Narrow hedge plant for Toronto garden


Hello! Our neighbours are replacing the retaining wall that divides our properties. It currently has an old privet hedge and a (leaning) fence that provide privacy between the yards. Their contractor says the hedge will be lost so we are looking for an alternate. Their patio sits several feet below ours so they would like good privacy. We would like something not too tall so our yard doesn’t seem like a tunnel – it is quite narrow. Their side will get lots of sun but our side will be shaded by large trees. We would like native plants. Based on your articles it seems cedars are the best but I wonder if you have other ideas and if the best choice is cedar, which type can I trim both in height and to be as narrow as possible? Will our side go brown without sunlight? Will the roots of the cedars compromise the retaining wall? We have sand beneath the topsoil. Thank you.


Thank you for your questions — and it is great to know you have been consulting our Toronto Master Gardeners articles.

From your photo, we can see:

  1. the privet hedge to be removed, and a short fence to the left, and this will also be removed?
  2. is there an actual ‘wall’ of stone, wood or concrete, that you refer to as a ‘retaining wall’?
  3. tall tree branches above, what species? and are there also vines on your wood gazebo structure?
  4. the vertical wood fence, with lattice above: will this be retained?

You have clearly given much thought to your own landscaping options. But it would be worthwhile to wait until you can take stock of the completed layout next door, before making final choices regarding plantings for privacy, including what will best thrive, will pruning to keep the hedge narrow be realistic and do you need to amend your soil. So much of your decision-making will be dependent on how your neighbour’s new landscaping takes shape.

In the meantime, addressing your concerns about the amount of shade on your garden, you may want to consider a clean-up pruning on your tree(s) — including removal of any dead/ diseased/ damaged growth — to open up the tree cover, and promote as much sunlight, and air, as possible within your property. If you wish to consult an arborist who serves your area, our suggestion is to contact Landscape Ontario’s website.

We can also suggest reading our TMG article offering alternatives to traditional privacy hedges, titled Architectural Privacy Hedge  which may offer you some more food for thought. To answer your question regarding cedars becoming brown on the side with less light, and perhaps you have read this already, but if not, and for other like-minded gardeners, you may wish to read about Growing an Evergreen in Shade for Privacy.

All the best for your garden renovations this spring.

May 10, 2023