We would like to grow a privacy hedge along our backyard fence and love the look of Nelly Stevens Holly or English Laurel. These hedges have shiny leaves and grow together nicely so we can prune to look like a wall. We would like fast growing and a total height of 20 feet.
Will these plants survive in Brampton – zone 5? They are rated for zone 4.
Are there any zone 5 hedges with shiny leaves, we do not like cedars or hemlock.
English laurel, also called Cherry laurel, is known to be invasive and has escaped cultivation in many areas, including the West Coast, where it is most commonly used. It is rated for that climate, Zones 8-9, so I would be suspect of anyone labeling it for zone 4. The Nellie Stevens Holly is also rated for Zones 6-9. However, local nurseries do sell other types of holly, most often Ilex x meserveae Blue Prince and Blue Princess. Depending on your growing conditions (exposure, wind) you may achieve some success with them. But they will never be 20 feet tall, usually topping out at 8 or 9 feet.
For fast growing hedging that will achieve such height, conifers are most commonly used. We have a Gardening Guide on that subject here.
You can also create great privacy screens with deciduous trees, some of which retain their dead leaves over the winter. Beech (Fagus sylvatica) and Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) are unrelated but very similar looking when they are grown as a hedge.
Beech is the most popular due to its beautiful leaves. After they turn brown in autumn, they will hang onto the branches right through the winter. If your site is in a sunny location with good drainage, then a beech hedge will grow well. This post on the Toronto Botanical Garden website has a good photo of such a hedge in winter.
Hornbeam leaves will hang on the branches for most of the winter, also but not as long as the beech. If your site has some shade, with damp soil and poor drainage, then Hornbeam is the better option. European hornbeams will grow in full sun (6 hours of direct sun), as well as partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs of sun) or even in full shade. They are also tolerant of all soil types. The TBG hornbeam hedge can be seen here.
Finally, on large properties, I have seen amazing walls of Pyramidal English Oak ‘Fastigiata’. It rises to a mature height of 50-60’ and mature width of 10-18’ wide when grown in full sun. Here are a couple at the TBG in fall.
Evergreens Suitable for Hedging: A Toronto Master Gardeners Guide