How To Choose and Maintain A Hedge

Hedging provides a natural alternative to fencing. It can be just as long lasting. much more environmentally friendly, and made up of a wide choice of plants including many native species.

The advantages of planting a hedge over putting up a fence are many. For a start they look better, more natural, a living boundary that will change over the seasons and years. Particularly native hedges can be a haven for birds, welcome visitors who eat all those garden pests. Both fences and hedges provide a wind break but a hedge lets the air circulate, avoiding the chance of frost pockets in winter.

With hedges you need to plan carefully and choose wisely. What is the purpose of the hedge (privacy, security etc) and what species will best serve this purpose (evergreen or deciduous, thorns or flowers)? You must also consider the soil and situation and whether it can it be maintained easily. Good subsequent management will then ensure a garden feature that is both useful and attractive.

Formal and Informal Hedges

A formal hedge that is clipped and shaped provides a strong backdrop to a garden, choose evergreens such as yew or laurel to give the greatest privacy or thorny hawthorn and spikey holly for security. Beech has attractive golden foliage in the autumn but is deciduous and will grow very high (approx. 40ft), while privet is semi-evergreen and reaches only 15ft.

Informal hedging takes up more room and won't be suitable for small garden. Any tallish shrub, flowering or with attractive foliage, can be used such as a butterfly friendly viburnum or escallonia which both reach about 10ft in height, the latter has a mass of fragrant pink or crimson flowers from June to October.

Mixing species in both formal and informal hedges can be particularly striking. Think about hedges formed from native species such as hawthorn, blackthorn, privet or holly and look around where you live to get an indication of what grows best in the prevailing soil conditions – laurel for instance is good in heavy clay while honeysuckle likes a chalky soil.

Planting

Plants can be bought as 'whips' that establish rapidly, bare rooted plants (only suitable for planting in the winter months) or container grown (the more expensive option). Evergreens and conifers are often sold with their roots in sacking and should be planted in the spring or autumn.

The best way to plant a hedge is to dig a trench about 2ft deep by 3ft and break up the sub soil. Add manure, compost and other organic matter together with blood, fish and bone. It's now advisable to let the soil settle for about a fortnight before planting at the recommended distances. Some such as privet should be cut back as soon as they are planted to encourage bushy growth. Water well and mulch.

Hedges will need a spring feed like any other shrub and then mulched with organic matter. Clear out the bottom of the hedge in the autumn.

Trimming

The 'problem' with hedges is that they need a fair amount of attention to grow thicker and stronger. Like any other shrub, hedges need a spring feed and organic matter mulch and then there is the cutting to consider.

With large hedges it can be hard work for someone not in the first flush of youth, so it's best to give this due consideration when thinking about the type of hedge you want. 

Informal and faster growing varieties need two cuts a year, the first probably in June after any nesting birds have fledged. I always wait until the autumn to cut my slower growing laurel, by which time the hawthorn needs another trim. They then look perfect for the winter dormant season.

Shears are the traditional method of cutting hedges but I soon found that electric trimmers are the best, that's if you don't want the noise and fumes of petrol models. I do it by eye but you may want to use a length of string to obtain a straight edge. Remember that tall hedges should start wide at the bottom and then narrow to the top.

With hedges you need to plan plan carefully and choose wisely. Are you looking for privacy or security, evergreen or deciduous, thorns or flowers. Then consider the soil and situation and whether it can it be maintained easily. Good subsequent management will then ensure a garden feature that is both useful and attractive.

The amount of trimming can be an issue if you are not in the first flush of youth as it can be hard work. Give this due consideration when thinking about the type of hedge you want. Informal and slow growing hedging normally requires cutting only once a year to keep it in shape while formal hedges such as hawthorn need two, perhaps three trims but, like other deciduous hedges, should recover well if this isn't done. Conifers need regular pruning as they won't grow back.

Plenty of Choice

If you're planting a hedge, there's plenty of choice. Evergreens such as laurel or yew are best for all year around privacy, use thorny hawthorn and spiky holly for security. Beech has attractive golden foliage in the autumn but is deciduous and left unchecked will grow very high (approx. 40ft), while privet is semi-evergreen and reaches only 15ft. 

Informal hedging takes up more room and wouldn't be suitable for a small garden. Any tallish shrub, flowering or with attractive foliage, can be used such as a butterfly friendly viburnum or escallonia that both reach about 10ft in height, the latter has a mass of fragrant pink or crimson flowers from June to October. 

Mixing species in both formal and informal hedges can be particularly striking. Think about hedges formed from native species such as hawthorn, blackthorn, privet or holly and look around where you live to get an indication of what grows best in the prevailing soil conditions.