To plant a traditional hedge that will be of most benefit to our native wildlife, you should choose the species with care.
Normally, a hedgerow should be planted with at least 75% hawthorn, but we should also include a few other species for variety. This will provide both a ‘stock-proof’ hedge and an important food resource for insects, birds and mammals as the hedge matures. Other useful native species include (click on the species to find out how to identify them):
- Hazel (Corylus avellana)
- Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)
- Guelder rose (Viburnum opulus)
- Dog rose (Rosa canina)
- Gorse (Ulex europaeus)
- Holly (Ilex aquifolium)
Dog rose can be quite vigorous and requires some support. For these reasons some people choose to introduce this species when the hedge is a little more established.
Planting hedgerow trees will attract more wildlife and provide additional shelter and shade too. These shouldn’t be cut, but allowed to grow normally. You could include:
- Pedunculate oak (Quercus robur)
- Sessile oak (Quercus petraea)
- Ash (Fraxinus excelsior)
- Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)
- Wild cherry (Prunus avium)
- Crab apple (Malus sylvestris)
- Alder (Alnus glutinosa)
Choose small plants (40-60cms tall). They are cheaper (if you are buying), have a higher survival rate and often grow more quickly than larger ones. If you are growing your own from seed, this size of plant can be grown in one or two years.
To estimate the number of plants needed, measure the length to be planted and allow for six to eight plants per metre. Aim to plant in a double, ‘staggered’ row, as shown below.
Hedgerow planting pattern
Two methods of planting can be used – ‘notch planting’ or ‘trench planting’. Notch planting is simpler and quicker. Trench planting allows us to incorporate plenty of organic matter into the soil, but is practical only on short lengths of hedge. It should be used, however, in clay or heavy soils to avoid ‘smearing’ the sides of the planting hole with the spade. This can stop roots from growing out into the surrounding soil.
Simply make a slot with the spade, rocking the spade backwards and forwards to make a small v-shaped hole. Place the roots of the plant in the notch, ensuring they are well spread and that the plant is set at the same depth as it was growing previously. Firm back the soil with your foot.
Dig a trench 40-50cm wide, placing the soil to one side. One person can then hold the plants in place whilst another fills the trench with the soil, firming as they go.
To trim or not to trim
Some people recommend cutting back the plants immediately after planting by at least one third of their height, sometimes to a height of 10cm! This can produce an excellent, bushy hedge.
However, if you plan to lay the hedge in the future, experts suggest that the plants should not be trimmed.
Where rabbits or deer may a problem, you will need to use shelters to protect the plants from sharp teeth. Mulching (with materials as diverse as newspaper, black polythene, quarry dust, bark or horse manure) will help to establish the hedge. Besides being eaten, the worst enemy of a newly planted hedge is weed competition. Make sure the soil is moist before mulching.
After one year of growth, cut the plants back by about half. In the following winter, trim the side and leading shoots to an even shape.