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How to Plant a Country Hedge (Video)

Planting a Native Country Hedge

This film applies to all the native country hedge plants.
It does not apply to formal hedging, like Beech or Yew, which are planted as shown in our video here
The plants in this video are from our Conservation Hedge mix, the government grant approved hedgerow for biodiversity. They thrive in poor soils and urban conditions.

If you prefer reading, scroll down the page for written instructions.

Country hedging is always delivered & planted bareroot in the winter (Nov-March). All our Hedging is Guaranteed for one Year.

TRANSCRIPT

Hello and welcome to Ashridge Trees (Nurseries). This film shows you how to plant a mixed country hedge or a single species hedge such as Hawthorn or Blackthorn. Country hedge plants are always bare rooted, so the planting season is from November through to March (approximately) when they're dormant.

Before you start, you will need a sprayer or watering can, if you're going to use weed killer, a spade, sharp knife, canes and spirals if you have rabbits, polypropylene weed control fabric, string, a bucket, thorn proof gloves, a one-meter-long piece of wood, and on planting day, you will need your plants.

Apply a non-residual weed killer, anyone containing glyphosate is fine, following the manufacturer's instructions, a minimum of four weeks before you intend to plant.

If the soil is soft enough for you to push a spade in full depth, then you do not need to dig the ground at all. If it is harder than that, then dig over short strips and rotovate long ones. Remove large roots and big stones.

We recommend the use of mulch fabric because it prevents weed growth, retains moisture and so promotes a healthier hedge. The best way of securing the matting is to tuck the edges in with a spade.

You'll need to cut slips in the fabric a little wider than your spade, with a sharp knife.

Country hedges are best planted in two rows with five plants per metre of hedge. Because the rows will be staggered, this means you'll need to cut three slits per metre in each row, marking out a piece of wood with 33cm spacings will help you to do this. Use the lines on the fabric to help you plant in a straight line.

If you're not using fabric, you'll need to use two sticks and a piece of string.

Take a selection of plants out of the wrapping and put the roots in the bucket of water and cut the strings on the bundles.

Push your spade to full depth through the first slit in the fabric. Push the handle of the spade forward to make a slot in the soil behind. Find the roots collar on the first plant. This is the point above the roots where it grew in the soil before it was lifted. Put the roots of the plant into the slot behind the spade, checking the plant is not too deep, and then holding the plant in place, remove the spade.

It's important that the root collar ends up at slightly above ground level. If you plant too deep, the stem can rot. If you're using canes and spirals for rabbit protection, push a cane into the slot as close to the stem of the plant as possible. Using the heel of your boot, firmly close the slot around the roots of the plant.

Hedge plants establish more quickly if there is a firm contact between roots and the soil. If you can pull out the plant held in between your thumb and forefinger, you've probably not been firm enough.

Now you have to cut back your hedge. Be brave. All thorn-based hedge plants should be cut down by half after planting, because this makes them branch low down, helping to create a bushy hedge. These instructions for cutting back do not apply to formal hedges, such Beech, Hornbeam, Box or Yew.

Spirals for rabbit protection come in nests of five. Pull a spiral from the inside of the nest and then wind it around a plant and cane, starting at the bottom and working upwards.

When you finish this planting, you will find that some of your beautifully tucked in mulch fabric will have come loose. Tuck it back in with your spade.

You've just planted your first country hedge. Well done.

Written Instructions

Ready the Ground

Remove all weeds and grass. Between July and September, apply a systemic weedkiller (if you use chemicals). This will give the weeds time to die before planting. If you do not want to spray, 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 like nettles and ground elder do not come back in strength. 

Check your plants

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 them in: keep them in a cool place in their bags. If you are storing bare root 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.

Avoid damage before planting

Always keep hedging in bags when moving it to prevent its 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 the bags.

Whatever you do, keep the roots damp until they are planted, but do not put them in a bucket of water and leave them there. A 30 seconds dunking will do them a power of good, but 48 hours will kill them stone dead. They are not cut flowers!

When to plant hedging

Generally, the planting season starts when plants become dormant in November and ends in March, but in the far North of England and Scotland it can go on for about 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.

Hedge plant spacing

If you are getting a grant for your hedging, the approval document will give you the spacing to use. Otherwise, for Hawthorn and mixed hedging such as our Conservation Hedge Mix or Stock Friendly Mix, we recommend 5 hedge plants per metre if you are planting two (staggered) rows, and 3 plants per metre for one row. The spacing between 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 Mix, which is the most colourful year round, or the Edible hedging mix (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 in 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 really 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 around 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. It is better to over-compact the ground than to leave it soft so the plant flops about in the wind.

You can read more about and buy most of the items you need here:

Unlike formal garden hedges, mature country style hedges are usually trimmed every other year.
This makes them less tidy, more natural looking, much better for wildlife, and generally more colourful, with all sorts of flowers, fruit and autumn colour going on.

  • If you are planting a big native hedge out in the country, the best option is to buy the conservation hedge mix in bundles of 50 plants; each pack will do 16 metres of single row hedge or 10 metres of double row. You can also buy cheaper economy packs of 250 smaller plants.
  • If you are planting a country style hedge along your garden, you might want to make your own mix from the list below and throw in some extra plants for even more colour.

Classic Country Hedge Plants

The list below is not exhaustive, but these country hedging plants & shrubs are by far the most popular. Between them they grow almost anywhere, are excellent for wildlife, and will thrive even with the roughest trimming techniques. 

Blackthorn / Sloe Berries are used in Sloe Gin. Flowers in very early spring, before any leaves appear. Not suitable for chalk.

Crab Apple Fruit can be used in crabapple jelly. Lovely pink-white blossom.

Guelder Rose Not actually a rose. Round bunches of white flowers that turn into bright red berries. Great autumn colour. Fine for chalk & heavy clay, not for acidic soils.

Hawthorn / Quickthorn The all-time best country hedge plant. A typical mixed native hedge is 50% hawthorn, planted in every other space. Any soil except waterlogged; wet, heavy clay is fine.

Hazel Naturally bushy from the base. Very good for supporting bees. Any moist soil. Fine for very windy sites but not the coast.

King Edward VII Flowering Currant Makes lovely showers of pink flowers, even in shady spots.

Maple, Field Warm autumn colour. Any well drained soil.

Pear, Wild Lovely dense plant. Small fruit can be used for hedgerow jam. Any soil, pollution & drought tolerant.

Privet, Wild Not evergreen like the privet you see in city hedges, but otherwise very similar.

Rose, Dog Dog rose is the cheapest and the best, but for a splash more colour you can throw in a few of the other wild roses.

Spindleberry Bursts of colour with pink & orange fruit and pink autumn leaves.

Wayfaring Tree A viburnum with great autumn colour. Grows well on chalk.

If you maintain them, it's fine to sprinkle some wild blackberry brambles in your hedge. Every other year, reach into the base of the hedge and cut all the old stems at ground level to stop it taking over. If your hedge will only receive a basic trim and no further attention, then it's better not to add them: chances are, they will find their way into your hedge anyway by other means. 

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Thank you, The Ashridge Nurseries Team.

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