Lots of different trees and shrubs can be used to create a hedge. Hedges can be effective and attractive alternatives to walls or fences. They can be cheaper and easier to install and generally outlive fences, and they attract wildlife too. However they do take a while to establish and become effective barriers, and will need some maintenance.
Early autumn is a good time of year to plant a hedge. The likelihood of lengthy periods of hot weather are past and the plants should have time to establish themselves before any extended cold periods. It is also a good time to source bare rooted stock without having to visit specialist nurseries.
The cheapest way to plant a hedge is to collect young tree seedlings that have grown from seeds scattered by the wind or birds. A mixed native hedge can contain a rich variety of plants which will all have species of animals that are attracted to them.
Some suggestions of plants to use are hawthorn, blackthorn, buckthorn, field maple, hazel, dog rose, viburnum, spindle and spindle. It may be difficult to source the range of plants desired all in one go, so an alternative is to buy bare rooted specimens during the autumn.
Avoid the heavy work of digging over the soil in preparation for planting by laying a geotextile or cardboard over the site of the hedge and adding a mulch six months before planting. This will smother weeds and you can simply dig holes where the plants will go when planting your hedge.
If you are considering creating a hedge it is sensible to give full consideration to the possible alternatives before planting. There are lot of different factors to consider:
What is the hedges function?
Is it simply to define a boundary, or do you want it to provide a screen, a backdrop or to reduce noise? Does it need to be intruder proof? How will it fit into the existing design of the garden?
How quickly do you want the hedge to mature?
Some coniferous species such as Leylandii are notorious for their fast and vigorous growth, but this may be important if you want a hedge to mature quickly. If time is not so important you will be able to choose from a wider range of plants.
How much do you want to spend?
Buying fairly mature potted trees or shrubs can be very expensive for all but the shortest length of hedge. Using bare root stock is a much cheaper alternative. If you do choose potted plants, buying them in bulk from a specialist supplier will work out much cheaper than buying singly from your local garden centre.
How much maintenance do you want to carry out?
Maintenance of established hedges mainly consists of regular trimming and possibly feeding. The disadvantage of using fast growing species is that you will probably have to trim the hedge more often. An informal hedge (one with a looser more natural shape) will only need to be cut once a year, but a more formal hedge will need more frequent cutting.
Do you want the hedge to be in leaf all year round?
If so your choice of plants will be more limited, though there are still lots of alternatives available. Remember that some deciduous species like beech can retain their dead leaves through the winter.
Depending upon the decisions you reach you can now think about obtaining your plants and planting the hedge.
Whatever plants you decide on, thorough preparation is advisable. Dig over the strip of land where the hedge is to go, to a spades depth and 60-90cm wide. The width will depend upon the size and type of plants selected and whether you are planting a single row, or an alternating (staggered) double row.
The ground should be weed free so that any competition to the new plants is eradicated. If the soil is clay or very stoney it may be worthwhile adding organic matter to improve the structure of the soil. Planting distances will be dependant on the type and size of plants used.
Use garden lines to make sure that your row(s) are straight. If using container grown plants, plant in holes ensuring that the final soil level is the same as it was in the pot. Water well and add a mulch. This will retain moisture and reduce weeds. If you are on an exposed site you may have to protect a young hedge to help it get established.
While a hedge is establishing it will need to be watered regularly and kept weed free. Add some Growmore or other general fertiliser around the base of the plants at the beginning of the growing season and fork lightly in.
We have a guide on hedge trimming for when your hedge requires some maintenance.