Before choosing a type of hedge, you must first look at why you want the hedge and what you need it to do. After that you need to look at practical considerations like site and soil. Mattie Keane of Future Forests – where mixed hedging has long been a speciality – explains.
Once you figure those factors out, the bewildering choice of hedges should be very much narrowed down. We find that there are two main reasons people choose a mixed hedge over a single variety hedge; they want more seasonal interest in their hedge and they want to encourage biodiversity in the garden. We offer several mixed hedges, but our most popular mixes are:
Our wildlife fruiting hedge is made up of mostly native species such as Guelder Rose, Elder and Spindle, all of which berry and flower and are attractive to birds and pollinators. These hedges aren’t just food for the birds and the bees but they also give them much-needed cover for wild animals.
The permaculture hedge is seen as a deluxe hedge where every variety in it has a human use, plants like Black Chokeberry, Barberry and Cornelian Cherry are included; some fruit can be eaten straight from the branch and some are great for making jams and preserves. By its very nature, this hedge is also attractive to wildlife.
Our neat natural hedge is made of three varieties: Hawthorn, Fieldmaple and Hornbeam, these three blend beautifully together; this hedge also clips well, so can be kept neat if required and is also suitable to smaller gardens.
Our seaside mixed hedge is obviously specific to coastal sites and gives that informal look that is often lacking in long, single coastal hedges; plants like Cotoneaster, Rosa Rugosa and Fuchsia make us this mix.
How far apart do I plant?
How far apart you plant each plant can vary on how tall you want to let the hedge grow; taller hedges can be given some extra space to allow them to grow tall and strong. If you want to keep the hedge at an easily maintained height, then plant them closer but, as an average, a lot of bare-root hedges are planted at either two or three plants per metre.
How to plant?
It really is best to start with a clear run and remove the sod so that you are planting directly into soil. I usually advise to stagger the plants, which in effect gives you a double line, this staggering makes the hedge thicken out quicker. Some people plant them as they come out of the bag, but I think it is much better to plant in groups that repeat themselves down along the hedge. This way when one variety is doing its thing, be it flower, berry or autumn colour, it really stands out in the hedge. For an example of this, start with planting eight Hawthorn, then six Hazel, then four Guelder Rose, then six Spindle, then eight Hawthorn again and so on. I certainly would try to not repeat it exactly the same down the hedge, as a slightly more random look always looks better. Quite often people will let the odd variety in the mix grow big and Crabapple amongst others is a great choice for that. The plant should always sit comfortably into the hole; never wrap the root around if it is too big, just prune the root back a bit – this actually stimulates the root rather than damaging it.
How deep should I plant?
If you are unsure how deep to plant, the trees or hedging will have the old soil nursery mark on them from where they were recently dug. Use this mark as a guideline, and firm them in well after planting.
If you are planting a large amount of bare-root plants, do not lay them all out and start planting, take a selection, 20 to 30 or so, put them into a separate bag and start with these, making sure the main bags are tied or at least facing away from any drying wind. Never let a root go in the ground dry. Keep a bucket of water with you and if a plant is dry, dip it, shake off the excess water and plant away.
Bare-root plants in general are quite tough, so with a modicum of good care you should have no problems.
Do I need to use compost or manure?
I quite often get asked how much compost one should use. I feel a small bit of compost or well-rotted manure is good if the soil is poor. Organic matter helps to break up the ground and give some valuable nutrients if they are in short supply. However, I would advise against the over-use of composts or manures, if you use too much, the roots will not want to go beyond the rich compost and you could end up with less stable and small rooted trees and plants. A good top feed is better, as the nutrients will leach down through the soil, slowly feeding the plant. If you are lucky enough to have good soil, then you should not need any compost at all.
How low should I cut the hedge?
Another common question is also how low should one cut the hedge after planting. I always advise people to prune a mixed hedge after planting, as this will stimulate bushy growth and all good hedges should be brought up slowly. If you want the hedge stock proof and especially if you have lots of natives like Hawthorn and Blackthorn, then even as low as six inches is advised. In the past, I have planted what looked like a great hedge, only to prune it to six inches and then wonder where the hedge and all the hard work had gone, have I just killed it? But most of these plants thrive on this hard pruning and they will bush lovely from there.
If you don’t need a stock-proof hedge, just have a look at your plants after planting and pick what you feel is a reasonable height and cut to that mark. The hedge will bush from just below that mark, but the average prune back is down to one to 1.5ft high. ‘Being cruel to be kind’ really does apply where hedging is concerned.
If there is Holly in your hedge, do not prune it as hard as the others, as it is generally slower growing.
How to grow a great hedge?
Selecting the most suitable plants to suit your conditions and planting with care. These two factors are the basic building blocks for the success of your hedge, but bear in mind that keeping your hedge weed and competition free will determine how well your hedge will grow.
I have seen stunning differences between hedges planted at the same time where one was poorly weeded while the other used a weed membrane and mulch and the difference in height and vigour was hard to believe. A mulch insulates the roots of the plant, retains moisture in a dry spell and importantly keeps the plants free from competition. I would never suggest the use of herbicides to keep the hedge weed-free for loads of obvious reasons. So, when thinking of planting your hedge, plan not just to plant but also to mulch the hedge as well at the same time (weed membrane optional). You and your hedge will not regret the extra work.
Future Forests will be supplying bareroot mixed hedging until the end of March, for more information see www.futureforests.ie or call 027 66176.