Hedges are important for our landscape and wildlife but how do you go about planting one? We’ve written some general guidelines on the tree planting blog . However, a hedge is a bit different in that it is usually planted for quite different purposes – as a windbreak, to keep animals in, to provide a “corridor” along which wildlife can move, and for diversity of plant life. It is also maintained differently - you will not be thinning it.
What to plant in your hedge
The first decision then is what to plant. Many people prefer to use native species that have been sourced locally (“local provenance”). The principle species may well be hawthorn, a good hedging plant, cheap to buy and quick growing. Other species can be added to this such as field maple, blackthorn, hazel, geulder rose (which is not really a rose but a viburnum), wayfaring tree, spindle, common dog wood and the dog rose. You should buy good stock and, in relation to the costs of such an exercise, the plants are not expensive - there are several nurseries in the Woodlands.co.uk suppliers directory . Ideally you should order well in advance.
When to plant your hedge
You will need to plan well ahead in order to plant at the best time of year – the planting season is from dormancy when the plants are lifted at the nurseries ready for sale, sometime in October, until early March before the plants start shooting. A general rule with this planting season is that on light sandy soils you should plant before Christmas and on heavy clay soils, which may be waterlogged all winter, you should plant after Christmas.
Ground preparation for hedge planting
If the ground is compacted you will have to plough or cultivate it. If the ground is weed-infested then you can kill weeds with herbicide (such as Roundup or Kerb) or plough to bury the weeds. Another approach is to cover the planting area with a deep layer of organic mulch (eg wood chippings, pulverised bark or farm yard manure or lay a strip of black plastic mulch over the planting area). Mulch at least 1/2 metre wide. Get the mulch on early in the season so it can kill off any weeds during the summer. Where organic mulch is used the worms will incorporate some of it during the summer so improving the soil. The better the preparation, the quicker the hedge will be formed.
Protecting the young plants
Your newly planted hedge will be a very attractive source of food in the winter months especially to rabbits and hares. Deer may also browse on them. Protection can be either with rabbit netting fence on both sides or the plants can be individually protected with tree shelters, most commonly with spiral guards. Ventilated guards are best but if there is a possibility of spraying with herbicide in subsequent years then go for unventilated spiral guards. Again there are several suppliers of tree shelters in our suppliers directory. Most nurseries will also supply tree guards and canes. Canes are used for support, pushed into the ground inside the spiral shelters.
Actually planting the hedge
The nursery will have grown the plants in good conditions but transplanting is a shock to the plants, so you need to treat them well to minimise the shock. Do not let the roots dry out and do not let them heat up in enclosed bags. If you are planting a lot then it's a good idea to heel the plants into the ground and take them out as they are used. To heel plants in you need to make a trench the same depth as the roots, cut open the bundles (usually they come in bundles of 25) and spread the plants out along the trench and then back fill. Alternatively the roots can be covered with well-rotted mulch.
Do not plant in frosty conditions as the plants won't like it. If there is organic mulch then scrape this back to leave a small area for planting. Don't let organic matter come in contact with the stem of the plants. If black plastic has been laid down then make a small slit to plant through. Planting is simple with a planting spade, (like a standard spade but narrower) push the spade in deep, pull back towards you then push forward. This leaves a small slit into which the roots are dropped, using a sideways swipe motion. With the roots in the slit take out the spade and compress either side with your heel. In heavy clay soils during dry summers the slit may open up as the soil cracks, allowing the roots to dry out. The plant should be at the same level in the ground as it was in the nursery - no deeper or no shallower. Fit the spiral guard over the plant and then slide the cane inside the guard and hammer in.
There is a good video on YouTube:
Have you tried planting a hedge and what has been your experience? Please let us know here.