Hedge recommendations?

I have a drainage ditch and small drainage pit running through the horse pasture. They are not wide enough for a horse to run in and out of, just wide enough to break a leg in (about a foot wide). Modifying the ditch is not an option so I have it and the pit fenced off with electric fencing to keep the horses away - it is an eyesore! I am contemplating putting hedges around the pit to keep the horses out and look nicer than the fencing. Any recommendations for horse-safe hedges for Canada zone 5a (Ottawa area)?

unless you have a bear problem I would possibly use a berry such as blueberries as a low hedge, these would provide birds and wildlife a food source while making a natural barrier to keep the horses out




Try pussy willow (salix discolor). It sounds like a wet area. Willow is safe, actually the horses might eat it, but that won’t bother it…, very pretty and native. I am using willow coppiced for hedging and erosion control. What you want is willow cuttings (they will look like sticks!) planted in the spring. If you cut them down to an inch or two in height each year you can get a very solid hedge very fast. You can also put the coppice level higher: a foot up the stem, 2 feet, whatever suits. I have some two year old willow that is nine feet high and has 10 stems to a plant, started as a stick last year. The advantage of willow is you could plant it in the ditch itself. There are a lot of other willows out there that are useful, salix purpurea is most commonly used, not as pretty, still safe for horses .
Another option would be hawthorn, very dense and thorny. Once established you wouldn’t have to do anything. Washington Hawthorn is the best. But it can get taller, it will take time as well.


Willow is a good idea. I have some in my garden so I could probably use cuttings from there to save money - worth a try this spring. Our property is bordered by hawthorn and I can’t stand the stuff! You’re right that it would do the job but I can’t bring myself to encourage it in any way :wink:

1 Like

Blueberry would be nice. Once horse is an avid plant chewer so he might do a number on those bushes, though.

Yes, hawthorn is in the useful but not always pleasant category. With willow cuttings I have had best success with one year old growth that is a little bigger than a pencil in width but not over index finger width. Ideally 8 inches in length with good leaf not catkin buds. Plant them about four to six inches into the ground (you only need two or three leaf buds above ground), a useful trick is to cut the bottom at an angle and the top flat so you know which way is up…lol! Keep them watered and mulched and they should take.

Willow is a good suggestion, they grow quickly. You might also check Google- in the US, states usually have a native plant society that can be a great resource for different types of plantings & help you avoid nasty invasives. I’m not sure what the Canadian equivalent would be called, but maybe try a search of your province + "native plants " - might find some useful tips.


you can weavewillows into a fenceas well. def go native!

Red twig dogwood. Likes wet feet, grows fast, safe for horses and it’s very pretty in winter when planted in groups, hedges. Also a native, around here at least.

1 Like

Yes, also we have a site that sends you native plants for very cheap. I bet Canada has something similar.

1 Like

I dunno if it even grows in Canada, but whatever you plant do NOT plant a privet hedge. Invasive crap trying to take over the world and it just won’t die.

I have feral blueberries on my property. The ones that the horses had access to are dead. They didn’t eat them. But evidently they were the right size and bendiness for certain horses to straddle and scratch their tummy on. Death by horse squish.


Good to know about the blueberry bushes!

You will need something that still has plenty of substance to it in the winter months.

Willow sounds good. Just know that horses WILL get into the unprotected willow hedging and wet ditch areas. They may also decimate the branches and debark trunks over winter when horses LOVE to chew on woody things. Willow will probably come back from that, but not be a great hedge again until fall. You may want to leave electric in place, should not be as visible with growth behind it, to protect the growth from the horses. We actually put willow logs out for our horses to chew in winter, saves them chewing other things!

As mentioned, coppicing, removal of top growth, does greatly encourage the roots to grow to produce more top growth. Yearly trimming in early spring, keeps things under control, encourages thickness. Willow trees can be brittle in wind, ice, so preventing lots of height, top growth, means easier cleanup over time. I actually like the “carrot top” growth pattern, new stems going up, then drooping softly down as they lengthen. Those short trunks keep getting thicker over time. Very popular look in the Netherlands where willows are planted to control flooding, hold dirt on the drainage ditches, coppiced yearly. Trunks get thicker but no taller than about 10? feet or so.

