Planting a new mixed native species hedge
The distant hedges of Laindon (Basildon) which still inform the designs I have on my own garden.
A feature of the newtown where I grew up that gave me a real feeling of connection with the countryside, were the remnants of hedges, some centuries old, which stood as reminders of the area's natural and agricultural heritage.
When I was young, these hedges sported huge elm trees, sadly now all gone (although their smaller 'progeny' still survive), but also many other trees, shrubs and flowers which together took an unshakable hold on my affections.
Field maple (Acer campestre), oak (Quercus robur), hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), red campion (Silene dioica), greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea) and many others: in these plants and the animals found amongst them, my young senses discovered a dazzling variety of lifein these plants and the animals found amongst them, my young senses discovered a dazzling variety of life which I could not even imagine being exceeded by a rainforest!
The affection and respect in which I hold hedgerows has never waned and recently it has been my joy and privilege to attempt to bring some of their magic into my own garden. You don't need a huge garden to have a small hedge! The hedgerow I describe planting in this article is around 5 metres long.
Planting a hedgerow is one of those garden projects which is peculiarly satisfying because despite making very significant landscape changes and benefiting wildlife enormously, you do not have to spend much moneydespite making very significant landscape changes and benefiting wildlife enormously, you do not have to spend much money. Native hedging plants are amazing value - all of those I used here were under £1 each and the hawthorn (the cheapest and most plentiful) were only 39p each! In total I spent around £25 on 30 plants and carriage for my 5 metre stretch.
For maximum benefit to wildlife, you should use native species where possibleFor maximum benefit to wildlife, you should use native species where possible (see our feature on the principles of designing gardens for wildlife). That's not to say that you shouldn't include some non-native plants that appeal to you: variety is important and there is always room in a garden for your own favourites. To choose native species which will be of most benefit to your own local wildlife and 'feel right' in your locality, a walk around the local lanes and byways will give you plenty of inspirationa walk around the local lanes and byways will give you plenty of inspiration.
If you want to attract particular animals, do your research - for example including one or two buckthorn (Rhamnus catharticus) (also known as purging buckthorn) or alder buckthorn (Frangula alnus) which are foodplants for the caterpillars of brimstone butterflies (Gonepteryx rhamni), will increase your chances of seeing this species in your garden. But to maximise their chances of attracting egg laying females, these should be planted in a sunny but sheltered position. In addition, buckthorn does better on base soils while alder buckthorn is to be preferred on those which are more acidic.
Planting and caring for a new hedge
I ordered my plants over the internet from a supplier called Buckingham Nurseries. You may prefer to use a local supplier, especially if it's important to you that plants are of local provenance. It is also worth considering growing your own from seed or cuttings you have collected if you have the patience and the expertise. My bare rooted seedlings were all around two to three foot long.
Bare rooted trees and shrubs can only be lifted and transplanted in the dormant season which is the period between November and MarchBare rooted trees and shrubs can only be lifted and transplanted in the dormant season which is the period between November and March. Although I ordered my plants in November, the supplier had trouble sourcing the blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) and I didn't receive the order until February. The weather was too wet to plant them immediately, so I decided to 'heel' them in until conditions improvedThe weather was too wet to plant them immediately, so I decided to 'heel' them in until conditions improved. This simply involved opening a short trench in the ground,
I soaked the roots for an hour in my pond which helps them during the transplantation process
inserting the saplings (without worrying about spacing them out) and firming the soil around their bases. Before I did this, I soaked the roots for an hour in my pond which helps them during the transplantation process. If the soil is too frozen to heel the plants in, keep the roots wrapped in moist straw or paper in a garage or shed (unheated).
A week later, conditions had improved and I was able to plant the five blackthorn, 15 hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), two hazel (Corylus avellana), three field maple (Acer campestre) and five guelder rose (Viburnum opulus). I planted these 30 plants over a five metre stretch at a spacing of about 15cm (6 inches). I opened a hole for each plant by inserting a spade and rocking until there was a slit trench big enough to accommodate the rootsI opened a hole for each plant by inserting a spade and rocking until there was a slit trench big enough to accommodate the roots. The roots were then let into the trench, spread as naturally as possible and the soil firmed back around them. Damaged roots should be trimmed off before planting. Some people advocate trimming long roots back whether they are damaged or not - while the plants are dormant, it does not harm them.
Angling your plants at around 45 degrees as you plant them will help you to establish a hedge which is not too thin at the bottom. (It looks and works better if they all go in the same direction.) Hard pruning by about a third to a half of their length immediately after planting also encourages the hedge to thicken at the bottomHard pruning by about a third to a half of their length immediately after planting also encourages the hedge to thicken at the bottom. It may be heart breaking to cut them back so much, but believe me, they will grow away quickly enough over their first season and do better for it. If you can bring yourself to do it, a second hard pruning during the following winter, once their roots systems have established is also good. I recently did this for a similar mixed hedge which I planted last winter.
The hedge which I planted last winter suffered quite badly from mildew during the summer because I did not water it enough. The combination of the hot dry summer and the dense planting put the plants under a lot of stress, so don't forget to water them well over the early years. You should start by giving them a good dousing as soon as you've planted themdon't forget to water them well over the early years. You should start by giving them a good dousing as soon as you've planted them.
It's simple, it's cheap and it doesn't take too much effort. It's dramatic, it's beautiful and the wildlife will absolutely love it. There can hardly be a wildlife gardening project more satisfying than establishing your own hedge.
|First published February 2004.|
Copyright Richard Burkmar 2004. Permission is hereby granted for anyone to use this article for non-commercial purposes which are of benefit to the natural environment as long the original author is credited. School pupils, students, teachers and educators are invited to use the article freely. Use for commercial purposes is prohibited unless permission is obtained from the copyright holder.|
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