It is important to remove all existing weeds from your proposed new hedge line before you start planting. Weeds and grass will compete with your new hedge for nutrients and moisture and will detract from their growth.
Therefore, if you can in September/October the hedge line needs to be marked out and the weed or grass removed. This can either be done by spraying with an appropriate broad-spectrum herbicide (e.g. Roundup), or if you are organic, the hedge line needs to either be hand-weeded or rotavated before planting.
Normally it is unnecessary to add fertiliser to the soil, but if it is poor or very heavy ground, then well-rotted manure or garden compost can be incorporated into the soil. If manure is unavailable, then bone meal or fertiliser can be used.
If you are planning to plant a stock proof hedge, then you should generally plant about 70% thorns (hawthorn, blackthorn or a mixture of both) and 30% other mixed native species.
These mixed species would normally include hazel, field maple and dogwood, with perhaps some guelder rose, spindle, crab apple and wild roses to add colour and variety for wildlife. Holly makes an excellent evergreen hedge but is slow growing and dislikes heavy wet ground (and is relatively expensive). It is, however, very shade tolerant.
Where the hedge does not have to be stock proof, then the numbers of thorns could be reduced and shrubs such as elder, wild honeysuckle, wayfaring tree or wild privet can be incorporated in place of the thorns.
If you are planting your hedge near the coast then you will need to choose plants that will tolerate salt winds. Please ask if you need further advice.
Planting can take place from November through to late March/early April. However, it is important not to plant when the ground is waterlogged or frosted.
To help get your plants established you can use Rootgrow Mychorrizal Fungi, this is applied to the bottom of the slit/hole in which you will plant your tree or you can use Rootgrow Mychorrizal Fungi - dipping Gel. This treatment will increase your plant's secondary root system and enables your plant to access more nutrients and moisture, increasing its vigour and tolerance to drought.
You could consider laying a length of polypropylene to act as a mulch, which will suppress weeds and encourage root growth and will also help retain moisture. The plants could be planted through slits in this material, and then the slits closed using, for example, pea gravel.
When planting, either through the polypropylene or bare earth, the plants should be ‘notch’ planted at the same depth as they were growing in the nursery – i.e. the depth of the root collar. It is best to use a planting spade to create a slot for the plant to go in. The plants should then be well firmed in to ensure the roots have good contact with the soil, and to prevent them from ‘rocking’ in the wind.
If polypropylene is not used, then a thick layer of mulch could be used after planting – i.e. well-rotted manure or composted bark – to help suppress competition from new weed growth.
The new hedge will have to be protected against damage by livestock, rabbits or hares. It should be fenced in to protect it from livestock. However, if rabbits (or hares) are a problem, then the individual plants could be protected using spiral shelters. We can also supply these if required, so please ask for details. See Hedge and Tree protection for more information.
To establish a thick hedge, plant 2 rows approximately 30cms apart. Planting should be staggered in these rows which means planting about 5 plants to the metre.
Maintenance of the hedge:
Weeding the hedgerow for the first few years is essential until the plants are established and can begin to suppress the weed growth themselves.
At the end of the first growing season, check the hedge and cut back any plants which have grown away from their neighbours.
Try to avoid the temptation to plant an Arboretum! – Very few sites will be suitable for a wide range of species. Decide upon your objectives – perhaps conservation, timber production or shelterbelts – and plan accordingly.
If you live in an exposed site, or near the coast, your choice of species will be restricted. You may have to create shelterbelts in order to introduce species which are not already present.
We cannot expect to create, by planting, the complete bio-diversity of ancient woodlands, but by the sympathetic planting of locally native species, we can establish habitats within which flora and fauna will flourish.
Plant locally native species (see www.nhm.ac.uk/science/projects/fff) with perhaps 60% large trees (oak, ash, hornbeam etc.), 30% mixed broadleaves (birch, rowan, crab apple, field maple etc.) and 10% woody shrubs (hazel, thorn, spindle, guilder rose etc.)
Plant about 1600 trees per hectare, but leave areas of open space to encourage biodiversity. An irregular planting pattern will produce a more natural effect with open spaces producing sunlit glades for ground flora.
Oak planted at closer spacings (1.5m – 2.00m apart) will produce an earlier canopy which benefits wildlife; whereas shrubs planted at, perhaps, 4 metres apart on the edges of the paths produce bushy feeding sites for birds and butterflies.
Consider planting a mix of trees suitable for coppicing for firewood (ash, alder, willow) with trees that can be left to grow as standards (i.e. sweet chestnut). In this case, planting in rows (2.5m apart) will allow the plantation to be thinned and managed in the future
Quick growing species such as willows, alders and poplars can provide a good nurse crop on the windward edge. A mixture of pines (radiata, corsican and scots pine) perhaps beech, evergreen oak and chestnut can produce a more permanent belt on the leeward side.
Generally speaking, small planting stock will survive better and grow faster than more established trees. On reasonably fertile sites there is no need to introduce compost and fertilizer into the planting hole. Indeed, on heavy ground, this can do more harm than good by producing a waterlogged planting site.
Plant trees at the depth that they were planted in the nursery and, if necessary, incorporate a short supporting stake to anchor the root.
Weed control is vital – trees will grow up to three times faster in weed-free conditions. Herbicides are relatively cheap and easy to use, but you may prefer to use artificial or organic mulch to produce a metre circle of weed-free ground around the planted tree.
Trees need to be protected against stock and vermin until established by fencing or tree shelters. See Hedge and Tree Protection for more information.