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Garden Guru: Hedging Your Bets

If you’ve been meaning to plant a hedge in your garden this is a good moment to get going – but what are you going to choose? Decide on what kind of hedge you want – one that stays green all year (an evergre ...

If you’ve been meaning to plant a hedge in your garden this is a good moment to get going – but what are you going to choose? Decide on what kind of hedge you want – one that stays green all year (an evergreen) or one that looses its leaves in winter (deciduous). Then consider space available and the kind of look you want – neat and trim or relaxed and natural. There are many plants which make good informal hedges – even certain roses – so take your time and have a good look. If you want something neat remember that you will have to maintain it. Yew is the least time’consuming but it is a bit less fast growing than privet, but then, that’s why you have to cut privet several times in the growing season.


Evergreen and semi evergreen plants like yew,




and tht popular choice for London, the semi-evergreen, privet


can be planted in early autumn. Deciduous, bare-rooted hedging, like beech and hornbeam,


will be available once the autumn leaves have fallen The old wisdom was that tree and hedge planting should happen on the 25th November but with such a changeable climate at the moment that should only be taken as a guide. Get your order in early and the nursery will deliver when the time is right.

I am keen to see more wild-life friendly, hedgerow type hedges being grown in London and have used them in my designs. They may look bare in winter but there is the joy of spring growth and birds and insects love them. A typical hedge is made up of 60 percent hawthorn, with four or five other species – field maple, hazel, spindle, blackthorn, holly, alder, guelder rose, sweet briar and crab apple. After it’s established, train native climbers into it and under plant with wildflowers.

This is what the RHS has to say about hedges: https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=377

What to plant

Hedging plants are often supplied as bare-root specimens, which are usually inexpensive. However, pot-grown plants are equally suitable but cost a little more. Evergreens, especially, are often sold as root-wrapped, where the roots are in a soil ball contained by a fabric casing. This wrapping must be removed, if it is of synthetic fibre, but natural fibre wrappings are sometimes left on. Removal of wrapping is still recommended, though.

Small hedge plants are often called whips and are about 60cm (2ft) high. They are very cheap and are easy to establish. Larger plants need more care and are more expensive. It is best to plant whips closely as they not only form a thick hedge, but compete with each other and so reduce the amount of trimming required.

When to plant a hedge

  • Evergreen and semi-evergreen hedges: Early autumn is ideal for hedging plants such as box, privet (semi-evergreen) and yew. However, they can be planted at any time from late autumn until late winter
  • Deciduous hedges: Plant beech, hawthorn and hornbeam any time from leaf fall. This is typically from mid-autumn until late winter

In all cases, planting is best delayed until the soil can be worked easily, especially if the ground is frozen or waterlogged.

If there is a delay in planting, keep the plants in a frost-free shed and cover their roots with moist straw, paper or potting compost and plastic sheet. This will prevent them drying out. Alternatively, they can be temporarily planted very close together in a trench, with their roots covered in at least 20cm (8in) of soil (this is called heeling-in).

How to plant a hedge

Planting and caring for a new hedge is very similar to that for any new tree or shrub. Good soil preparation beforehand will give your hedge the best start in life.

Soil preparation

  • Prepare the ground by digging over a strip 60-90cm (2-3ft) wide and one spit (or spade blade) deep
  • If a herbicide (weedkiller) has not been used beforehand, remove all weeds.
  • Add organic matter, such as garden compost or a proprietary tree and shrub planting mix, spreading it over the soil and mix into top 25cm (10in) of soil with a fork (forking in)
  • Soils that become waterlogged in winter may require a permanent drainage system. Alternatively, form the soil into a ridge about 15-20cm (6-8in) high and 50-70cm (20-28in) across to plant into


  • Ideally position boundary hedges so they are set back a little way (e.g. 90cm/3ft) from the boundary line. This will allow the hedge to fill out before it becomes an issue with overhanging the pavement or a neighbour’s property
  • Within the row planting distances vary from 30-60cm (1-2ft), depending on the plants’ final size, the size of hedge required and plant vigour. For hedges thicker than 90cm (3ft), plant a staggered double row 45cm (18in) apart, with plants 90cm (3ft) apart
  • Trim back damaged roots to healthy growth with sharp knife or old pair of secateurs
  • Spread out the roots, ensuring the planting depth is correct (note that the previous soil mark on the stem indicates how deeply the plants were grown in the nursery or pot)
  • Work soil between the roots, firm plants in so that soil is in close contact with the roots. Water if the soil is dry
  • Mulch to a depth of 7.5cm (3in) after planting to prevent weeds


  • Ensure plants are well-watered during dry spells for the next two years
  • Top-dress annually with a general-purpose fertiliser, such as Growmore at 70g per sq m (2oz per sq yd), and re-apply mulch as required
  • Keep the hedge and 45cm (18in) on each side weed free
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