I have 4’x4′ posts already cemented and ready for an 8′ tall & 56′ long wood privacy fence but I’ve changed my mind about installing a wooden fence. I am very much interested in some type of a living fence or espalier. There is a chain link fence already installed about 6″ behind where I was going to put the wood fence, so I don’t require anything as a property division. This is purely for visual effect. One plant type I was considering was a willow fedge. I am concerned about willow’s invasiveness and it’s potential to damage water pipes. What are your thoughts on willow and suggestions for other possible plant material. Fruit trees are not really an option as the area is fairly shaded by a very large maple. Zone 5b. Thank you for your insight!
Thank you for your question. I do understand your concern regarding a willow hedge. There are a number of interesting options that you can consider to give you an attractive visual effect – espaliers, vines trained to climb on a structure or individual shrubs planted to create a hedge.
If you attended the recent Canada Blooms show, you may have seen the ivy trained to cover fencing. With the proper structural support, you could use that idea. Some plant material that would work in your shaded conditions and zone would include Porcelain vine (Ampelosis brevipedunculata), Chocolate vine (Akebia quinata), Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia durier) and Trumpet vine (Campsis radicans). Regular pruning is recommended as some vines can be aggressive ( see a previous post here). Wisteria sinensis and Climbing hydrangeas would also be options.
As you already have your fence posts in, you have the beginnings of the structure needed to espalier a tree, shrub or vine. There is a very good article on espaliers in the Garden Projects issue put out by GardenMaking magazine in 2016. Of the plant material that they suggest, I think that *Rose of Sharons (Hibiscus syriacus cvs.), Yews (Taxus spp. and cvs.) and *Doublefile viburnum(Viburnums plicatum formae and cvs.) would work the best for your light conditions.
Hedge choices for Zone 5b and your light conditions would include Hicks Yew, *black or white cedar (Thuja occidentials), Alpine current (Ribes alpinum), *Amur River privet (Ligustrum amurense) and *Ibolium privet (Ligustrum ibolium).
Individual flowering shrubs that would do well in shade include red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea – 6 feet tall), Annabelle hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ – 4 feet tall) and bridal wreath spirea (Spirea X vanhouttei – 6 feet tall).
Plants marked with * require part sun – part sun is considered to be 4 to 6 hours of sun a day.