Hedges for Wildlife

When you’re planting a hedge, think native all the way. This is a perfect setting in which to use
entirely native plants. They’re sure to
attract wildlife, they won’t require extra water after the first year, and
they’ll resist diseases and pests. After all, this is not an area you want to spend time fussing over. Save that for the more ornamental parts of
the garden.

 One of the
best places to start is with the buckthorns. There are several varieties that are
native to different parts of California and the west coast. For instance, coffeeberry (Rhamnus
) is common throughout California and parts of Oregon. It often grows to ten feet wide, although if
you’re used to seeing it at the beach, you know that in windy areas, it will be
a low-growing, mounding plant. The
shrub produces black berries and is often recognizable for the pale undersides
of the leaves.

 Another Rhamnus
worth considering is redberry, R. crocea. It’s a shorter shrub—only 2-3 feet, but it will spread to twice
as wide and it also produces berries. It will tolerate a little shade, so it will work well in a mixed
planting of trees and shrubs.

hollyleaf redberry, R. crocea ilicifolia, will grow into a shrubby tree
if you let it, reaching as high as fifteen feet. It’s native to the coastal ranges and the Sierra foothills.

don’t forget cascara, or R. purshiana, which is found all over the
west. This is an enormous deciduous
shrub-like tree that can get 30 feet tall and quite wide. It produces black berries and lovely yellow
leaves in fall. With so many
buckthorns to choose from, you can find something that suits small yards or
large properties.

 Next, don’t
forget Baccharis pilularis, commonly called coyote brush. It grows low in windy spots but can reach
five or six feet tall. Although you can
buy male plants only, in the wild you will see male and female plants growing
together. The female plants produce a
cotton-like seed that is unpopular in tidy landscapes, but for a hedgerow, the
females will blend in well. Coyote
brush is host to countless insects, making it attractive to birds, and it is so
dense that it can help stabilize a slope. It needs almost no water near the coast; in fact, it’s probably the most
low-maintenance you could grow.

 Fall is the
perfect time to start hedgerow plants. If you’re growing natives, remember that they don’t need fertilizer or
enriched soil. Try to disturb the plant
roots as little as possible when you plant, and water until the fall rains
begin. Seed in some native wildflower
seed to fill in the gaps in the first year, and before long you’ll have a
living screen that will keep the wind (and unwelcome visitors!) out and invite
the wildlife in.