How to plant, grow and care for hedging plants


When to Plant
Pot-grown
hedging plants
can be planted at any time of the year providing the ground is not frozen or waterlogged and therefore can be worked easily. However, in practice early autumn is usually best for evergreen and semi-evergreen hedges, whilst deciduous hedges are best planted in mid-autumn to late winter after the leaves have fallen and dormancy has set in. The only exception is that evergreens at a cold, windy site are best planted from April to mid-May (rather than autumn) so the cold winds do not dry out the new plants over the winter. An alternative in this scenario is to plant in autumn as usual then protect your plants in their first winter using a fabric wind-break well-secured between 3-4 stakes.

 

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Bare root hedging should be planted between mid-October and the end of March. Rootballed evergreens are best planted from the start of September to mid-October or from the beginning of April to mid-May. At these times the sun is not too strong and, critically, if the temperatures are not too cold, plants will develop fine root hair that gives them a head start in spring.

 

Bare root hedging plant

 

When to plant hedging plants

Recommended planting times for container grown, bare root and rootballed evergreen hedging

 

If you're not able to plant immediately after receiving your hedging, or if the conditions do not permit, store your plants in a frost-free place such as a greenhouse, shed or conservatory, until you're ready to plant. For bare root plants, soak the roots in water for 2 hours before planting (they will inevitably have dried out a little in transit), then cover the roots with moist potting compost, shredded paper or straw. Place a polythene sheet over the roots to help retain the moisture and keep them warm. Alternatively, bare root plants can be "heeled in", which means to temporarily plant them in a narrow trench with the roots very close together and covered with around 1 foot (30cm) of soil to insulate the roots from the cold.

 

Preparing the Ground

Bare root hedging should be planted between mid-October and the end of March. Rootballed evergreens are best planted from the start of September to mid-October or from the beginning of April to mid-May. Good soil preparation before planting will go a long way to getting your new hedging off on the right track. Plants deteriorate if left in their packaging for too long, so if possible cultivate the soil in the area you want to plant in advance. A planting trench can even be dug in advance and covered with polythene to keep it dry and prevent it from freezing.

 

Preparing the ground for hedging plants

 

Start by removing all perennial weeds or using a weed killer over the ground that will be planted. Next, thoroughly dig over a 60-90cm (2-3 foot) strip where you want to plant your hedging so the planting hole isn't isolated. As well as eliminating compaction and improving drainage, this will ensure your hedging plants are able to root out freely through and across the loosened surrounding soil profile. Build in plenty of good-quality compost or organic matter such as well-rotted garden compost, manure, mushroom compost or composted bark. By doing this preparation 4-6 weeks in advance, the soil will be allowed to settle and will still be workable when you come to plant your hedge. If this is difficult, apply generous handfuls of blood, fish and bone to the soil instead (this can be done at planting time).

 

Removing weeds with fork

 

You'll need to dig a planting trench at least 45cm (1.5 foot) wide and 30cm (1 foot) deep (deeper for more established plants to accommodate their larger root systems) where you intend to plant your new hedge. Break up any remaining compaction, especially in the base and sides of the hole. If you have a heavy clay soil, look to improve drainage by incorporating sand or gravel into your soil (this must be lime-free), forming a ridge to plant into (15-20cm high and 50-70cm wide). Take particular care not to create a solid basin at the base of the trench that will stop the water from draining freely. If you intend to plant in an area of ground that regularly becomes waterlogged in the winter, you will likely need to install a permanent drainage solution.

 

Trench dug for hedging plants

 

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Spacing - Native Hedge
Native hedgerows are usually planted in 2 rows approximately 30cm apart with the rows off set with each other.  The number of plants per liner metre is usually 4 but up to 9 may be used.

 

Native hedging spacing guide
 

 

E.g. to plant 50 liner metres of native hedge at 5 plants per liner metre the following number of plants (rounded up) would be needed: 50 linear metres x 5 = 250 plants.

  • 70% Hawthorn = 175
  • 5% Beech = 13
  • 5% Holly=13
  • 5% Guelder Rose = 13
  • 5% Wild Rose = 13
  • 5% Hazelnut = 13
  • 5% Sloe Berry =13

 

Spacing - Ornamental Hedge
Ornamental hedges are usually planted as a single row. The distance apart varies between species but the most common ornamental hedge species spacing is shown below:

 

Plant Name

Berberis

Box Plants

Elaeagnus

Escallonia

Holly Plants

Laurel Hedging

Leylandii Conifers

Photinia

Portugese Laurel

Privet

Yew Plants

Lavender Plants

Spacing

45cm

20cm

45cm

45cm

30cm

20cm

50cm

50cm

45cm

40cm

30cm

30cm

 

If you want more of an instant hedge or screen, increase the planting density to make the gaps between plants smaller. Your hedging plants will fill out the smaller gaps more quickly, in as little as a seasons worth of growth. Just be a little careful with large evergreens (typically supplied root balled) as they need to have a sufficiently large rooting area to maintain the foliage structure. Conversely, planting at slightly larger distances apart (but no more than +15% on the planting distances set out above) to save money will still work, but you need to be aware that it will take a few seasons longer to create a full screen and you may need to accept some small gaps at ground level.

