How to Plant a Hedge - General Notes
Planting younger country hedge plants (up to 80cms tall)
If you have broadband, you can easily watch the Ashridge Trees film on How to plant a Country Hedge
Ready the Ground
Remove competition for your hedging. In late summer apply a systemic weedkiller (if you use them) before planting. If not cut the weeds short and use our polypropylene weed control fabric instead. For short lengths of hedge you can shave the vegetation off the ground with a spade, but you will need to keep an eye open to make sure persistent weeds do not come back in strength.
Check your plants
Always make sure you have received the hedging you ordered and that you are satisfied with its quality. Bare rooted hedge plants should have a good ratio of root to shoot, but remember that hedging with bushy roots is harder to plant in quantity so we try to grow our younger hedge plants (up to 80 cms)with slim roots. Never use weak, damaged or diseased hedging plants and always handle hedging material with care. Do not clip roots unless it is absolutely essential. If you are going to plant within 7 days of receipt there is no need to heel hedging plants in just keep them in a cool place in their bags. If you are storing bare root hedge plants for over a week, heel them into a trench at a 45 degree angle. Cover the roots with soft soil and firm lightly. Hedging will keep for 8 weeks like this. Whatever you do, whilst keeping the roots damp until they are planted is important, please DO NOT put bare-rooted hedge plants in a bucket of water and leave them there; 30 seconds will do them a power of good but 48 hours will kill them stone dead.
Avoid damage to your hedge plants before planting
Always keep hedging in bags when moving it to prevent roots drying out. Don't let hedge plants overheat, so leave them in bags in the shade and out of the wind (bag opening away from the direction of the wind) until the last minute when planting. Never stack bags of hedging material.
When to plant hedging
Generally the hedge planting season starts in November and ends in March except in Scotland when it can go on for another four weeks. Good planting days are overcast and still (hedging loves a gentle drizzle!). Avoid sun and wind as these dry the roots and never plant hedging when the ground is frozen or covered with snow. If it is, the roots of your hedging will be frozen also. Freezing does not hurt them, but being moved when frozen breaks iced roots and your hedging will die. Just leave it where it is until the ground thaws. For information about this read our instructions on planting in cold weather
Hedge plant spacing
Follow the rules - if you are getting a grant for your hedging, the approval document will give you the spacing to use. Otherwise for Hawthorn hedges and for mixed hedging such as our Conservation Hedge Mix we recommend 5 hedge plants per metre if you are planting two rows and 3 plants per metre for one. You can use the same spacing for our Stock Friendly mix which is ideal for horses, cattle and sheep. The spacing between hedging rows should not be greater than 45cm if the hedge is to be stock-proof or laid. For a wildlife hedge, such as our All Seasons hedging which is the most colourful and season proof of our hedge packs or the Edible hedging pack (if you get there before the squirrels) you can leave as much as 100cm between rows, but remember the mature hedge will then be 9-10 (3m) wide.
How to plant hedging
Have a bucket full of water. Take a bundle of plants out of a bag, cut the string or cable ties that hold them together and put the plants into the bucket (root end down). Slit planting is the best way to plant native hedging of 60/80 cms or less. Push your spade into the soil to the depth of the roots. Rock backwards and forwards to widen the slit. Take a plant from the bucket, sweep the roots into the hole from one side without squashing them. For a bigger slit, cut at right angles to the first slit to make a T or L shaped notch. Always firm hedging in well. Don't damage the bark, but be really firm. Using your thumb and forefinger, it should be very hard to pull newly planted hedging out. It is really important to be sure that root collars finish at or slightly above soil level (planting too deep kills plants). With large numbers of plants, we always recommend planting hedging in teams of three. One to make the slit, one to put the hedging material into it, and the third to firm the hedge plant in. An amateur planting team ought to be able to plant 500 hedge plants a day which equates to 100 metres of hedging or more.
