How to Plant a Hedge

To border my medicinal herb micro-farm I am planting a circa 40m long hawthorn (crataegus) hedge using 1-year-old (‘whips’) bare roots. As this is a substantial length of native hedge, I am using the quick’n’easy ‘slit’ technique to plant the ‘whips’, firming in with ones heel.

A quick guide to planting:

Before your plants arrive:
  • If you think that you will not be able to plant your hedge within a few days of receipt, prepare an area of ground, by digging out a shallow trench to about a spade’s depth, so that you can ‘heel in’ bare root plants as soon as possible. A vegetable patch is ideal for this purpose.
  • If the weather at the time is cold or frosty, or if the ground is waterlogged or snow-covered, cover the prepared area with clear or black polythene to warm up the soil before your plants arrive.
  • If possible prepare the final area to be planted in advance. Preparation will depend on soil type, the location, conditions of planting and varieties to be planted. Where practical, it is best to dig out a trench about 2-foot wide and 1 spade’s depth, and then fork over the base of the trench to break up any compacted soil. Place a layer of well-rotted manure or compost in the base of the trench and fork this over to incorporate it with the soil. Further manure or compost and sterilised bone meal can be added and mixed with the remaining soil when back filling around the plants. For substantial lengths of native hedge etc, where digging a trench is not practical, spray off the strip to be planted with a glyphosate based weedkiller (i.e. Roundup) a few weeks prior to planting; allow the weeds/grass to die back, then lightly fork over the ground to loosen the soil. The plants can be planted using a spade to make a slit into which the roots are pushed, then firm in with your heel.
  • If using Landscape Fabric or mulch material, back fill the planting trench so that the soil is a few inches above the surrounding level to allow for the soil to settle, and lay the material on top of the soil along the length of the trench, pegging it down with staples every 1-2 metres or bury the edges. Then cut crossed slits approx 6” long at the spacing required. To plant, use a trowel/small spade through the holes, place the plant in the hole and back fill, firming the soil around the roots.
When your plants arrive
  • Unpack and inspect your plants immediately. All plants will deteriorate if left in their packaging for too long.
  • Bare-root plants can be kept for a few days in a shed or garage out of wind and sun, with their outer packaging removed, but roots still wrapped and kept damp.
  • If you are not able to plant for more than a few days, heel in bare-rooted plants in a pre-prepared trench immediately after soaking. Make sure that all roots are well covered with soil.
  • Water the plants in even if the soil is damp, as this will help the soil settle around the roots.
  • Keep the roots damp until you are ready to plant.
  • Pot grown plants can be set aside in a sheltered area until required and should be
     watered regularly.
  • Do not attempt to plant in their final position if the ground is frozen or waterlogged.
  • If the plants have been heeled in prior to planting, gently loosen the soil around the roots with a fork. Pull the plants out of the soil taking care to minimise root damage.
  • Soak the roots, and keep them in a plastic sack until planting, only getting out a few at a time as required. Never leave bare roots exposed to sun or drying winds.
  • If using rootgrowTM, dip the roots in the gel solution now, just prior to planting.
  • Set the plants out in their planting position at their recommended spacings. Back fill the trench with soil and incorporated organic matter, making sure that all the roots are well covered.
  • For substantial lengths of native hedge etc, ‘slit’ plant and firm in with your heel.
  • Firm the soil around the roots and water in well.

  • Care in the first few years after planting is essential for your hedge to survive and thrive. By following these tips you can be assured of vigorous, healthy growth:
  • Watering: Your hedge will require regular watering for at least the first three years after planting. Through the first Winter, check regularly that the soil along the hedge has not become dry, if necessary water at a rate of 2-4 litres per plant. From Spring water once or twice weekly at a rate of 2-4 litres per plant. In hot dry weather, water plants at least every 2 days at a rate of 4 litres + per plant, preferably in the evening. We would strongly recommend the use of porous soaker hose for this purpose. Plants should not need watering in subsequent Autumn/Winters unless conditions are very dry. Keep watering through Spring and Summer for the second and third years as before. In subsequent years watering should only be necessary in hot dry spells.
  • Feeding: Because hedge plants are grown in close proximity to one another they are very demanding for nutrients. Organic matter or a balanced slow release granular fertiliser should be applied to soil along the hedge in Spring and again in early Summer. Liquid fertilisers can be applied at any time through the growing season to promote healthy growth. Do not feed with high nitrogen fertilisers after the end of July, as this encourages soft lush growth, which can be susceptible to frost damage.
  • Weeding: The area along the hedge line and at least 6” outside the ultimate width of the hedge should be kept weed free to minimise competition for water and nutrients. Some hand weeding will always be necessary between plants. The easiest way of controlling weeds is by using mulch materials or landscape fabric. If using chemical controls, always check the manufacturer’s recommendations before use. The majority of suitable chemical herbicides should only be used when the plants are dormant between November and March. Spiral or similar guards should be used to protect young hedge plants from direct contact with spray.
  • Clipping: For hedging most deciduous plants should be pruned by up to a third in the first year of planting. Some benefit from harder pruning, notably: Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Myrobolan Plum and Privet. Although this may seem drastic it will encourage the plant to produce side and basal shoots, and so create a bushier hedge. In general conifers and evergreens should only be clipped along their sides until they have reached the desired height and then should be trimmed to 10% below the height required, to allow for re-growth. Clipping should always be carried out at least once a year, usually in mid-late Summer or late winter, to keep a hedge in shape.
  • Protecting: If rabbits or hares are known to be a problem in your area you will need to protect young plants with guards or wire mesh fencing. These will also give some protection from deer damage. Spiral guards should be removed after 3-5 growing seasons to allow lower branches to develop – after this time plants will be less susceptible to severe damage. In areas of serious infestation, a wire mesh fence is the only answer. The bottom 6-12” of the wire should be buried below soil level to prevent rabbits burrowing underneath. Above ground, secure the mesh to stout stakes at regular intervals. All our plants are grown outside and are fully hardy, however in exposed areas some young hedge plants may need protection from cold and strong winds. Holly, Laurel, Lonicera, Lavender, Rosemary, and Evergreen Oak are particularly at risk from harsh Winter and early Spring weather. Protection for these and other species can be provided by erecting windbreak netting secured to stakes along the windward side of the hedge. In particularly harsh spells ‘at risk’ plants should be covered with fleece material.

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