Condo Association Hedges


I am volunteering with my condo/townhouse association which is made up of 150 units, each backyard is enclosed by what I believe are white spruce hedges. My committee was established to provide recommendations to the condo board and other residents regarding the hedges. The issue is whether to replace the hedges with fences or try another type of hedge or try to save those current hedges that aren’t doing well.
We live in Don Mills (Zone 5? i believe). Some of the hedges are dead, thin or, in some cases, thriving. The units face different directions, I believe there is a lot of clay in the soil.
One issue with the current hedges is that if you put something against them the hedge dies in that section. There is also an issue with residents not watering the hedges and as I said before they face all directions.
I’m wondering if you can recommend a type or types of coniferous hedges that might be a bit hardier and fast growing. We’d also like to know what the long term care is for each recommended species.
I would also appreciate it if you could give us some advice on how to care for the current hedges.

Thank you


Hello and thank you for your questions.

White spruce grows best in full sun and the way you describe your condo/townhouse community, I imagine only some of the hedges are in the sun. White spruce grows to be a very large tree eventually and so they need annual shearing to develop the best shape and height. I don’t know if there is a landscaping service that does that for you. Another issue with white spruce is that they are slow growing. You mentioned that people who lean things against their hedges cause those sections to die. Unfortunately that will likely happen no matter what type of hedge you have. The following link will give you some information on caring for your current hedges.

If you decide to plant something new, you may want to consider Canadian Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) or Yews (Taxus spp). The Canadian Hemlock is fast growing and does well in sun to part shade. Yews are somewhat slow growing and can grow in full sun to full shade.

Taxus Cultivars

T. x media ‘Hicksii’ height 2.5m, spread 1 m. Upright columnar form, dark green foliage with inedible red berries

T. x media ‘Densiformis’ height 2 m. A slow growing compact cultivar ideal for low hedge

T. cuspidata ‘Aurescens’ height/spread to 1.5m. Green needles with bright gold tips, plant in full sun for best color.

An issue with any hedging is that it needs to be pruned annually, or perhaps more often if fast growing, in order to develop the shape needed for hedge health and for privacy/boundary use.

For many more suggestions and a complete guide for looking after shrubs, Toronto Master Gardeners has a Gardening Guide on ornamental shrubs for various light conditions:

Finally, you may also wish to take a look at our Gardening Guide about evergreen hedging.  This guide explains the various types of evergreens, their growth rates and planting and maintenance tips.

It’s a difficult situation you have – rejuvenate current hedging, plant something new or put in fences. Planting something new or putting in fences will be expensive. Fences are thin and leave more garden space for other things, but they are not maintenance free on the whole, although there are some fences made of composite or vinyl which will not need maintenance.

I hope I have given you some things to think about.