If you want to plant a country (or native) hedge, the time is nigh! The hedge planting season is nearly on us as it runs from November to March which is when most hedging plants are either fully or partially dormant and can be moved with the least upset. If you have not already done so, you need to decide on the type of hedge you want, prepare the ground accordingly and then plant.
Your choice is really between a single species hedge and a mixed one. Hawthorn is the most popular choice for a single species hedge. It is tough and thorny. Other single variety hedge plants for country planting are beech, hornbeam, blackthorn and hazel.
Mixed hedges tend to be about 50% hawthorn and 4 or 5 other species chosen from a list that includes blackthorn, crab apple, hazel, field maple, dogwood, one of the wild roses and a native viburnum such as Wayfaring Tree. This mixed hedging has the great merit of variety in terms of flower, fruit, bark, leaf and habitat.
Country hedging is generally grown from slim, branchless plants known as whips. They are branchless because it makes handling, planting, pruning and protecting them from rabbits withs canes and spirals much simpler. Knowing what they look like makes preparation easier.
Kill all weeds (including grass) where the hedge is to be planted. In dry springs and summers, any greenery around the hedge will compete for moisture. At best the hedge will grow slowly, at worst it will die. A glyphos based spray is extremely effective (follow the instructions) or you can use mulching fabric which smothers the weeds. Don’t dig the soil. That is right, do not dig the soil.
Hedge plants are best procured when they are bare-rooted. Although this means they have no soil around their roots, they do establish and grow away in the spring. All bare-rooted stock is grown in open ground rather than in containers. Plants grown in this way tend to be stronger, taller and straighter (important in a hedge plant) than their potted cousins.
Country hedge plants such as hawthorn, blackthorn, dog rose, field maple, hazel and dogwood all prefer to be slit planted. Push a narrow spade straight down into the ground. Push the handle forward, opening a slit in the soil. Take the spade out, put the plant roots in and tread the slit closed. Planted! If you can pull the plant out easily using your forefinger and thumb, you did not tread hard enough.
Plant in two rows, about 40 cms apart at five plants per metre. That is actually three plants per metre in each row but you offset the rows so you create a zig zag effect. Finish off bu cutting your precious plants down to 15-20 cms tall. It is a bit like pruning a rose. In spring, 2 or four dormant buds below the cut will start growing and make the negining of a bush.
In the following winter, cut each if these new growths back by half. The same thing happens again, and 18 months after planting you have a double row of bushes each with 12-15 branches or 60-70 branches per metre and that is what makes a dense hedge.
That is the last severe cut you will need to make. Trim the side branches whenever you feel like it and let the hedge grow to the height you want. Then just run a hedgetrimmer along the top and its done. Five years after planting it will be stock proof (and people proof). Ten years after that, when your neighbours are replacing their expensive fencing you will smile gently at a beautiful hedge that has at least another century ahead of it!