Renovating our Oakville city garden

(Question)

Currently we have 5 overgrown trees along the back fence in our backyard. Two are Green Ash and infected, about to be removed. There is one Norway maple, and two honey locusts. I am thinking about removing them all and replacing them with a hedge. The fences unfortunately are wood & lattice. We have a hedge of cedars along a side fence that are straggly, I think because of adequate light in the back. I am thinking of replacing the trees along the back fence with either a beech or hornbeam hedge. I would like to establish a good screen from the neighbours house which is about 70 feet away from ours. Our soil is red clay.

I am also considering replacing our lawn with an Ecolawn, as the shade and tree roots are making the lawn sparse and some form of ugly grass that turns yellow in early summer has infested it. I can’t crowd it out with lawn seed no matter how hard I try. If we keep the maple and honey locusts there is shade to contend with.

Is the hedge a good idea. Any other recommendations?

(Answer)

It is always a shame to lose full-grown trees like your Ash, but given their infectious state, it seems necessary. Your choice to remove the Norway Maple may be a good one as it is an invasive species tree and casts heavy shade; if you feel that the Honey Locusts are unhealthy or aesthetically unpleasing or are no longer serving your purposes for privacy, it is your choice, however, please check with a qualified arborist or the City of Oakville before removing any trees from your property as permits may be required.

Given that you wish to create some sort of privacy screen from your neighbours, a hedge seems like a good option. You suggest that you are contemplating Beech, and I am assuming that would be the Copper Beech Fagus sylvatica ,  although there are many beech cultivars, and Hornbeam Carpinus betulus. While beech is tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions you say that your soil is heavy clay. According to Royal Horticulture Society, hornbeam is a better choice for heavy clay soils. http://apps.rhs.org.uk/advicesearch/profile.aspx?pid=83.   Although beech and hornbeam are both deciduous trees and their leaves die in the autumn, they remain attached until pushed off by the new buds in the spring so are an effective screen through the winter months.  Yew Taxus is an evergreen option, which is also zone appropriate for Oakville. Yew, beech and hornbeam all have the advantage that they can grow tall whilst being kept dense and relatively narrow but yew is slower to grow.  The Master Gardeners have posted some information on yews as Privacy Hedges, which can be found at http://www.torontomastergardeners.ca/index.php/askagardener/privacy-hedges/ Hornbeam hedging is faster growing than beech, if you want more immediate results.

Hedges are planted at high density and plants compete with each other from an early age, so careful preparation at planting is essential. The ultimate shape and height will determine the spacing of plants. Planting distances vary between 300-750mm depending on the plant’s vigour. Severe root competition and possible mortality can occur if too close, and it will take a longer period to join up and form a hedge if too widely spaced. Adding organic material at planting is essential and will assist moisture and nutritional retention. Keeping the hedge watered for the first two years, while it becomes established is also critical.

In regards to the lawn, you could most certainly try Eco-lawn as it is known to grow in a wide range of conditions, from extreme sunshine to deep shade. Alternatively you could try renovating the lawn with other types of seed mixes. Speak to your local nursery. Good luck with all of your garden renovation plans!