Woods for conservation and enjoyment

You are here: Home > Blog > Practical Guides > How to Lay a Hedge

Print this page

How to Lay a Hedge ~ by Angus

How to Lay a Hedge

Hedges are an important part of our countryside, yet they are functional too.The use of hedges goes back hundreds of years (perhaps more) and is an effective way to keep in livestock and mark boundaries.  They also have very important benefits for wildlife as they are home to many nesting birds, small mammals and many insects.   Apart from being a habitat they also provide a corridor for the movement of animals across field systems and between woodland areas.  Landowners need to maintain them but sometimes they get out of control (the hedges rather than the land owners) and once they reach over 4 metres in height they start to encroach upon fields and become “gappy” at the base.  It is at this point that they need to be laid – ideally by an experienced hedge layer.

The trees that do well in hedges are hawthorn, blackthorn, field maple, hazel oak, sycamore and ash as well as some other species.  Different species will require different techniques but broadly the approach is as described here and illustrated on woodlandstv.co.uk.   We were lucky enough to film Neil Sands demonstrating and John Wilson explaining as they laid a badly overgrown hedge at the Weald Woodfair in East Sussex.  John has been a member of the South of England Hedge Laying Society for 25 years, since its founding.The Society has about 150 members and organises regular training sessions, competitions and demonstrations.

In the film they explain that this is not a summer activity: not only do the leaves become more of a problem but there is a risk to nesting birds.Like oysters, the right months for hedge laying have an “r” in the month (September to April, though usually finishing by March).

The process starts with removing the surplus material – twigs, old leaves, debris, brambles, rusty wire.     The stem to be laid needs to be selected and about a foot (30cm) off the ground it should be cut almost right through so that it can be bent over and laid at about 45 degrees.   Higher up, nearer the top of the hedge, the stem is then cut at an angle.   This stem is called a “pleacher” and it is these pleachers which will grow back vigorously with vertical shoots making the hedge livestock-proof.In the Midlands hedge laying is called “plashing” and the French call it “plaisse”.

Stakes are driven in vertically at 18 inch intervals in the centre line of the hedge.The binders are woven between the stakes with ends wedged behind the stakes.Both the stakes and binders are usually from hazel.The final height of the hedge is about 4ft and the stakes will be trimmed off to the same height to give an extremely tidy finish.   Tools needed are: a billhook, a small axe, a small chainsaw (perhaps, and if you are qualified to use it), wire cutters, thick gloves going over the wrists and a sharpening stone.  A first aid kit is needed too – even when things go well this can be something of a “blood sport”!


you will need stakes for the verticals, which should be sturdy enough to hammer in, about 5 ft 6 ins high and about 2ins in diameter (ie about 1.7metres by 50mm).  For the horizontals you need much longer and more flexible poles called “binders” which should be about 10ft long and about 1½ ins in thickness (ie about 3 metres by 40mm).

If you are the owner of a woodland, you might have an overgrown hedge which needs laying.If you get it done by a contractor it should cost a little under £10 per linear metre including materials.  A good hedge layer in the right conditions might lay 20-25 metres in a day.  It is possible to get a recommendation from one of the organisations connected with hedge laying or, better still, you can try it yourself.  There are a lot of hedge laying courses available that can be found by typing “hedge laying course” into a search engine.Interestingly they all seem to happen on Saturdays in the winter with a typical course taking three Saturdays in succession.

Although hedges are now well protected and you need permission to remove one or even create a gap in one, they haven’t always been officially appreciated.  Until the 1970s the government paid grants for their removal, arguing that larger fields were more efficient and essential to justify the new and larger tractors.  Nowadays however new hedges are encouraged and grants are available for planting, but of course this increases the need for maintenance – hence the need for more hedge layers.

Driving (or even cycling) around the countryside you will be surprised how many recently laid hedges there are once you are on the lookout for them.You may also start to spot those in need of attention and the billhook.

What’s your experience with hedges and hedge laying?

Posted in: Practical Guides, Woodland Activities ~ On: 25 September, 2008

96 comments so far

20 January, 2014

Thanks Chris. I thought not but just hoped.I will have to trim them down and hope they will thicken up in time.

brian harper
29 April, 2014

Hi where can i find a hedge layer to make a good job at a good price?

Sean Spooner
29 April, 2014

I have a blackthorn hedge that is very leggy, thicker at the top than at the bottom. Will laying the hedge encourage the basal growth to produce new shoots as effectively as simply lopping the height or is the laid branches that I will rely to thicken the hedge at its new height?

29 April, 2014

A laid hedge will be much thicker owing to the proximity of the stakes and interwoven laid branches, that is why they were good for livestock.

29 April, 2014

Sean, in theory it will grow back a bit bushier if you simply cut it all back to ground level as it will get more light, but in practice I find coppicing brings a greater chance of the trees dying. Laid branches are only there temporarily, it’s the young shoots from the base that will make the future hedge.