 

Laurel hedging plants

Carefully consider spacing to strike a balance between the speed of establishing a screen and cost

 

Also bear in mind that the taller a hedge needs to grow, the larger a root system and the more water and nutrients it will need. If you're looking to grow a very tall hedge, space your plants at the less dense range of our guidelines for native hedging (i.e. 4-5 plants per linear metre) or add up to +15% to the recommended distances for ornamental hedging above. Clearly, if you want a hedge to act as an almost instant screen and to grow tall, there is a trade off to be made. Another factor to consider when determining planting distances is the size of plants you intend to purchase. Plants supplied in a large container will naturally be more established, taller and wider, so you won't necessarily want (or be able) to plant hedging plants supplied in a 10 litre container at the same distance as the same plant in a 2 litre container.

 

Hedging alongside path

 

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Planting

1. Ideally soak the roots of potted and bare root plants for 4 hours prior to planting.  Never allow the roots to dry out.  Cut back any damaged roots to healthy growth using an old pair of secateurs or sharp knife.

 

Soaking roots in water

 

2. Mix up to half and half of the dug out soil with planting compost (multi purpose tree and shrub planting compost is fine  but remember ericaceous plants need ericaceous compost instead) and sprinkle a hand full of fertilizer (e.g. blood fish and bone) over the soil & compost and mix together.

 

Adding fish blood and bone to soil

 

3. Plant the tree or shrub at the same depth as it was previously growing at or, up to 25mm deeper – look for the change in the colour of the stem if bare root – never plant so that the plant is too high in the hole and never push or compress the plant roots in the hole to make it fit. Make sure the plant is looking its best by rotating it in the hole to make sure that the best side is facing the direction that you will be mainly viewing from. Once you've decided on the position, spread the roots out across the planting hole.

 

Checking planting depth

 

4. For root-balled plants, untie or cut the top of the root wrap and carefully tuck the sides of the root wrap under the plant. Backfill using the prepared mix of soil from the hole, compost and fertilizer, firming down evenly whilst ensuring that the plant is still in the upright position. Avoid burying any of the bare stem.

 

Securing ground around planted Cornus

 

5. After planting, mulch with bark or well rotted manure, being careful to ensure the mulch does not touch the base of the tree or shrub, then water well. After planting whips, it's best to install rabbit shields and canes. If using rabbit shields, coil the spiral around the plant, place the cane inside the guard and push it firmly into the soil.

 

Mulching and watering

 

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Garden Care

Watering
You'll need to continue to keep your new plants well watered, particularly in the first 2 years after planting as they develop a degree of drought tolerance. It is particularly important to keep your plants moist in March, April and May just before they break dormancy but some watering is still required during periods of dry weather during the winter when your hedging plants are dormant.

 

Watering can

 

Applying lots of water (around 10 litres per square metre) twice a week when the ground is dry is better than watering a little every day because by fully saturating the ground you will encourage your hedging plants to develop a deep root system. Watering little and often will encourage your hedging plants to develop roots close to the soil surface, which is not helpful for building drought tolerance. If you have the time, we also recommend spraying the leaves of evergreen hedging in the evenings during periods of very hot dry weather. This is easily done using a sprinkler attached to the end of a hose.
 

Weeding, Feeding and Mulching
Weed growth must be controlled around the planting area to reduce competition for moisture and nutrients. Apply a generous handful of slow-release,
general purpose granular feed or ericaceous plant food around the base of each plant plus a mulch of bark or well-rotted organic matter in spring for the first 2 years. When applying fertiliser, take care to avoid the leaves and don't feed after the end of August.

Pruning / Trimming
Good pruning or trimming is required to ensure
hedging plants remain wide and dense at the base. The best hedges develop from strong re-growth at the base of the plants, so ensure pruning is either carried out at planting time or in the first spring. Trim out the leading shoots after the first year’s growth to encourage side shoots to develop and thereafter cut the hedge once or twice each year. Autumn is a good time of year to trim most hedges, but be sure to check specific guidance for the varieties of plants you are growing. You won't disturb any nesting birds at this time and deciduous trees and shrubs will be dormant. Avoid cutting during the bird breeding season (March-July) unless absolutely necessary.

Do not prune your hedge straight up and down to create a wall-shape. Instead, prune so the base is wider than the top in an inverted keystone-type shape. This will allow sufficient sunlight to reach the growth at the bottom, keeping it healthy. Investing in a hedge trimmer will definitely save you time for anything but the smallest of
hedges
. For many varieties, it's initially necessary to cut back hard to encourage the hedge to thicken up; if this applies to the plants you're growing, don't be afraid to chop them back hard (but again, check the guidance specific to the varieties you're growing first).

 

Hedging keystone shape

Keystone-shape

 

It's quite difficult to trim a hedge precisely using judgement alone, at least it normally takes a lot of practice! We therefore recommend laying out a network of guides before you start cutting using string and stakes. By taking the time to carefully install guides before you start, you'll get a precisely trimmed hedge.

 

Trimming box hedge

 

Establishment Problems
The most common problem with hedging is failure of the plants to establish properly over the first 2 years. Tell-tale signs are yellow, brown or shrivelled leaves followed by defoliation; the issue is most obvious to observe in June. The most common causes are poor planting technique and lack of moisture once plants are in the ground. Solution: Buy strong plants from a reliable supplier (Jackson's Nurseries offer a 12 month satisfaction guarantee). Follow the planting guidance above carefully; in particular, do not expose the roots of bare root hedging plants to frost before planting, ensure hedging plants are planted at an appropriate time, provide plenty of moisture and nutrients when planting and water well thereafter.

 

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