Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Planting a Hedge

Now you’ve chosen the right plants for your new hedge (click here to see my suggestions), you need to prepare the ground and plant them. A hedge is simply a row of trees or shrubs planted close together, so you prepare the soil and look after them the same as you would any other tree or shrub.

Dig over the area to a depth of at least one spade’s depth. Break up the soil, remove any large stones, weeds, and old roots. Dig in a generous helping of compost. Well rotted stable manure, leaf mould, the contents of your home compost bin, green waste compost, or spent mushroom compost are all good soil conditioners. When digging in the compost throw on a handful of fish blood and bone per square metre.

Hedging plants are commonly sold as bare rooted ‘whips’. This means the plants are not in pots and have no soil around their roots. They can survive perfectly well like this whilst being transported, but don’t leave it too long before you plant them. If you receive the plants and can’t plant them immediately, dig a hole anywhere in the garden, put the plants in and roughly tread in the soil around their roots. This will keep them alive and healthy until you’re ready to plant them.

The recommended planting distance for bare root whips is at 45cm centres, which means that the centres of the plants are 45cm apart. You need to be fairly precise, so get a tape measure and space the plants out accurately. If you’re planting along a boundary with a pathway, plant the whips far enough from the boundary so they have room to grow without encroaching on the right of way. Decide how wide you want the hedge to be when it’s mature then place the plants half this distance in from the boundary.

Do not plant the whips too deeply, cover the roots but do not bury the stem. Make sure the plants are upright, then firm in the soil well around their roots to make sure there is no air left in the planting hole. I usually tread around the plants to make sure they are nice and secure in their new homes.

Water the hedge well and apply a thick mulch over the planting area at least 50mm deep. There are loads of things that can be used as a mulch such as chipped bark, green waste compost, cocoa shells and some newer synthetic materials. Mulching will help seal in moisture, keep down weeds. I like to use something compostable for mulching so that it breaks down and provides nutrients for the growing hedge.

For the next couple of years while it is establishing you’ll need to keep the hedge well watered. I always keep the mulch blanket topped and the planting area weed free. All plants benefit from the occasional application of a long acting fertilizer and hedges are no different. I like to feed my hedges a couple of times a year with some fish blood and bone which I simply sprinkle on the surface around the base of the plants.

If you are plagued by rabbits or deer you can buy stem guards that are cheap, simple to fit and protect against casual nibbling. My experience with deer is that you’ll have to be a bit more robust to keep them away. You might need to put up a temporary fence and although this looks ugly it can eventually be removed and may be the only way of allowing the plants to mature. There are plenty of on-line sources for stem guards, just type spiral stem guards into Google. Here's the Web link to a supplier I found.

Hedges should be cut at a slight angle from top to bottom; this angle is called a batter. The top of the hedge should be slightly narrower than the base to ensure the top growth doesn’t prevent water and light reaching the roots of the plants. I have Beech hedges and tend to cut them when they look untidy, usually twice a year in the early and late Summer. Formal hedges will need cutting more often than looser shrub hedges. The RHS has some great advice on when and how often to prune hedges.

So go out this weekend and make space for a hedge. If you need help get in touch. You can email me at, or visit my Web site for all other contact details.

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