29 April, 2014

Brian, by asking around locally – but not until November!

Charles G
24 May, 2014

Hi, what’s the best way to build a brash hedge?

Judy Heap
4 July, 2014

What height does my new native hedge have to reach before it can be layered?

Thank you.

9 July, 2014

Hi Judy

It depends what height you would like the resulting laid hedge to be. For a 1m high laid hedge where the pleachers (cut stems) are laid at an angle of about 40 deg., I like the height of the hedge to be about 1.6m before cutting. If you would like your laid hedge to be taller, the stems need to be correspondingly taller.

Thank you

John Shepherd
9 July, 2014

Above comment is from our Hedgelaying Tutor, next course 24th October.

Bernard Swales
29 August, 2014

Can I lay a willow hedge, and if so where can I get the stakes and binders?

3 September, 2014

Response from our Hedgelaying tutor John Shepherd

Hi Bernard,

Yes you can lay a willow hedge, however it is not very satisfactory.
Willow grows vigorously, which is why it is grown for biomass. Consequently it will need trimming several times a year with shears or a hedge trimmer or once a year with secateurs (a wrist aching job). Miss a year and you are asking for trouble, since many shoots will be lopper sizes and 2m+ tall . You could trim it with a tractor mounted flail mower, but this will encourage top growth to the detriment of the bottom of the hedge which will become gappy quite quickly. So yes it is possible, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
(This is based upon my observations of a laid willow hedge in a very damp location, which grew in exactly the way I expected, apart from the base, where I was surprised at the speed with which gaps formed.)
Regarding stakes and binders, I’m afraid that the best I can suggest is to search the internet for a Coppice group local to yourself or look on http://www.woodnet.org.uk .
If you are located in West Kent or East Sussex http://www.underwoodsman.co.uk/ can supply stakes and binders (Disclosure: I occasionally work with Mr. Underwoodman (John Waller)).
If you have a source of willow, then 3m+ willow shoots make fantastic binders and you can either buy the stakes from a woodsman or use sweet chestnut tree stakes. (Willow is not suitable as stakes owing to its willingness to put down roots and grow.)

Bernard Swales
4 September, 2014

Thanks for that Rebecca it has given me a lot to think about

Robert Mansfield
5 September, 2014

I have been a hedge layer for almost 17 years! If anyone needs a hedge laying in the Shropshire area let me know on this forum.

Chris Bond
11 November, 2014

Hi, I am a hedgelayer in the South West of England. If anybody would like any hedgelaying done please just ask me.

Jamie Thomsett
13 November, 2014

Hi, I am in the South Shropshire area and am having a go at laying my first hedge, where can I buy split stakes locally? A point in the right direction would be appreciated.

13 November, 2014

Hi Chris

Thank you for your post re hedgelaying in South West, will put a note on our website http://www.foodfarmingforestry,could you like our page on facebook and I will put a bit on there too when I am promoting our hedgelaying courses

13 November, 2014

Hi Jamie

thanks for your post, I will check with our hedge-layer and get back to you, could you like us on facebook please https://www.facebook.com/foodfarmingforestry

16 November, 2014

Where will there be a course on hedge cutting in the south east ,

16 November, 2014

Hedge laying course .

Sean Spooner
20 December, 2014

I’ve moved to Corby (northants) but have already found a hedge to lay. It is a mix of blackthorn and hawthorn. Do I treat both species as one and the same as far as approach is concerned? When is the best time to get the job done, weather permitting?

22 December, 2014

Sean – yes, they both lay well although old blackthorn can be brittle. Get it done any time from now to March. A word of caution: Unless the hedge is young, I put cloth plasters round both joints of each finger on my cutting hand and wear a welding glove on my other hand, plus protective glasses, denim jeans, denim jacket, boots with thick soles (not wellies), and a tough flat cap – the thorns on both species are vicious!

22 December, 2014

Thanks Chris, I will make a start early in the New Year and thanks for the tip about the thorns. I’m aware from summer trimming of blackthorn in the past, in fact the sap seems to irritate my inner forearms but that won’t be such a problem when laying.

1 January, 2015

I am looking for a hedge layer in burnley Lancashire can anyone help?

keith. riley
7 January, 2015

Hi i am looking for a hedge layer who can come to swansea area, please contact 07796 275361

thanks keith

14 January, 2015

What is the best month to lay a beech hedge.

30 January, 2015

Hello, Hedgelayer of 30 years. Working in Staffordshire, Shrops and surrounding area.

Thank you. 07941 234244

Sean Spooner
1 February, 2015

It’s done! Got my first lay of the year yesterday.

5 February, 2015

Can a thorn hedge be sucessfully laid if the weather is frosty………….
If not, why – because in theory the hedge is dormant during the winter months?

