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How to plant a hedge this Autumn

Written by Sarah Talbot

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Posted on 10 October 2021

Hedges are something you might want to think about before you put your gardening feet up for the year. Everyone should have hedge ambitions – they can work whatever your garden size as long as you pick the right plants.

Planting hedges in autumn is perfect as this is the best time for planting shrubs, mature trees and hedges. So, if you were wondering when to plant a hedge, the answer is now! In autumn the ground has been warmed by the summer sun and is well hydrated from the rain (especially this year!) This gives the perfect environment for newly planted hedges to establish before winter sets in. 

Why plant a hedge?

There are various reasons for planting hedges

Soundproofing

Your need for peace and quiet may well influence where to plant a hedge. Hedges can reduce noise so if you are on a busy road then a tall hedge will absorb the sound making your garden a nicer place to be.

 

Screening

Hedges are great for privacy and for hiding something unsightly. So, plant a hedge in front of your house to stop people peering in. Or plant along a fence or against a concrete garage to improve your view.    

Wildlife

Lavender hedge

Hedges are good for the environment and provide a home, complete with larder, for insects and animals.  But they don’t just provide a habitat, they form wildlife ‘corridors’ which join different green spaces so that animals can move across their range without breaking cover and being snatched by predators. They also create great nesting sites for birds that will repay you by eating pests from your plot.  If you are looking for the best hedge for wildlife then you need on that is made up of several different species which come into leaf, flower and fruit at different times.

Zoning

Hedges can act as a divider to create different zones in your garden.  They can protect part of the garden from the wind, creating a microclimate and allowing you to grow plants that you wouldn’t otherwise succeed with. 

Hedges don’t need to be 6 foot high either.  You can incorporate a hedge into your small garden design by using smaller plants such as box, lavender or tree heathers.    

Types of Hedges

Formal Hedge

Hedges can be made of a single species or a variety of species as you would find in a native hedge.  If you have the room then it is good to mix native species like beech, hawthorn, holly, blackthorn and hazel together.  This is one of our top tips for hedge planting as it will increase the variety of wildlife visiting your hedge and ensure your hedge continues to thrive if one of the plants has a problem. Mixed native hedges are also safe for dogs and horses as some other species can be harmful to them.

Laurel Hedging

Planting laurel hedges is the quickest option for an evergreen hedge if you don’t want a conifer.  They grow 2ft a year.  Good for shady sites and grows in most soils.  Laurel can grow to 6m (18 ft) if left untrimmed.   

Yew Hedging

A traditional, thick, dark green evergreen hedge ideal for noise reduction and privacy.  Fairly slow growing so easy to maintain and also great for topiary. Good for chalky soil, it has red berries that are poisonous to both humans and animals so not a great choice if you have small visitors to your garden.

Box Hedging

Box is slow growing with small evergreen leaves and is low maintenance.  It is perfect if you want a smaller hedge as it can be trimmed as low as 30cm (1ft) Can grow to 4m (12ft)   

Beech Hedge

Beech hedge

This is green in spring. Then the leaves then turn golden brown but do not drop so still provide screening throughout winter.  It is good for chalky soils and creates a neat box-shaped hedge. Can grow to 25m (80ft)   

Privet Hedge

This is good for shade and poor soil and trims very well so it makes an easy to maintain hedge. It is semi-evergreen, so only loses its leaves in exceptionally hard winters, leaves then regrow again in the spring.

Leylandii

Caution this is very fast growing and can grow up to 30m (100ft) if left untrimmed! They can be kept trimmed as low as 1m (3ft) so are a quick fix if you need a hedge that grows fast. But if not looked after properly then this is the sort of hedge that can quickly block neighbours light and cause long bitter disputes.   

Mixed Hedging

Native hedging

This is your traditional countryside hedge - species to consider include:-
Alder Buckthorn, Field Maple, Blackthorn, Guelder Rose, Crab Apple, Hazel, Dog Rose, Spindle, Elder, Wayfarer, Goat Willow, Wild Privet, beech, hornbeam, hawthorn, holly and dogwood. Best for both wildlife and safer for domestic animals like horses and dogs.

Where to buy hedge plants

You can buy hedge plants at any good nursery but there are also specialist nurseries (both physical and online) that can supply your needs.  You have three main options 

Mature plants

You can buy hedges already grown.  But these instant hedges will be the most expensive option. These may be in containers but will probably be rootball plants – these come without a container but with a ball of soil around their roots

Bare root ‘whips’

Plants that come without the soil around the roots.  They work because the plant is dormant in late Autumn / Winter and they are cheaper because they are lighter to transport.  When you receive these don’t let the roots dry out – place them where you can cover the roots with soil until you  are ready to plant even if this is temporary spot.

Grow from seed

This will save you a lot of money.  Especially if you forage the seeds from an existing hedgerow. The extra advantage of this is that if the hedge is growing locally you know that the plants in it will be suitable for your site.

How to Grow Hedges

How To Prepare For Planting a Hedge

Leylandii hedge

Like all planting it is important to remove all the weeds and dig the ground over to get some air into the soil and loosen up any compacted soil so the new roots can penetrate easily.  You need to dig a wide trench about a spade’s depth and 1m wide for any hedge. This seems over the top but it will really help your hedge to establish. When digging your trench, remove the top soil and try to keep it separate then add plenty of mulch and dig it well in. If you are on heavy soil and planting yew it may be wise to add grit for drainage too.  

Preparing your Hedge Plants

It is very important to water your new plants well a few hours before you plant, especially with rootballs or container plants. Remove from the container and stand the plants in water up to the stem. Rootballs will be covered in hessian and can just be completely immersed so that the roots are covered with water. Leave them for a couple of hours to have a really good drink.

Hedge plant spacing

How close you plant them depends on how quickly you need a dense hedge.  But do give each plant enough space even if that looks a little sparse at first. 

Hawthorn & Box – 1ft (30cm) apart

Hornbeam & Laurel - 2ft (60cm)

Privet – 2 ½ ft (85cm)

Yew – 3ft (90cm)

Preparing the Hole

Dig the hole at least half as big again as the rootball of the plant.  Fill the hole with water and allow it to drain away completely then add a small amount of mulch in the bottom of the hole and carefully place the plant’s rootball into the hole. The hole should be deep enough for the rootball to sit inside and the soil level to very slightly higher than the level it was at in the container.  Then add the topsoil that you have saved to form a slightly raised cone. Water thoroughly and then mulch your trench with compost.

Fill in around the root with soil or compost and firm the soil with your foot all the way around the plant.  This removes any air pockets in the soil. Lastly, water them again. Now leave to establish, watering regularly if there is no rain.

An Autumn planted hedge will enjoy the residual warmth of the soil and have a few weeks to establish before Winter sets in and the plants go dormant for the winter.  Then, come Spring your hedge will burst into life.

Growing Hedges in pots and planters

Box-hedge-plants-in-containers

You can hedges grow in pots and containers.  Plants can be trained up around entrance ways or placed along the edge of a patio to form a moveable hedge. Most of the plants above will thrive with yew and box being particularly popular.  For the perfect container hedge take care to choose a big enough container and it with the correct soil type for the chosen plant.  Also stay on top of the watering.  Ensure that your container hedge does not become dehydrated. 

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