie Mon Nov 18 13:38:16 2013

I've been doing some research on multi-purpose barrier plants recently and came across Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) that apparently grows tall, has thorns that can keep out larger pests like deer, and makes edible berries. I've heard differing stories about whether or not they are easy to cultivate, though.

I ordered some sold stratified seeds from a small outfit in Massachusetts and tried to direct seed in autumn. Nothing so far, but maybe we'll see some growth in spring. We're also going to try growing some starts in late winter.

Comment by Phil Mon Nov 18 14:08:19 2013
We have planted a thornless hawthorn tree and after doing so, I read that in England they do make haw-jelly so it is likely the chickens can eat the fruit. Some options for hedges in our climate that I am considering are lilacs or Siberian pea shrubs. I read an anecdote once that during WWII, the food from pea shrubs was used to keep poultry alive in Siberia. Pea shrubs also take a lot of abuse from wind and drought and do well. I am not sure how they would perform in your climate though.
Comment by Tisha Mon Nov 18 14:18:02 2013

I have a japanese quince outside my front door. It grows like nobody's business and it has the most striking pink flowers in the lat winter/early spring. It does fruit, and from what I understand the fruit is indeed edible. This website: has information on canning/preserving the fruits. This website: has some other interesting info.

I don't use it as a hedge, but it grows so thickly and it has some mean spines on it! The birds of the neighborhood like to use it to hide from my cat.

Comment by Kat Mon Nov 18 18:00:16 2013
Many years ago I had a friend who made beach plum jelly from the bushes on their place on Martha's Vineyard, MA. The jelly was delicious. Since these bushes grow well in the salt water area, I am not sure if they would do well inland. Something to consider.
Comment by Beach Plum Mon Nov 18 21:40:57 2013

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