6 February, 2015

James – Frosty is OK, but not if it’s well below zero at night or staying below zero in the day, because then young trees will tend to snap rather than bend. And maybe your fingers too.

6 February, 2015

Sean – We’re all very happy for you but I think you may have got the wrong forum ;-)

6 February, 2015

Thanks Chris so you are saying the frost is likely to make the trunk you saw through brittle rather than any other reason for not carrying out the laying during the frosty time.I agree with you that Sean probably got the wrong forum…

Jeremy H
8 February, 2015


I’m trying to help my parents out by laying their hazel and blackthorn hedge. However, I’ve encountered problems with the wood splitting and running up the branch. What causes this? Also, how thick are the largest growths that you can lay? How wide before it’s too wide? Would I be right in thinking that when it gets to a certain width, an axe/billhook just isn’t going to be sufficient and I need a chainsaw?

Sean Spooner
8 February, 2015

Chris, yes, seems I have a double who has posted mischievously on my behalf! With the weather turning milder I’ll be glad to get back to work tomorrow on a stretch of blackthorn.

9 February, 2015

Jeremy, I think you are not cutting far enough through before you bend the stem over. Try cutting a bit higher and go 3/4 to 7/8 of the way through the stem at a 5 o’clock angle and then it should split downwards. If it splits upwards, just keep cutting through what’s left and use your foot as a lever to get the split to run downwards. Using a chainsaw is a lot easier than using a billhook once you get over 5-6 inches; same principle, less effort, more noise.

Sean Spooner
30 March, 2015

Down in the wilds of Wales for a few weeks and the hedges are all pretty well blasted by the winds, hard to find a good stretch to work on, so Welsh. Send help.

Jan Warren
8 April, 2015

I have a short run of old thin hawthorn next to a wooden fence (to be removed) No nests in it so can I lay it now even though it’s a bit late?

stephen plane
19 April, 2015

Is it at all possible to lay a Leylandii
I have cut the main trunks down to approx 4ft and wondered if i could lay the wispy bits along a wire attached to the stumps
Thanks for any help

19 April, 2015

Jan yes. Stephen no.

Moss Keogh
5 May, 2015

Can a hawthorn hedge be layed above a fence ? I.e.bottom of garden 6 ‘ fence, above trees now exist the remaining stems about 3′ -4’ apart, the canopy starting about 4’above the fence top.

Jeremy Hunter
17 July, 2015

Hi Chris, thanks for the response!

Unfortunately the chainsaw packed up for the winter and I only managed to get it working today so it’ll be a while before I can do anything! Another question, is there a maximum height that growth can be before it’s just too much? The hazel, blackthorn and hawthorn is about 20 ft high. This is a row which I do not think has ever been laid so I’ve got my hands full with it.

Sorry also I’ve read that hazel is a rubbish hedge-laying plant. Is there truth to this?

17 July, 2015

Hazel is fine. With trees that big your problem is that there are probably big gaps between trees and ideally you want something every couple of feet to grow back from ground level. With hazel you can fill these gaps by layering, which means taking the first stem onto the ground, wounding the bottom and pegging it down so that it puts down roots and forms a new plant. Old blackthorn doesn’t lay well as it’s brittle but hawthorn is tougher. You can stuff the brush you cut off under the stems to keep the angle right. Protect every part of you and good luck in the autumn.

Sean Spooner
21 July, 2015

I’d second that hazel is fine and stakes cut from it are particularly good.

8 September, 2015

I will be planting a new native hedge soon, I would like a mixed hedge, are they any species to be avoided as not suitable for laying?

9 September, 2015

Best bet is to copy what already grows in established hedges in your area. But avoid willow like the plague, it grows too fast. Same for sycamore. Oak and ash are best as trees. Good rule of thumb is 50% thorn (hawthorn and/or blackthorn) and 50% other stuff (hazel, beech, rowan, field maple etc). Everything apart from conifers *can* be laid, you just need to get a good balance.

15 November, 2015

I can’t believe it’s almost 20 years since i learnt to lay a hedge (Devon style) and opportunity’s have been few and far between to get my hand in. Next week i’ve been asked to try and sort out the hedge that borders the allotments with a throughfare, we get a problems with kids coming in e.t.c…Trouble with this hedge is, most of what there is is Elder, a hedge layers no no…still, it’ll shoot from the base, and grow fast so if i can get it to bend without just breaking off i’m sure i can make something of a hedge with it..am also going to gather a load of holly berries to throw in under once the ‘hedge’ is done, as they’ll tolerate the shade, break the wind and hopefully, stop the kids getting in…I am excited to get laying!

Leave a comment

© 2015 Woodland Investment Management Ltd | Disclaimer | Contact us | Blog powered by WordPress