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I'm currently planning my first hedge, and noticed that vendors offer plants in different sizes and recommend different planting densities per size. Simply spoken, there is usually a small size to be planted in high density, a medium size to be planted in medium density, and a large size to be planted in low density. I wondering about the rationale behind this.

Let's say, I want my hedge dense and on head height, eventually. Purpose is for privacy and wind protection, mainly. And of course because I like plants. I'm not in a complete hurry. Money is not not an issue, so I'd prefer to go with the small plants (around knee height) and raise them myself. But why should I go with a denser planting?

I understand that there will be vertical gaps in the hedge for a longer time if a go with a bigger spacing between the small plants, but people will look simply over it until it's on head height anyway. Then the wind might get through it better with bigger spacing, but a low hedge won't do much against the wind anyway again. On the other hand, won't the plants grow bigger, faster, healthier, overall better if there is more space around them they can use on their own?

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This is purely marketing which speaks to the fact that people are impatient.

There is no difference between planting twenty smaller shrubs or ten larger ones that ten years growth does not even out.

Except....that more smaller shrubs looks better right away

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  • That's what I think. Meanwhile, I even found an article which describes that one should remove every second plant after a few years to not hamper the others from growing large. I will accept your answer if no one else comes up with a better explanation, though I personally don't follow the argument that the look in the first few years of something, that is supposed to last well for decades, is worth the higher investment. But I see that this is a matter of taste.
    – Wanderer
    Sep 24 '21 at 14:06
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    I work in the retail horticulture trade. This answer is the actual reason for the recommendation cited. At two of the nurseries I worked at, when someone asked (for example) "How many Emerald Green Arbor Vitae do I need for a 20 foot hedge?" we would answer "Well, each arb gets about 4ft wide, so to make a dense hedge, you'd need to space them about 3ft apart. You need 6 for a decent hedge and can get by with 5 if you're patient." At a different nursery, we were told to say "Buy 12 small ones now, plant 18in apart, & remove every other one when they start touching." Terrible place, that one.
    – Jurp
    Sep 24 '21 at 14:15
  • On the other side of the coin, if you are growing trees for sale, you can grow 100 small trees for 3 years and sell them for $10 each, or grow 20 big trees for 10 years and sell them for $150 each. That's the same amount of revenue in theory - except that few customers will pay $150 for a big tree, plus the extra cost of transporting and transplanting it etc, compared with one that costs $10.
    – alephzero
    Sep 24 '21 at 15:47
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Many plants are used for hedges. Geographic location will make a very large difference in selection. Specific location (sun, shade, wet, dry, irrigation , possibly animal damage) will make a difference. For instance Ligustrum grows very well here but deer eat it to the ground. I think you need to narrow your choices.

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  • Thanks for the input! I agree with what you wrote. But, my question is neither about plant selection, nor about optimal planting density for the selected plant. In short, I'm asking why vendors recommend different planting densities depending on the initial size the plant has (instead of the targeted size, which would make more sense to me at least).
    – Wanderer
    Sep 24 '21 at 2:52

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