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How To Make a Hedge Maze in Your Backyard

The Family Handyman logo The Family Handyman 5/11/2022 Toni DeBella
© Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd/Getty Images

Maybe you've seen this in a television show or a film: A green, confusing maze fashioned from shrubs and hedges, usually on the castle grounds of some long-ago king, queen or emperor.

Guess what? Hedge mazes aren't just for palaces. You can have one in your backyard, even if you're got less acreage than the grounds of Versailles.

Adrian Fisher is a renowned pioneer in the modern maze-making world. Fisher's work can be seen at historic buildings, important public lands, impressive private gardens and tourist attractions across the globe. "Playfulness is a vital part of our toolkit for being human," he says. "These things give us great fulfillment and help us become better humans."

So, are you ready to transform your backyard by designing and building a maze? Here's what you need to know.

What Is a Hedge Maze?

The most common hedge mazes feature hardy plants lining twisty paths, meant to delightfully confuse and confound you. But mazes can also function as places for contemplation, to interact with nature, or to just have some fun. "A puzzle maze can be an allegory to life," Fisher says.

Types of Hedge Mazes

Typically constructed of dense shrubs like English yew or boxwood, maze hedges are typically grown tall enough to obscure the player's way forward. But as Fisher explains, there are no rules to maze making.

The distinctions between labyrinths and mazes:

  • Labyrinths have a single continuous path that extends from the entrance to the central goal. Because there are no junctions or choices to be made, labyrinths are described as unicursal (AKA single-choice).
  • Mazes offer a puzzle to solve. At junctions, choices need to be made. The challenge involves making a series of good choices to reach the goal. Puzzle mazes are thus known as multi-cursal (AKA multi-choice).

"There are many kinds of puzzle mazes, sometimes with deceptive 'islands' of hedges," adds Fisher. "Puzzle mazes often have dead ends that lead nowhere. And sometimes they have bridges or tunnels, and thus provide a three-dimensional network."

Is My Yard Big Enough for a Hedge Maze?

Not convinced you have room in your yard for a hedge maze? Take heart! Hedge mazes can be scaled down to fit most yards. However, Fisher says you'll need at least 30 feet across to work with.

The maze shouldn't dominate the yard, and it doesn't necessarily need to be near the house. "If you have the space, place the maze towards the end of the yard to draw you through the space," says Fisher. This will encourage people to use the entire yard, not just a part of it.

If high maze hedges won't work for you, Fisher says it's okay to use shorter hedges. You can even create a small maze with bricks or pavers, achievable in the tiniest of yards.

"Look at other mazes," Fisher says. "Look at books. Create a maze that speaks to you."

How Much Does a Hedge Maze Cost?

Cost depends largely on the quality of the plants, and the size and condition of your yard. To come up with a ballpark figure, add up the following:

  • Plants: To estimate how many you'll need, measure the length of each row, then determine how many plants fit into that space based on recommended planting distance.
  • Materials: Soil, compost, fertilizer, irrigation system (optional), etc.
  • Design, permits and labor: If applicable (see below).

Plants

Here are the average costs for individual hedge plants:

  • Green Velvet Boxwood (2-1/2-ft. tall), $150.
  • Emerald Green Arborvitae (six feet tall), $130.
  • Hicks Yew (2-1/2-ft. tall), $80.
  • Cheyenne Privet (four feet tall), $40.
  • English or Schip Laurel (2-1/2-ft. tall), $125.

Materials

The cost of materials varies depending on your specific location. Be sure to factor in these items when creating a budget:

  • Compost;
  • Soil (excavated and/or store bought);
  • Fertilizer or other plant food;
  • Mulch.

Design

Depending on where you live, a 2D diagram by a landscape designer or architect can run from $500 to $1,000. If you have some draft paper, a pencil and basic math skills, or access to Sketchup software, creating a simple maze design yourself isn't that hard.

"All you need is a few rows and a goal at the end or in the middle," Fisher says. "Just do it! Half the pleasure of a maze comes from creating it."

Permits and labor

Probably $0 for permits. According to Paul Knapp, designer and CEO of LandscapeArchitectural.com, he hasn't yet come across a municipality that would require a permit for planting trees or shrubs. However, each town and homeowner's association has its own rules and codes.

"It's always best to check with the local building department to make sure they will have no issue," Knapp says.

Regarding labor costs if you don't DIY, Knapp says, "Most landscapers charge the cost of the plant plus 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 times that price." So if a plant costs $100, a landscape installer could charge $250 to $350 per plant for installation.

The upside to professional installation: The plants usually come with a one-year warranty in case it fails or dies.

Note: Labor costs can vary wildly depending on where you live. And, of course, you can save money by building the maze yourself.

How To Make a Hedge Maze

Blythe Yost, co-founder and CEO of Tilly, an online landscape design company, offers this advice:

Step 1: Choose plants

  • Decide how big and tall you want your maze to be. The height you choose will determine which plants will work best.
  • Shrubs that grow uniformly make the best hedges. Boxwoods are better for small mazes. For larger mazes, Yost suggests flowering privets like beech and hornbeam.

"When choosing plants, take into consideration the time of year you'll be using your maze," explains Yost. "Certain plants will be less dense in winter, so you will be able to see through them more easily."

Yost says using evergreens is one way to solve the see-through issue. But she also thinks beech trees work because they hold their leaves for a long time and stay opaque much of the year. Check the U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zone map to determine what grows best where you live.

Step 2: Lay it out

  • Determine the size you want your maze to be. Sketch the design on paper or with design software to work out the correct dimensions.
  • If you want a traditional looking maze, level the ground flat before planting. It's difficult to plant the hedge correctly on uneven ground. "It's possible to install a maze on a slant, but the layout should be carefully designed with the slope in mind," Yost says.
  • Yost recommends testing the design with multiple colors of inverted tip spray paint made for marking. That way you have a guide to follow and can see if it's what you want before you start planting.
  • Determine the placement of plants with a measuring tape. Boxwoods, for instance, are generally planted two to three feet apart. Then mark with paint or a stake.

Step 3: Plant and grow

  • Safety first. Before digging, go to call811.com to get your underground utilities marked.
  • With a shovel or spade, dig a trench or a hole for each plant slightly less deep and about one inch wider than the root ball.
  • Pour compost and fertilizer into the trench or holes, then place the plant into the ground. Fill in with soil around each plant, pat down and water. Add a layer of mulch to help hold in the moisture, tamp down weeds and insulate the plants from extreme temperatures.
  • Hedges typically take three years to fill out. If you're in a hurry, Yost says you can try planting shrubs closer together.
  • Be sure to prune your plants into the desired shape immediately and continue to prune with shears at least once or twice a year.

Step 4: Care and pruning

  • Yost always recommends installing an automatic or semi-automatic irrigation system, especially for the first three years when plants are establishing themselves.
  • A hedge maze requires maintenance. As the plants mature and grow, you may need to prune more often than when they were first planted, depending on how crisp and manicured you want the maze to look. Along with trimming, weed paths to keep them tidy and passable. Count on continuing to prune the hedges at least once a year.
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