How to Plant a Beech Hedge | Advice from Ashridge Trees

posted this on 3 Nov 2016

Beech Hedging

These instructions are for those who prefer words. For pictures, please watch our formal hedge planting video.

Beech is the most popular deciduous, formal hedge grown in this country. It is best planted at 3 plants per metre, one every 33cms, in a single row to allow sufficient room for the roots to establish but equally to be close enough for a tightly knit hedge to grow quickly. If you need the hedge to be stock proof you would need to plant in a double row. This means having two rows of plants. The rows are 40 cms apart and the plants are at 33cms spacings within the row. However one row is "offset from the other by 16-17cms so that looked at the right way up any 5 plants would make a "W" if they were joined up. So for a double row you will need to allow 5 trees per metre.

A Beech hedge can last hundreds of years so it is important that you prepare the site thoroughly before planting. The single most important thing is that there is no competition for food or water from other flora (weeds, including grass). Your strategy for this can vary depending on the size of the plants you are using. If you are shopping, here is our selection of beech hedge plant sizes.

Young beech saplings of 40-60 or 60-80 cms tall can be slit planted (more later). This is quick, but it requires the weed cover to be either killed before planting with a systemic, non persisting weedkiller such as glyphosate or to be starved of light (and so killed) before, during and after planting. This is done using a weed control fabric such as Mypex.

Larger beech hedging plants - from 80cms upwards have roots that are too big for slit planting and will need to be planted in a trench (more later).

Whatever its size, Beech prefers a well drained soil - and hates sticky clay - so you may need to add grit to help with drainage, but if your ground just does not drain, then plant hornbeam in the same way instead.

Do not plant when it is freezing. If possible try to avoid planting on a very windy day as roots tend to dry out very quickly then. Also, whichever planting method you use, it is always easier with two or three people. As in MUCH easier than doing it alone.

Slit Planting.

This can be done direct into the soil, but for ease of maintenance we strongly recommend you plant through Mypex as this will stop weed competition while the plants are still small.

Lay the Mypex along the line of the intended hedge. The fabric is just over 100cms wide and you only need a 40+ cms width for a single row of plants (60-70cms for a double row). You can cut it to width and peg it down if you want, but the following is much easier.

Do not cut it to width just yet. Instead, standing on the mypex and using an ordinary garden spade simply drive the spade into the soil, through the Mypex, down for about 2-3". Mypex is very strong indeed and will not tear and you will find that it is firmly tucked into the slit made by the spade. Do this all along one edge and then back along the other trying to keep the fabric taut. More people standing on it, or two people working face to face with two spades make the job easier, quicker and more fun.

When the mypex is tucked in all round, you can trim off the excess with a sharp knife if you want. Then, using a garden line to keep the planting straight, cut slits across the mypex a little longer than your spade is wide. For a single row these should be every 33cms. In a double row they will still be 33cms in each row however there will be two rows 40 cms apart and the slits in one row will be offset from those in the other row so the two are staggered forcing you to plant in a zig-zag

Next, one person puts the spade through the first slit and drives the blade, vertically, to full depth. Push the spade handle forward, then pull it back, making a slot in the ground. Remove the spade. The second person takes a sapling out of the Rootgrow mixture (keep them in a bucket of water if you are not using rootgrow) and holds it just above the ground with the roots over and along the line of the slot. Then bring the sapling upright, thereby "sweeping" the roots down into the slot. Hold the plant at about the level it was growing before it was lifted and stamp the ground down around the sapling. When this is done, it should be very hard indeed to pull it out of the ground using just thumb and forefinger. The better the contact between earth and root, the better the plant will establish. Finish the row and water it very thoroughly. Water really well in dry spells all through the first summer.

This technique is designed to be used in unworked ground and in windy spots. It takes time to describe, but is very easy to do and is very successful. Its limitation is that it only works with smaller plants (graded at up to 60-80cms). Larger plants are at least a year older and have very much bigger root systems. They need trench planting.

Trench Planting.