Highbush Blueberries have a limit on how far north they will grow and be productive. They are very pretty with fall foliage, but you get no berries. In Michigan the line is about level with Grand Rapids across the state. Shorter Blueberries grow well north of the line, but are usually less than 4ft and have very thin twigs. Not good horse hedging. They also need male and female bushes to bloom at the same time and thus produce berries.

Hate to say this, but Red Twig Dogwood is not very attractive when just left to grow wild. They do grow thickly, spread FAST, lots of tangled roots, but again, are short at 4ft, with mostly green sticks. Learned in gardening class, only new growth sticks are red. Turn green as they mature in a year or two. So if you want color, you must constantly be trimming away old growth. May also be quite edible to the horses with no electric fences.

Please do check the poison plant sites before planting, some kinds of common shrubs and trees are very lethal. The various willows are a good choice for pastures.

1 Like

well, that was actually done to receive skinny canes for basket weaving.
It has become a look over time and the trees are trilled this way for appearances now. If not done yearly, the branches will grow thick as well and threaten to break the tree appart. The topped willows might go hollow over time.

I think the OP said she wanted something to camo the electric fence she has in place, so the hedges would not be completely unprotected.

1 Like

Another interesting note on willows and other species was that they were pollarded (i.e. cut back at about 8 ft high to make those lollipop trees) for use as ‘tree hay’. New growth was harvested for emergency winter feed if hay was not going to be available. If it wasn’t needed for that, it was used for fuel or wattle fence material.
Growing them along ditches controlled erosion and made use of an otherwise not usable strip of land. It also gave them a ready water supply, which you need for the recovery of trees that are coppiced/pollarded annually.
The use of pollarded and coppiced trees in Europe is fascinating and only just now starting to get the attention it deserves. Sadly a lot of the truly ancient coppiced groves (copses) have been lost, some of the hazel and oak groves, which have a longer cycle of a decade, were in production for nearly a thousand years. But willow is starting to be bred in some of the Scandinavian areas as a biofuel to replace wood pellets created from slower growing species.


Thanks for more details on the Dutch folks tree treatment! I saw and learned watching a garden show that never mentioned needing willow whips as a crop for baskets or that not trimming yearly might cause splitting! Show just went on about tree symmetry on the ditch banks and erosion.

1 Like

Thanks B and B. That is also very interesting to learn! As Carriage drivers, the wooden handle whips of various styles got me interested on growing and forming new whips. Those old growth plantings of holly and blackthorn took YEARS to to reach sizes needed, atttention to shaping during growth, judicious trimming, to reach the finished whip. Of course whips went out of style as cars got popular, so who needed those groves anymore?

Lots of moaning among all drivers that “New whips are not as good a quality as the antiques” just because there are very few old growth sticks to harvest. No one is waiting for new growth to develop branching or thickness before harvesting, takes too many years. All of them are costly!

Sorry OP for the hijack in direction, but it was very interesting to me!

1 Like

Yes! A totally different mindset was required. You can make all sorts of things with various types of wood, even forcing it grow in correct shapes for an end product, such as blackthorn or holly whips, and there is debate about whether judicious trimming of oaks for critical ship parts was practiced. But, it requires advance planning of years, patience, and cannot be mass produced. And is not cheap.
On the other hand, nobody is going to be collecting Walmart knock offs of willow baskets in a century, or modern whips…
What is particularly interesting to me is how multipurpose some of these plantings were: a hedge that doubled as a fence and windbreak that was also a food supply for people and or animals and as we are now learning was a critical component for sustaining biodiversity and water quality in a farmed environment. Not bad for a hedge!


whatever gets planted in there would have to be trimmed away from the e-fence so as to not ground it out. Willows are so resilient, can be eaten down to the roots and will come right back! are anthemic, and a pain killer.