Copper Beech – a hedge for all seasons

Copper beech is one of the most elegant hedges available to the British gardener. It has all the qualities of green beech hedging; it grows almost anywhere where there are reasonable light levels and where the ground is not waterlogged.

Beech is a true British native and as such it is happy growing across the majority of the conditions found in the British Isles. I used to wonder how leaves that are not green can photosynthesise. The answer is simply that they are green as well as purple at the same time, and human eyesight cannot distinguish the different colours. So copper beech leaves, even when they are pink or purple, work as well as green beech leaves.

Copper beech’s foliage starts life in different colours, from quite green to almost pink, but always translucent and a thing of wonder in May with the early morning or late evening sun behind.
What differentiates copper beech from green beech is the near-continuous change of foliage colour that takes place through the year. The early pinks & greens of late spring darken to a true copper in summer, then as autumn approaches it carries on through increasingly deep shades of purple to the darkest green before the foliage dies.
At this point, the word ‘marcescence’ jumps in to label the beech family’s characteristic of retaining dead foliage through winter, adding a cheerful note of soft, crisp golden-brown leaves from late October to the beginning of April.

Unlike green beech, it is this range of colour that copper beech displays for nearly ten or eleven months out of twelve makes it one of the most consistently remarkable sights you can find in any garden throughout the year. From formal to informal and short to tall, there is no other hedge plant like it!

In other respects like growth rate, habit, soil preferences, disease resistance and so on, the two colours of Fagus sylvatica are identical.

Beech clips beautifully. As a young plant, beech grows surprisingly quickly, but as each branch is clipped, smaller branches sprout from the 3 or 4 buds beneath the cut. Every time the hedge is cut, this process repeats and an enormous network of branches and sub-branches is built up.

This structure requires nourishment and support, so as it gets larger the hedge devotes an increasing proportion of its energy to maintenance, and not growth, i.e. it slows with age.
This deceleration makes for a perfect hedge plant: it gets to your required size relatively quickly and thereafter grows relatively slowly. You can get away with clipping a mature beech hedge once a year, and you will keep it looking very neat indeed with 2 clips. That puts beech in pretty much the same hedge maintenance category as yew and box.

Beech is forgiving of mistakes. Unlike almost all evergreen hedge plants (apart from Yew and Thuja ‘Brabant’), beech regrows from old wood. This means that if you cut deep and expose the inside of the hedge, new shoots will appear to repair the hole before long.

Restoring an old beech hedge

Over a period of 3 years, you make 3 brutal prunings.

  1. In the winter of the first year, cut one of the vertical faces of the hedge almost back to the trunks at the centre of the hedge, leaving short stubs of the main lateral branches: most of the regrowth will come from these stubs, so don’t cut them flush with the trunk. New growth will burst by May.
  2. The following winter, remove the top of the hedge, cutting down to about 9 inches below your desired finished height. Again, it will look sad until May!
  3. In the winter of the third year, remove the other vertical face of the hedge in the same way you did the first.

By spreading such radical pruning over 3 years, the shock is not severe and plants recover beautifully. The biggest beech hedge reduction I have seen was from 4m tall by 3m wide down to about 1.7 metres tall by 90cm wide, and it looked good by the end of May or early June every year throughout.

Copper beech new Spring leaves can start off quite green!

By Ashridge Support

Ashridge Nurseries has been in the business of delivering plants since 1949.


  1. Dave Nicholson says:

    Very interesting article – Thanks. Dave

  2. Jennifer Giddings says:

    Hi Julian
    I planted a bare-rooted copper beach hedge last October. All the specimens are doing very well. How do I look after this new hedge?

    1. Ashridge Nurseries says:

      Hi Jennifer,
      From the winter after planting onwards, your young hedge should be trimmed very lightly once a year, until it is mature.
      When it is fully grown, you should clip Copper Beech hedging in late summer to make it hold its autumn leaves right through the winter.
      The ideal day for a trim is overcast with rain on the way; full sun on the freshly cut leaves can cause the edges to brown and plants always like to have a drink after a trim.

      Copper Beech is a very tough hedge plant that shouldn’t need special attention once it has established. If you didn’t use a mulch fabric, it is beneficial to mulch around the base of the hedge each year with well rotted manure or compost.
      Hope this helps.

  3. Virginia Thornton says:

    Hi Julian, I’ve enjoyed your blog on this magnificent specimen. I write you from the US as I am interested in replacing a copper beech we lost to storms. Our “tree” had a trunk that was 5 FEET in diameter. The beech was easily 80-90 feet tall. We live on a farm that was historically traced to Jubal Early’s brother, a friend of Thomas Jefferson. It appears that these copper beech were brought over from the UK and planted as a sign of wealth and stature. We were heartbroken when this giant came down in a harsh storm. We’ve had an arborist tend to it in previous years. Now all that remains is a great stump, which I will not rid of until I find another tree!! I would appreciate a reference in the US where I could find another spectacular tree. Sincerely, Virginia Thornton

    1. Julian says:

      Lovely to hear we are so widely read – thank you very much. A large tree coming down is always a sad thing – we lost a huge beech in our garden three years ago and it still looks as if it has its front teeth missing…

      I am afraid I cannot give you a US reference for large trees – it is a specialised marketplace and we have no knowledge of American growers and sellers. I am sorry.

