The Hows and Whys of Garden Hedges

The Hows and Whys of Garden Hedges

By Michael Jenkins

It’s easy to underestimate the humble garden hedge. While hedges—lines of closely spaced shrubs or trees—are often considered merely to be green growing walls or fences, the reality is that a good hedge can fulfill a variety of roles in the garden. A hedge can be a fence or wall, for sure, but it can also serve to provide a upright or vertical feature in a garden. A hedge can block the wind or the sun, helping other plants to thrive. In addition to providing a backdrop for other plants, hedges which flower can be a source of seasonal beauty or visual excitement in the garden. The right hedge can also provide habitat for native birds and other critters, contributing to your garden’s health and biodiversity. Indeed, hedges have been used since ancient times for all of these things and more. So let’s dig in and learn a bit about what hedges can do in our gardens!

Choosing Hedge Plants

When it comes to selecting the right hedge plants for you, the good news is that you have many, many options. Hedges can be composed of the same kind of plant or a mix of different species, depending on your tastes and conditions. But before you start picking out plants and ordering shrubs or saplings, let’s take a look at some practical considerations for planting a hedge:

  • First, consider what the hedge is for: is it acting as a fence or wall on a property line? The border of a garden? Is it meant to provide shade, or wind protection? Do you want a fruiting or flowering hedge? Evergreen or deciduous? All of these considerations—plus your local climate and soil conditions—will impact your choice of hedge plants.
  • What do you want your hedge to look like? How high do you want it to be? How well manicured? How much maintenance time do you want to spend on it? Taming an out-of-control, overgrown hedge can be a lot of work, so try to select plants you can work with.
  • Next, let’s take a good look at your intended location for your hedge. Hedges are typically grow in straight lines, but regardless of shape you’ll want to inspect the entire intended path of your hedge. Does any of the soil need improving? What about drainage? Are their spots which are too shady/too sunny for your intended plant? Checking things out in advance can save you a lot of problems later.
  • While this isn’t strictly a requirement, we do encourage you to check and see if there are any native plants in your area which could serve as your hedgerow. Native plants, particularly ones that put out fruit or blossoms, can help promote biodiversity and support local wildlifeby providing a safe having and food for bees, birds, and other local creatures.

Planting a hedge is a long-term investment, so take care in choosing the kind of plants, the location, and in crafting your overall plan for your hedge. This is a feature that will be prominent in your garden for years to come, so let’s make sure that it’s everything you want it to be.

Planting and Maintaining a Hedge

When and how to plant your hedge will greatly depend on your climate, your local conditions, and the plants that you’ve chosen. In general, you’ll start hedge plants from shrubs or saplings rather than seeds—doing the latter can take far too long to establish as a hedge! When you buy your hedge plants, you’ll typically have some digging to do to plant them properly. Renting an auger can help, as can bribing a few friends with pizza and beer. There are some general guidelines for hedge planting success that we do recommend as you get started:

  • Spacing is always important when planting, but especially so with hedges. Most hedge plants need to be spaced between 4 and 8 feet (1.2 to 2.5 meters) apart. This will vary from plant to plant, so do a bit of research and find the right spacing for your chosen species.
  • You can plant multiple hedgerows with plants of different heights, but be mindful of sun and shade as you do.
  • Make sure your planting holes are wide enough and deep enough for the plants you’re putting in!
  • Water your plants thoroughly after planting. While there are some exceptions, most plants benefit from a long deep drink after going into a new locations. With a new hedge, water each plant individually to ensure that they all get the water they need.
  • Mulch the area around each plant, all down the hedgerow. This will help the roots maintain moisture, promote plant growth by discouraging weeds, and help cut down on erosion should you get an unexpected rainstorm.

Once your hedge is in place, maintaining it is much like maintaining any other plant. It will need appropriate amounts of watering and fertilizer, regular inspections to head off problems before they start, and general love and care. Again, hedges are plants and an integral, long lasting part of your garden—they’re not just walls or fences! Trimming your hedges generally doesn’t require anything special: good garden shears in the right size, gloves, a rake, and bags for yard waste.

Spring is almost here, and a hedge might be a fun landscaping or gardening project for your yard this year. If you do install a hedge, do us a favor and share photos of your new gardening creation. We love to hear from you!

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