Planting in a trench involves digging and is hard work. The trench should be 45-60 cm wide the whole way along the hedge length and a spade's depth. Remove any weeds (and their roots!), grass and large stones and other detritus from the soil that came out of the trench. loosen the bottom of the trench with a garden fork to help drainage. Improve the soil to give your plants a head start by adding - no more than - 25% by volume of well-rotted manure or good garden compost and mixing it in well with the existing soil. If you add too much the roots of your hedge will stay inside the trench instead of going off to look for food thereby anchoring the hedge against the strongest gale.

If you have planned ahead and are doing this in advance (gold star if you have!), put the soil back into the trench and allow it settle before planting. At this point, covering it with weed-proof fabric means you won't have to weed again before planting...

Come planting day either keep your plants roots protected from any wind by keeping them in the plastic bags in which they were sent. When you need them, take out one bundle at a time, put the plants into your bucket of rootgrow (or water if you are not using rootgrow) and take them out one at a time as you plant them.

If you were a "planner", use a garden line to keep your planting straight and dig a good sized hole every 33cms in your beautifully filled in trench.

If you are doing this all in one go fix a line along the centre line of your trench and then either mark it every 33cms or use a tape measure or marked cane. Take a sapling out of the Rootgrow mixture (or bucket of water) and hold it vertically in the trench while spreading out its roots so that as much root as possible is in contact with the soil. They should not curl back on themselves! If for some reason a root has been damaged cut it off with sharp secateurs and dispose of it elsewhere. Check that the height of the "tide mark" on the trunk (which shows the soil level where the sapling grew before) is the same height as the surrounding soil. Mound some soil under the roots until you reach the right height if the trench/hole is too deep. Planting too deeply is the commonest mistake made when planting trees. Bark is not designed to be submerged under soil and rots quite easily if you do so. If you must make a mistake, planting shallow is better than planting deep.

Backfill around the roots with the soil you removed from the trench. Firm the soil gently around and between the roots as you go to remove air pockets until the soil is at the level of the "tide mark". There is a bit of an art to this: you neither want to completely compact the soil (especially if you are on heavy soil) or damage the roots by stamping down too hard but equally if the roots are not securely planted in the soil the sapling will move around or be blown over, the roots will come free from the soil and the sapling will struggle or die. If you are uncertain, you can cheat by using 90cm bamboo canes as "stakes". Push one into the bottom of the trench next to each plant and tie them together with ordinary garden string (which rots in a few months). Then just pull the canes out the following autumn.

Move on 33cm and repeat the process until all are planted. Return along the row treading down the soil so that the roots are well ensconced and check each plant is vertical.

Water well especially if it is dry. Mulch around the plants and up to 45 cm away from the hedge with well rotted farm manure/compost. Do not let too much touch the trunk because this can rot the bark.

Trim off the leaf bud at the end of every stem - that means the top and sides too. Boring, but it really makes a difference to the bushiness of the hedge. Do this as soon as they are planted. Otherwise do not prune your beech at all until the following spring.

Keep watering your new hedge weekly (unless it was very wet) for its first summer. You could consider using a leaky pipe along the length of the hedge to save you hours of standing there with a hose.

Although it is quite satisfying surveying one's handiwork...

Aftercare

The most important thing is to make sure your new plants establish and grow away well. Trimming and shaping happens later. If you beech hedge was well planted it will only need two things in its early years.

The first is to be kept free of weeds (including grass). Keep bare earth, or mulch or mypex (covered with bark or gravel if you don't like its look) around your hedge. Nothing green and growing.

The second is to have enough water in its first year. We cannot overstate this. In our experience, approaching 100% of the beech failures we replace under guarantee died because they were not watered when the weather was dry.

Beech is very shallow rooted in the first couple of years after planting. In year 1 in particular, if there is a dry week PLEASE WATER YOUR HEDGE. Really well. If you use Mypex, you will need less water. If you mulch, you will need less water. But if it is dry, a point comes when water you must. Lecture over.

We hope these instructions have been useful, but if beech is not for you, don't forget there is wide variety of possibilities so please have a look at the rest of our range of hedging

Categories: Hedge Plant Advice
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