      What I would say however is that you would be well advised to deal with the stump as soon as possible. Grind it out or burn it out, but do not leave it as it is. Dead tree stumps act as a magnet for honey fungus (lating: armillaria). Once you have it, there is no real way to eradicate it and it can lay waste to the most beautiful trees and plants in a terrifyingly short space of time. So do not be sentimental – deal with the stump…


  4. Cathriona says:

    Hi, I planted a new copper beech hedge this February. Height of each plant ranged from 2 to 3 ft.. the leaves are out on half of the hedge planted but are completely green with no sign of any red/purple coming through. Is this normal?
    Thanks, Cathriona
    South East ireland….

    1. Ashridge Support says:

      Thanks for your enquiry about your copper beech hedging. I cannot find your email address on our system and as we do not deliver to Eire I am assuming you bought these elsewhere. Copper beech foliage can be variable when the leaves are very young but they will be shades of pink/light copper – not green. I am afraid it sounds as if someone sold you a mixed batch. Given how much more expensive copper beech is than green we would recommend you talk to your supplier and ask for replacements to be delivered in the autumn (assuming they were bare-rooted) as it is too late to plant now.

      Hope this helps

  5. Teresa clay says:

    Twelve months old copper beach, tips seem to have a fungus on them new leaves curling and brown. Many thanks

    1. Ashridge Support says:

      I am afraid I cannot find your details on our system so I am guessing you did not buy your copper beech hedging from us. Without pictures, it is very hard to offer an opinion, but my first guess would be that it sounds like a lack of water. Beech is shallow-rooted and suffers in dry summers like this until it is more established than yours.

      Hope this helps

  6. Susan sands says:

    I have a great deal of ivy growing on my copper beech hedge..if I prune it will the beech it has grown over survive…also can you give me any tips on how to prune it !
    Many thanks

    1. Ashridge Support says:

      The ivy will kill the beech if you do not remove it. You might also want to read our article on pruning an established beech hedge at

  7. Simon James says:

    I have a Beech Hedge, the plants are about a metre apart, which has been allowed to grow wild – it is now nearly 4M High and becoming a nuisance can I cut it back/down and if so by how much? I would like it to be no more than approx 2.5M high. Any advice welcome. Incidentally I now live in Norfolk but used to visit Ashridge regularly as I lived in Hemel Hempstead for 25 years until 2014.

    1. Ashridge Nurseries says:

      Hello Simon,
      Yes you can certainly hard prune your beech, it responds well. For best results, do it over a couple of years to encourage regrowth that will bush out as you cut off the old tops. But if you want to cut off 1.5m in one go, do it in winter, it’ll be fine, might look a bit sparse for the first year.

      A metre apart is not close, let’s say, so to fill in gaps you can keep reducing the height of your beech over another year or two, even lower than your target height, to encourage lateral regrowth from the base that will mesh with its neighbours as the hedge bushes back up to the desired size.

      Your old haunt is a different Ashridge, we are over in Somerset, next to Castle Cary.

      1. Simon James says:

        Thanks for your very helpful advise, sorry about the wrong location!

        1. Ashridge Nurseries says:

          That’s OK Simon, it was a wild 25 years for all of us, I am also pretty fuzzy about the details …

  8. Alison says:

    Wondering if you could offer any advice on leaf blotching that has occurred on a well established mature tree? There are small pale roundish marks with dark reddish black bleeding colour from the centre to the leaf margins.
    Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated thank you,

    1. Ashridge Nurseries says:

      Hello Alison,

      It sounds like a leaf mining insect, do any of these look like yours?

      If not, does it look like this? That is a disease that has been recorded in Europe but to my knowledge not in the UK…yet.

      1. Alison says:

        Hello again and thank you for such a swift response. I’m not sure it’s a miner, the blotches are slightly different to that of the Petrakia. I can’t work out how to upload a photo in the comment so I will email a couple of photos to you and if you have the time to take a look, that’d be wonderful. With thanks, Alison

  9. Shuva Dey says:


    I purchased six copper beech hedges from you in December last year. They are just coming in to bud very very slowly. I notice the leaves coming through are green in colour on of them. Could this be case of been sent a common beech? I will see what the other colours are that are coming through.


    1. Ashridge Nurseries says:

      Hi Shuva,

      Apologies for the slow reply.

      The new spring leaves are mostly green-ish on copper/purple beech, but there should be visible signs of the copper colour once the leaves are fully unfurled, which will quickly spread over the whole leaf. By now (second week of May) you should be seeing the copper colour all over the oldest leaves, I added a pic to the end of the blog to show you ours.
      How are yours looking now?

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