A long, straight, green hedge at the edge of a garden
In gardens of every size, hedge planting can be useful for lots of reasons. We look at types of hedges and how to plant them.

Helpful information

Timing: Autumn (for planting)

Where to do it: Outdoors

Garden space: Large garden, small garden

  • Planting a hedge provides a good physical workout, through digging and lifting
  • A hedge can create a significant difference to how you feel about your space, whether that’s extra privacy or improved appearance
  • Many species of wildlife make use of hedges, from birds to insects. Enjoy helping the wider eco-system
A hedge with a shaped top like gently rolling waves
A hedge with a wavy shaped top

Hedges can be an important part of garden design. They can help divide up a garden, bring interest and provide shelter.

Your choice of hedging will depend on your tastes and needs.

Why have a hedge

Hedges can perform a variety of important roles. You may want a hedge to:

  1. Gain extra privacy. Many people plant hedges to make a garden feel more enclosed, or to screen from unsightly views. A hedge can be cheaper than a fence, although slower to do the job.
  2. Protect against the weather. A hedge can offer shelter from the wind.
  3. Add visual interest. A hedge doesn’t have to run around the outside of a garden. Small, low hedges or topiary can add shape inside your garden.
  4. Improve a fence. Some people plant a hedge directly beside a fence, so it looks more green and alive.
  5. Support wildlife. From shelter to food, hedges offer fantastic support to a wide range of creatures.

When to plant a hedge

Autumn is the ideal time to plant a hedge. This allows the plants to bed in over winter and have stronger growth next spring.

Autumn is also when bare-root hedging plants are usually available.

Bare-root vs instant hedge

You can grow your hedge in different ways, depending on how much you want to spend and how quickly you want it to get to size.

  1. Instant hedging. You can buy hedging plants that are well grown and dense already. This is the most expensive option.
  2. Bare root hedging. These are young plants where the roots are free and not in a pot. This is a really cost-effective way to plant hedges. They are available to buy from autumn into early spring when the plants are dormant.
  3. From seed. If you are incredibly patient, you could try and grow from seed. Be aware, it may be several years before your hedge reaches a decent size!

Think about the neighbours

You don’t need permission to plant a hedge. There are no laws saying how high it can grow. But, it’s a good idea to think about how it will affect your neighbours to avoid grief later.

A formal garden with neatly shaped low hedges
A formal garden with low neat hedges

Lots of different trees and shrubs can be used to create a hedge. These are some things to think about when deciding which is right for your garden:

  • How fast do you want it to grow? If you want to create privacy quickly, you might prefer a fast-growing plant.
  • How will it fit in the design of your garden? Do you want a dense, formal hedge or a more loose, wild-looking one?
  • How much maintenance are you willing or able to do? Fast-growing hedges need trimming more often than slow-growing ones. If you are hoping for a formal shape, that will also take more work. You could always get help a couple of times a year with hedge trimming.
  • Do you want leaves all year round? You may prefer an evergreen hedge. Some deciduous species, such as beech, can keep their dead leaves through winter, so do offer some interest.
  • Do you want to create a native wildlife hedge? You may decide to plant a mix of different native hedges to support a variety of wildlife.

Here are a just a few of the many options:

Cherry laurel. Also known as Common laurel. Very popular. Grows well in most soil conditions and makes a dense hedge. Fast growing, adding 30-60cm per year. Will need annual trimming.

Photinia ‘Red Robin’ Increasingly popular for its bright red new leaves. Evergreen. Not very dense, but will give wind protection.

Photinia red robin hedge
A hedge including Photinia 'Red Robin'

Privet. Another popular choice. Tough, fairly fast-growing and dense, so good for privacy. Semi-evergreen (most leaves fall in winter).

Leylandii. A very fast growing conifer, so great for privacy. Will need regular trimming to avoid getting too tall.

Holly. Dense, hardy, evergreen, with distinctive spiky leaves. Great for wildlife, especially birds. Native varieties available.

Box. Evergreen and slow growing. Happy in the shade. Good for low hedges, borders and topiary. Be aware it can be badly affected by the fungal disease box blight and the box tree caterpillar.

Beech. Green beech and cooper beech are popular deciduous hedging plants. Green beech leaves change from green to gold. Copper beech leaves are darker. Beech keeps its dead leaves through winter.

Yew Popular in formal gardens. Dark green, dense foliage which can be clipped and shaped. A slow-growing, native evergreen that can cope with most soils.

A dense shaped yew hedge Pixabay
A dense shaped yew hedge

Hornbeam. Looks a bit like beech. Crinkly lime green leaves turn copper in autumn. Fine in damp and shady spots. Good for wildlife.

There are many more options for hedges, but these are a few of the most popular. You could go for something completely different and create a beautifully scented hedge of lavender or rosemary!

When planting hedges with wildlife in mind, a popular option is to use a mix of native plants. Hawthorn, hazel, alder and hornbeam are just some you could mix into one hedge.

A beech hedge changing colours in autumn
A beech hedge changing colours in autumn

Essential items

  • Hedging plant(s)
  • Spade
  • Watering can / hose

Optional items

  • Garden string line
  • Tape measure
  • Multi-purpose compost

Tools to make it easier

  • Cardboard
  • Two-wheeled wheelbarrow

Follow these steps to plant hedges with ease.

Step 1: Gather what you need

Bring all the items you need to wherever you will be planting.

Make it easier

A wheelbarrow may help to transport everything for this activity. You may find a two-wheeled wheelbarrow more stable to push than a single wheeled one.

Step 2: Prepare the soil for planting

You may choose to do this step in advance of purchasing your hedging plants.

Through digging and weed clearing, you want the soil to become a fine tilth that is free from weeds. Our guide to preparing beds and borders for planting has more advice.

Make it easier

Digging over soil can be very physical work. You could use a no dig method instead. You will ideally need to do this several months before planting. Lay cardboard across the soil where your hedges will go. Add a thick layer of organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure, on top. This will smother any weeds and the cardboard will degrade in time.

Step 3: Mark out where you will plant

You will likely have several hedging plants to place in the soil. How far apart from each other they go will depend on the type and size of plant. There may be suggested information for this when you purchase the plant.

A good way to create a straight row of hedges is to first peg in place garden string line. You can then use a tape measure to mark out the correct distance for each plant along this line.

Step 4: Add your hedging plants

Dig a big enough hole for each plant to allow the root system to comfortably fit.

You may need to dig slightly bigger holes if you are planting hedging plants in containers. The hole will need to be comfortably deep and wide enough to fit the plant once removed from its pot.

Backfill with the soil you have just dug out. You may like to add some multi-purpose compost, including on top of the soil as a mulch.

Step 5: Water well

Give each plant a thorough soaking.

Thrive birmingham sow grow wheelchair hedge trimming
A person with shears ready to trim a hedge

Water your new hedging plants regularly and weed around them. This will help them establish well.

Add some general plant feed around the base of the plants in early spring. Fork lightly in.

As your hedge grows, it will likely need trimming to keep in shape. Read our guide to hedge trimming and topiary for more advice.

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