What is a native hedgerow?
A hedgerow is a strip of woodland habitat with a range of tree and shrub species. A native hedgerow, specifically, is one made up of species native to the area.
Why are they so important?
Hedgerows are incredibly valuable for wildlife, providing a rich selection of food and shelter. They are also sometimes the only greenery providing a link between isolated patches of habitats. These links are known as ‘wildlife corridors’ and provide important links between habitats.
Native hedgerows are important because species native to an area tend to be the best for providing food and shelter for local wildlife. They supply fruits and seeds for birds and other animals, and nectar for pollinators like bees and hummingbirds. Native plants are also good for the environment because they are better adapted to the area, therefore requiring fewer resources. For example, they tend to need less additional water because the natural level of rainfall in the cooler months should be enough.
Hedgerows have seen an alarming decline because of neglectful management and removal for agricultural or built development. If gardeners have the space to create their own native hedgerows, they could be incredibly valuable to local wildlife.
What species are best for a native hedgerow?
Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea)
Dogwood is well-known for its colourful stems, which provide interest and structure in winter gardens – even when the autumn leaves have fallen, the vibrant branches stay put. It’s the perfect addition to a native hedgerow; the leaves and flowers are valuable for wildlife, and the plants overall add an impressive visual effect. They look particularly striking when planted in front of taller species, their colours being framed nicely by greenery.
Holly (Ilex aquifolium)
Holly is a classic evergreen plant famed for its festive look – glossy, spiky leaves and gorgeous red berries. It is a low-maintenance plant and an invaluable source of food for birds and small mammals who eat the berries. Winter foods can be difficult for wildlife to come across, so this winter-fruiting plant is ideal. Holly is often used for hedging or in hedgerows because it is slow-growing and doesn’t require too much maintenance.
Blackthorn/Sloe (Prunus spinosa)
Blackthorn is known to be a great hedging plant for wildlife. They have dense, green foliage in the spring and summer – which provides excellent shelter for wildlife – and produce gorgeous white flowers in early spring. As a hedge, blackthorn can create a very reliable screen; similarly, it can add a good base or structure for a native hedgerow.
Yew (Taxus baccata)
Yew is a well-known, versatile hedge that works well as a filter for noise and pollution. It offers an abundance of food and shelter for wildlife. The red arils (berry-like structures that hold the seeds) are eaten by birds and mammals, and some caterpillars enjoy the leaves. Yew has evergreen, needle-like leaves that can be shaped into hedges or left to grow naturally. Its nature makes it ideal for part of the main structure of a native hedgerow.
Box (Buxus sempervirens)
Box is an evergreen hedging plant that is excellent for borders – smaller Buxus plants could make a great edge for a native hedgerow. The all-important bees love this plant, and it also provides dense shelter for small animals and insects. This is also an incredibly versatile plant, able to grow under almost any conditions, meaning it will be a long-lasting part of a native hedgerow.
How to plant a native hedgerow
As you might imagine, a lot of work goes into producing a thriving hedgerow. The first thing to consider is the time of year that you’ll plant it. November- March is recommended because the trees will still be dormant.
Choose the plants
A key factor in choosing your trees and shrubs is, of course, to ensure they’re all native to your area. You’ll also want to think about the growing conditions in the area you’re using. What type of light does it get? What is the soil type? These types of questions will determine what plants will thrive in a certain area.
Also consider the function you want from your hedgerow. If you’re planting it as a screen or barrier, you may want to focus on more evergreen, sturdy plants. If you’re planting it to support local wildlife, look more towards plants that provide a lot of food and shelter for different creatures.
Bare root trees are generally recommended for planting hedgerows. If you’re using these, make sure to do some research first about how best to take care of them and give them the best chance of thriving once they’re planted.
Map out your hedgerow
Planning is an important part of creating a long-lasting area of planting, and will also help to make it look great. Aesthetically speaking, the display will look its best if you have taller plants at the back (or middle, if it isn’t bordered) and smaller plants at the front.
However you choose to organise them, your plants should be spaced at about four plants per meter if you’re planting one row. If you’re planting a thicker hedgerow, have the rows roughly 40cm apart with five plants per metre. Stagger the rows so one plant is not directly in front of another, but they are all placed diagonally.
Prepare the soil
As with most planting, the soil will need to be prepared beforehand. This process will vary depending on the specific site, but here are some staple steps for soil preparation:
- Use a garden fork to break apart and aerate the ground.
- Remove any debris like rubbish, stones, or unwanted plants.
- Mix in any necessary soil amendments. This will depend on the type of soil that you’re working with. For example, if there isn’t enough organic matter in the soil, you could mix in some compost.
Planting your trees and shrubs
Once your ground is prepared, you can start planting. There are two different methods typically used to plant trees and shrubs. The first is relatively straightforward: dig a hole in the ground that will accommodate the root system, deep enough to bury the roots without covering the root collar. Cover the roots with the dug-up soil and gently press the ground to remove air pockets.
The other method is called notch planting, which tends to be used for plants with smaller root systems. This process requires a bit more skill but can generally get the job done more quickly. For this method, use a spade to cut the shape of a ‘T’ into the ground, deep enough to cover the roots. Open the slot enough for the roots to be inserted and press down the ground around the tree.
How to maintain a native hedgerow
When your trees and shrubs are newly planted, give them a thorough watering to help them establish in their new home. Once the plants are established, you shouldn’t have to water them too frequently; just make sure they don’t dry out too much in the hotter months.
Classic pest prevention for young trees includes plastic, spiral guards. They can expand as the plant grows and deter pests like rabbits and voles. Fencing is also used to keep bigger pests at bay. Once your plants are more established, it will be safer to let these animals into the hedgerow for them to use as shelter and forage. Regular maintenance to make sure your hedgerow is thriving is the best way to avoid major pest damage – wildlife should be able to use the plants and feed on the leaves if necessary, as long as the trees are healthy enough to withstand this.
Weed control is an important part of maintaining your native hedgerow. Weeds growing in the same area will provide competition for water, light, and nutrients. This can affect the growth of the plants that you want to thrive. Weeds can particularly impact young plants and seedlings.
It is recommended to keep a metre on each side of your hedgerow free of weeds for roughly the first three years of growth. This will help to make sure the plants have plenty of time to establish without unnecessary competition. You could keep this area weed-free with regular maintenance or by mulching, which will require less frequent checks. Mulching the area will suppress any pesky weeds around your hedgerow. Here are some materials you could use to mulch the area:
- Rotted woodchip
- Grass cuttings
Other methods of weed control are physically removing them by hand or with tools, or using chemical herbicides. The necessary method will depend on the individual situation.
A new hedgerow should be pruned within the first year or two to encourage healthy, bushy growth. After this point, pruning every two or three years should be enough. Prune between November and February, when it is less likely for birds to be nesting in your hedgerow. If you’re new to pruning, click here for our tips and tricks for beginners.
Hedgerows are invaluable to wildlife and can be incredibly rewarding to grow. With the right planning and maintenance, you could create a beautiful oasis for your local wildlife. Click here for more information about gardening for the environment.