Pit or trench plant bare root hedging that has larger roots generally on plants over 100cm tall - such as the larger Hawthorn. Dig a hole big enough for the roots and centre the plant in the hole with the root collar just below ground level. Replace earth (break up the clods and take out large stones). Gently tug the plant so the soil settles round the roots. Firm hedge plants in so the root collar ends up at soil level. The cardinal (and usually fatal) sin when planting hedging is to plant too deeply and too loosely. It is better to leave a few roots out of the ground than to have the root collars of your hedging 2cm below soil level where they will rot and the hedge will die.
Weeds kill hedging. They probably kill more hedge plants than rabbits and disease combined.
Organic mulches for hedging
These mulches include almost any non-toxic biodegradable material. Favourite hedge mulches include grass clippings, compost, (NOT bark chippings please), cardboard, carpet felt etc. The mulch should be 3' (1m approx.) wide. Mulch hedging immediately after planting (unless you are planting your hedge through sheet material). Green mulches should be 4 (10cm) deep and work better if you weedkill or scalp existing vegetation first.
You can also use weed control fabric as a hedging mulch. It is not organic but lasts several years and smothers almost all weeds. Pin down the end of the roll. Work with easy lengths. Bury the sides (windward edge first) by putting your spade 3-4" (75-100mm) in from the side of the fabric and pushing it down, forcing the mulch into the soil. If the ground is so hard that the fabric breaks, cut a slit with the spade first and push the mulch into that. Make slits across the fabric with a sharp knife at the appropriate spacings and plant the hedging through the mulch.
Hedge plant protection
To protect your hedge against rabbits and voles you will need to use spirals (we recommend perforated spirals as they allow air to move and reduce mildew which can affect young hedging) and bamboo canes (remember that every spiral needs a cane to support it otherwise it will damage young hedging). Where you want to create a microclimate (for small trees that you want to grow above the hedge), we suggest using a tree guard and stake. Put up guards after planting hold spirals up with a cane and guards with a stake. Drive stakes in before you plant to avoid damaging the roots and then plant as usual and put the guard over the tree and attach it to the stake. The bottoms of guards and spirals should be pushed in to the soil up to 2 (5cm). The top of the shelter is flared to prevent chafing. The top of a spiral is where the overlap on the outside points up, not down.
Trees in the hedge are planted in the same way as any other hedging plant. If you are planting into existing hedging, cut a hole in the hedge for the new tree. Remove as many hedge plant roots as you can from the ground where you are planting the tree and improve the soil a little as it will be exhausted. Pit plant the tree (see above) and water well in the spring following planting to ensure it gets off to a good start. The tree will establish much faster if you use a shelter and mulch.
Weed control with new hedging is crucial If you use organic mulch, renew as needed. Maintain sheet mulches. If you use weedkillers instead of mulches then apply a systemic herbicide after planting and in early spring before the hedge leaves break. Always follow the instructions.
Remember that bare root hedging plants are pretty tough, but lifting, handling and planting are a shock no matter how carefully done. A little extra care in the first weeks after the leaves break in spring will be repaid many times over. And water only if it is dry. Check your plants every so often and remove and replace any that have died.
The key to dense, bushy hedging lies in the way the hedge plants are treated in the first year after planting. Cut mixed hedging back to 6-8 (15-20cm) immediately after planting - you can do this on the day they are planted. This makes each plant create 3-4 side shoots -when it starts to grow in Spring - which are the beginning of a bushy hedge. Reduce those new shoots by 50% in the autumn/winter following planting. This is the last savage cut and continues the process of thickening your hedge. You can trim the side branches of your hedging at any time as long as it is not freezing.
Laying is used to regenerate old hedges. Well-planted hedging will become stock-proof in its own right in about 5 years and if trimmed every 2 years, it may be 50 years before it needs laying. If you WANT to lay your hedge, you can do so from the 4th or 5th year onwards.
We hope your hedge flourishes and enriches your lives and landscape.