Mixed hedge containing hawthorn and field maple Taxus baccata (common yew) cones

Hedging Plants and Trees

Prunus laurocerasus (common laurel) hedge The former bishop's palace garden in Castres in France
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1. Types of hedge

Hedges may be used as:-
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2. Plant selection

Having decided on the species or variety of plants for your hedge, then it is a question of whether to buy bare root, root balled, containerized or pot grown plants:-
  • Bare root plants are usually grown in a field and lifted for sale during the dormant season, which is roughly from November to April inclusive, depending to some extent on the plant species and the weather. In some cases the bare root plants have some compost or soil attached to the roots, can sometimes mean that bare root plants are available outside the dormant season. Some plants transplant more easily than others. For example, box transplants and establishes more or less all the year round, while lavender is usually only grown in pots.

  • Root balled plants are grown in a field and carefully lifted with a ball of soil remaining intact around the roots. The root ball is secured with sacking, and, on the larger specimens, the sacking is in turn held in place with wire netting . The in situ root ball of soil helps the plant to survive much better than a bare root plant, which makes it possible to transplant larger specimens. Root balled plants are more expensive than bare root specimens, as they are usually larger plants, and it is expensive to transport the heavy ball of soil.

  • Pot grown plants are plants which are growing in a pot. Pot grown plants are usually the most expensive, and can be planted at any time of year. Root balled plants are often containerized so they can be stored and transplanted outside the dormant season.

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3. Spacing

Plant spacing in a hedge depends on the species or variety of plant, the size of the shrubs or trees when they are planted, and how long the owner of the hedge is prepared to wait until the plants grow together to make a hedge.

Many hedges can be planted at intervals of about 30cm (12 inches), for example for garden and field boundaries. This is a typical spacing for many bare root hedging plants.

Root balled plants are generally larger than bare root trees and shrubs, and are often planted at 30-45cm intervals, with the plants touching when planted, to make a continuous screen right away.

Particularly bushy plants, for example large root balled laurels, may be planted 45-60cm (18-24 inches) or more apart. On the other hand, smaller and slower growing shrubs, such as box, may be planted 20cm (8 inches) or less apart.

Small plants can be planted further apart if you are prepared to wait for them to grow together to form a hedge. On the other hand, a double row can be planted as a zigzag, to make a thicker hedge sooner.

Instant hedging plants are planted as a continuous row with no gaps, at a spacing determined by the width of the plants.

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4. Planting

First prepare the ground by making sure the drainage is adequate, removing perennial weeds and breaking the soil down to a fine tilth. For a garden hedge, the drainage is usually satisfactory anyway and the soil can be prepared by digging over a strip where the hedge is to go. It may be worth importing top soil or compost if there is no existing top soil of good or reasonable quality. If the soil is very sandy or clayey, then it may be worth mixing compost or peat with the soil to improve the soil structure.

If the plants are not well moistened, then it is best to soak them before planting. Bare root plants can be placed in a bucket of water for a few minutes. Very dry container grown plants can also be soaked in a bucket or similar container, although it will probably take longer for the very dry compost to absorb sufficient water. It is best to check the compost is wet through by inspecting it before planting. Very dry root balled plants can also be soaked in a bucket or other container before planting, or by watering with a fine rose if the plants are too large to place in a container.

Hedging plants should usually be planted at approximately the same depth as that at which they were growing prior to transplanting. The hedging plants should grow adequately without any added fertilizer in most soils. Slow release fertilizer granules can provide extra nutrients throughout the growing season, and are best placed around the roots when planting. In subsequent years, slow release fertilizer can be applied by mixing into the top of the soil in early spring. Otherwise, normal fertilizer granules or blood, fish and bone can be applied when planting and as subsequent top dressings. Liquid fertilizer can be given as a tonic in the growing season. Water in well, to settle the earth around the roots or root ball. The plants may require staking, especially if they are tall bare root trees in a windy position. Tree protectors may be required if there are rabbits or deer in the area.

The plants should be well watered in dry weather in the first year. Large root balled plants should be treated as mature trees, and watered well for the first two years. An automatic drip irrigation system can cost less than one large hedging plant, and prevent any of them dying in the first two years. It is important to remember than long periods of dry windy weather at cooler times of year, for example in the East of England in March or April, can kill plants through lack of watering just as much as hot weather in summer.

A mulch can help conserve moisture and keep down weeds. It is important to make sure that the soil is well wetted before applying the mulch, as a mulch can tend to stop rain reaching dry soil underneath, as well as stopping moisture evaporating from the soil surface.

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5. Pruning

Hedging plants should be pruned according to their characteristics and the requirements of the owner. Generally speaking evergreen hedging plants are pruned after the new season's growth has formed. Care must be taken to make sure pruning does not prevent any flowers and berries appearing. Field hedges are usually pruned in winter.

Evergreen hedging shrubs and trees are usually pruned in mid summer. In mid autumn any untidy growths can be removed. This autumn work can become a second pruning for more vigorous hedging plants.

Hedge plants which flower on the old hard wood from the previous growing season should be pruned after flowering, to promote good vigorous new growth to be flowered on in the following year. Those hedging trees and shrubs which flower on the current season's new growth should be pruned at the end of the winter, before the sap begins to rise.

Hedge plants which produce berries or fruit should be pruned soon after the berries or fruit drop off or are removed, or otherwise in late winter or early spring, before the sap rises. If only one trim is to be given to a hedge in a year, then late summer is an ideal time.

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6. Care of hedging plants and trees

In addition to pruning, a hedge can be kept in top condition by removing weeds, clearing away any debris, watering in dry weather and feeding if more vigorous growth is required. It may become necessary to remove or cut back any other plants or trees near a hedge in order to reduce competition with the hedge plants for light, air and soil moisture.

To regenerate an old hedge, deciduous hedging plants can be cut back hard in the winter to produce new growth. Yew and common laurel can be cut back to the trunk in spring, and they will produce new growth from the old wood.

Most other evergreens, such as box, will not sprout so readily from the old wood and should be treated more carefully. It is best to remove very old and dead wood and then reduce the leaf cover and remove some branches, to allow more light into the centre of the plant. This should promote the growth of new shoots from the centre and lower part of the plant. Once these new growth have become large enough, more of the old wood can be removed. This process can take two years or more.

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7. Problems

Generally speaking there are very few problems with pests and diseases on hedging plants. Removing any dead wood and branches with discoloured foliage from the plants, and weeds and dead leaves from around the hedge will promote good healthy growth, and help eliminate pests and diseases.

If there is a major infestation of pests such as aphids or caterpillars, then this can usually be controlled using an insecticide. It is often better to tolerate some un-wanted pests in order to not harm more desirable wild life, such as birds, bees and butterflies, by un-necessary spraying.

There can be outbreaks of moulds and fungi, especially during hot wet weather, such as the widespread occurrence of mildew on new growth on hedging trees during the summer of 2012. These fungi can often be controlled using a fungicide, although they are unlikely to reappear in subsequent years with more normal weather.

There are some specific and generally rare problems which may affect hedging plants: for example ash die back disease, box blight and red spider mite on conifers, which may respond to treatment.

Please email if you would like to discuss any problems with hedge plants.

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8. Instant hedging

A number of hedging plants, especially box and yew, are available in ready clipped sections to provide a mature hedge straight away. Further details will be added to this website shortly. In the meantime, please email if you would like a quote for some instant hedging.

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