How to choose the best hedge plants ?

How to choose the best hedge plants
anywhere in the world:
7 very simple principles

1. Native plants evolved in your climate and will need fewer inputs like water and fertilizers.

2. Native plants evolved with your local fauna, and will support the greatest diversity of life, from humans, to birds and creepy crawlies and right down to the microbial life. The richer this diversity, the more resilient the whole ecosystem, and the less likely that any particular species such as a pest will become dominant. The pests have a  higher chance of being outcompeted and predated. We delve deeper into the ecology below, using South African examples, but most of the principles apply globally.

3. A hedge can be a biodiversity bulwark. So, go with natives. A hedge of just 50cm or two feet width around your perimeter can take up up to 20% of the area your standard urban plot. You can create a powerful bulwark (not for nothing hedge funds have the name) of native plants and combat the loss of biodiversity without losing all your garden's functions like growing vegetables and roses. 

4. For the greatest biodiversity and use, plant a mixed hedge of several different plants. 

5. Choose plants that are naturally the desired height you want, not much greater. The bigger you go the more pruning pressure on buildings and root invasion there will be.

6. If you want a tight clipped hedge, choose a plant that takes pruning well. Loose hedges that look like linear forests are also a design possibility. Garden information on line and in nurseries will give you the answers. 

7. Choose plants that have attractive foliage of the kind you seek. The box look isn't the only rhythm and texture. Grey, yellow and red foliage can also be used, as well as fine, coarse, lax or stiff.  

Hedge plants are one of the foundations of nursery business and represent big big money. Unfortunately this may make certain people in the industry go only for the bottom line, the cheapest to grow, the hardiest and the ubiquitous, wasting the precious opportunity that hedge planting presents. Educated and ecologically informed choices can make a huge difference to your garden. 

The trouble with Eugenia,
the default choice in South Africa

The ideal hedge plant grows quickly to about 2 meters and then stops growing so fast.

Unfortunately Eugenia grows fast and then keeps growing. Online you will see that it grows up to 7 meters, but I've seen them where they can grow freely, on farms in Cape Town and in our weather they can grow up to 20 meters. They are some of the tallest trees commonly found.

Because of its tendency to grow so large, Eugenia grows aggressively, exerting force on structures and requires frequent pruning. Its dense root mat renders the soil within meters of a Eugenia unsuitable for anything else. Its large roots may lift paving and damage solid structures close to the plant. It also sucks up and transpires a lot of water, drying out the adjacent garden areas. Its ease of propagation from seed also makes it very invasive and it is invading our fragile native forests. A hedge in Rondebosch can infect the forest on Table Mountain through birds foraging on the berries.

However, because of its rapid growth, its glossy green foliage, its drought hardiness, its availability everywhere and ease of propagation, it makes production cheap. When you go to nursery they will recommend it, and this is very bad practice. The conservation authorities sought to have it declared a weed and the nurserymen fought back against this as they claim 'the public want it' but it is the failing of nurserymen to inform themselves and their customers that causes Eugenia to be the default hedge plant. Eugenia is an invasive exotic. There are many other options the nurserymen don't tell customers about.

Best hedge plants for the Cape, South Africa

Our native hedge plants
and their many benefits.

  1. drought hardy
  2. waterwise through wind protection and not transpiring too much
  3. lower water bills
  4. non aggressive growth
  5. lower maintenance costs
  6. support wildlife and biodiversity, birds, butterflies and soil fertility
  7. can supply security with thorns
  8. high antioxidant berries make wonderful food products

The best hedge plants evolved locally 

Native hedge plants are even more drought hardy, as they have evolved in our climate. This is true globally, whether you want plants that can withstand sub zero temperatures, wind, excessive rain or absolute drought.

Our plants are conservative with their metabolic functions, used to growing in a low nutrient environment, so they do not grow aggressively and are therefore much cheaper to maintain in the long run.

Native hedges protect the property from wind, and thus make the whole garden more water wise. Exotic hedges also stop wind but they suck up so much water that they are not water wise. This is due to transferring tropical plants to our seasonal desert zone, a brittle area if ever there was one.

The best thing about native plants, and this is globally applicable, is that they support a whole range of wildlife, that evolved with them through millennia, while displaced exotics like the Eugenia does not and can not do this. Planting native plants as hedges is one of the most effective ways a home owner can protect biodiversity in the Fynbos, or anywhere else for that matter.

Hedges constitute a massive slice of the garden

Hedges take up a large area, 50 cm or two feet in thickness around the boundary of a property can constitute 20% of the area of a standard suburban plot. 

Some addons with our local hedge plants

Due to our dry climate and low nutrient soils, plants could not sustain herbivory, so many of our native hedges are thorny, making ugly razor wire unnecessary for securing the boundary.

However, most of them bear fruit edible to humans and some like Carissa have very high pectin in their fruit, making them ideal for  preserves, jams and pickling, as well as very flavorful and colorful chutneys, achar and specialist vinegar. They are unbelievably delicious and support a healthy gut microbiome, as pectin is a soluble complex carbohydrate.

Why natives are the best hedge plants
from an economic perspective

If one replaces Eugenia with native hedge plants, one can have cover within two years. If you use climbers this can go in less time. This is pretty fast. Time is money in gardening too. There are many savings at the level of individual land ownership such as reduced water bills, and decreased labor of clipping and maintaining, so that in the long run these native hedges are much cheaper due to all the savings. On the plus side most produce fruit for consumption and small industries, which can be sold to leading gourmet restaurants where there is increasing demand for 'foraged' and indigenous foods. There is further information about some fruit products I've made on the links below. There is so much to choose fromt that one can plant a variety of different native hedge plants and very soon have a bulwark for protecting our rapidly vanishing biodiversity, with increased variety in birds, butterflies, insects, spiders, lizards, molluscs  and soil microbiota. This alone has economic value to the community at large, and into the future.


In general, South African berries are very high in anti oxidants, see the study below

List of native South African hedge plants

Some available from myself

others from Toos van den Berg, Lucullus Road, Kraaifontein (just off the N1) or Kirstenbosch.

Flowers attracting

bees & butterflies fruit thorns

Bushes and small trees

Grewia occidentalis (cross berry) y y no

Carissa bispinosa (noemnoem) y y y

Euclea racemosa (Sea gwarrie) y y no

Searsia crenata (Cape sumac) y y no fruit like sumac, a native spice mix plant

Dovyalis caffra (kei apple) y y y

Portulacaria afra (money tree) y leaves no

Anastrabe integarrima y

Haleria lucida y

Chrysanthemoides monolifera y y no

Gymnosporia buxifolia y y

Creepers that can cover a simple mesh fence of frame to form a screen

Plumbago auriculata (Plumbago) y

Senecio tamoides (Canary creeper) y

Jasminum multipartitum (wild jasmine) y

Thunbergia alata (black eyes Susan) y

Tecoma capensis (Cape honeysuckle) y

Large fruiting trees not suitable for hedges

Sideroxylon inerme (milkwood) y y no cherry flavored berries contain a lot of natural gum

grows well in coastal san

Harpephyllum caffrum y y no berries have highest concentrations of anti oxidants

see this study:

Restore Nature Newsletter 

I've been writing for four years now and I would love to hear from you

Please let me know if you have any questions, comments or stories to share on gardening, permaculture, regenerative agriculture, food forests, natural gardening, do nothing gardening, observations about pests and diseases, foraging, dealing with and using weeds constructively, composting and going offgrid.

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