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 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.
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 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.
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.
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
THERE ARE MANY ALTERNATIVES TO EUGENIA. NATIVE PLANTS WITH MULTIPLE BENEFITS
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.
bees & butterflies fruit thorns
Bushes and small trees
Grewia occidentalis (cross berry) y y no https://www.greenidiom.com/Grewia-occidentalis.html
Carissa bispinosa (noemnoem) y y y https://www.greenidiom.com/numnum.html
Euclea racemosa (Sea gwarrie) y y no https://www.greenidiom.com/Euclea-racemosa.html
Searsia crenata (Cape sumac) y y no fruit like sumac, a native spice mix plant
Dovyalis caffra (kei apple) y y y https://www.greenidiom.com/keiapple.html
Portulacaria afra (money tree) y leaves no
Anastrabe integarrima y
Haleria lucida y
Chrysanthemoides monolifera y y no
Gymnosporia buxifolia y y https://www.greenidiom.com/hedge-plant.html
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:
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.
Check out our selection of ecological designs printed on T-shirts, accessories and decor items. The designs are about soil regeneration, indigenous Cape wild flowers, wild African animals and other fauna, as well as bible quotes and geometric patterns.
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