We forget why and how to plant a native British hedge. We take them for granted. Country hedges a history going back to the bronze age, making them one of the oldest man made features in the British landscape. According to Hooper’s Rule , here in our bit of Somerset we’re surrounded by medieval hedges.
Native plants make a good, fast growing privacy hedge which is recommended for security. They’re also beautiful things and a fantastic resource for wildlife and foragers. Mixed hedges using native species are easy to recreate and manage, and I’m always surprised that more folk don’t go for them.
- Mixed Hedging Packs
- Mixed Native Hedges
- A Guide to Wild Flowers of woodland and hedgerow
- How to select and grow a native British hedge
- How to make a hedge for wildlife
Why a Native Hedge?
Our native British hedge plants seem to me to be a bizarrely under-utilized resource in urban environments in particular. Here they can significantly help to reduce pollution. Perhaps people associate them with unruly country hedges, when they want a clean and tidy look. In which case, why not suggest a clipped single species? Other native plants can be as architectural as yew or box; use Hawthorn, for example. Like Blackthorn, a great security barrier, beautiful in spring, and fruitful in autumn.
For summer colour, completing all year round interest, punctuate with our native Honeysuckle, Lonicera periclymenum, or Dog rose, Rosa canina. To my mind, though, the more species in a hedge the better, if for no other reason than increasing its associated biodiversity. Structurally mixed hedges look sounder to me as well; you need a good mix of suckering species like Blackthorn and Hazel to continue to give it a good thick base.
This all means a traditional hedge is excellent for security. If they have kept cows and sheep out for hundreds of years, they’ll deal with people too! Hawthorn and Blackthorn – the clues are in their names – make impenetrable barriers. Hawthorn’s synonym – “Quickthorn” – also tells you how fast it will grow
Native hedge plants make good visual screens too. Beech and Hornbeam keep their leaves in hedges, and Yew, Holly and Privet are also evergreen.
Hedges and Wildlife
As with all our native plants, common hedge species have unique relationships with our native fauna. When they think about the food that they provide most people think about the berries for birds and small mammals – and larger mammals like gardeners! There’s a largely unnoticed community of animals further down the food chain, however, which depends on a hedge for other forms of sustenance.
Our butterflies and moths have unique relationships with our native plants, many of which you can include in a hedge. The Yellow Brimstone, for example, lays its eggs on Buckthorn, on which its caterpillars feed exclusively. Brown Hairstreak has a similar relationship with Blackthorn.
Think of the number of plants in a native hedge and you can imagine the volume of pollen and nectar even a short length will produce, as opposed to individual plants in a garden. The mix of species also ensures a long flowering period – there’s rarely a time when something isn’t in bloom. Hereabouts it’s the Blackthorn blossom in early spring which saves the honey bees from starving, and at the end of the season the ivy in autumn lets them stock up for winter on warm autumn days. Different flowers attract different pollinators, so a mixed native hedge will support a whole range of them.
Plants like blackthorn and hawthorn provide fantastic shelter for invertebrates, small mammals and birds. Hedges are handy corridors for wildlife too, and offer relative safety for animals while they move about. One of the issues exercising the conservation lobby at the moment is the fragmentation of good quality habitat, which need to be joined up. Hedges can be a pretty good way to do it, at least on a small scale. Animals don’t just use them as “wildways”, but also as navigation features. Bats use them to find their way across the landscape, for example, and bumblebees fly along them too.
Starting a Hedge
It couldn’t be easier to start a native hedge – after all, these are our British plants, so it should be easy to grow them! Before you start, prepare the ground by weeding a strip about a metre wide. If you have livestock, think about whether it would be best to wire the hedgeline before or after you plant your new whips. Don’t under-estimate the width your hedge will grow to.
Find a good quality supplier of British plants. There are plenty online, but do look carefully – please source your plants from a British nursery. Some of the large scale hedge renovation over the last 30 years has used plants from all over Eastern and Western Europe. There are lots of reasons to use hedge plants with British provenance, not least biosecurity. Some suppliers are either coy about provenance or infer it, so ask.
You’ll need 5 plants per linear metre to create a stockproof staggered double thickness hedge. We usually recommend something like 50cm between rows. That’s not to say your hedge must look like that. You might not have enough room for two rows of plants, for example, although the thicker the hedge the better from the point of view of wildlife. Some folk want a really thick, triple thickness hedge (7 plants a metre). If you wanted something optimal for a “wildway” you could plant rows up to 1m apart.
Many woodland nurseries sell a “conservation hedge mix”, or “mixed traditional” or “country” hedge mix, which should be a good diverse default mix for the agnostic, and will qualify for grants. It’s suitable for a wide range of situations and soils and consists of species widespread across the UK. If there are plants in it you don’t want or plants you particularly do, the nursery will usually happily tweak it for you. We don’t suggest using Blackthorn in a hedge next to a lawn, for example, because it suckers freely. On the other hand, you do want some suckering species, like dogwood and hazel, to help thicken up the hedge. You may also have a particular soil type or site which suits some species more than others.
Most farmers buy the smallest size plant on offer, which is often 40-60cm. Unless your site is very exposed, personally I’d stretch to the next one up, 60-90cm, which is the size we used in the picture. They’re still pretty small whips, which are easily planted and quick to establish. There is no point buying anything bigger as you’ll end up with a hedge with no bottom.
The whips will be bare root as they’re much easier to transport and will take much better than pot grown. They’re consequently delivered from November until the end of March while they are dormant. They should arrive in special packaging, so will sit in the shed/garage quite happily for several days. If you’re not planting them for a longer period, heel them in somewhere.
When you do get around to planting your whips the key thing is to keep the wind drying their roots out. I march around with the whips in a bucket of water. We tend to use Rootgrow now too, which encourages rapid establishment. The other big issue is frost; don’t try sticking them into frozen ground. They’re easy to plant, particularly if you have a two person planting team. One of you needs to open a slit in the ground with a spade and the other just pops a whip in and treads around it. Snip a few inches off the top of the whip to encourage the development of lateral branches.
If you have rabbits or deer you will also need the ubiquitous plastic spiral and cane. These will also help support and generally protect the young hedge plants, particularly against strimmers, rabbits and voles. The wretched things aren’t biodegradable, however, so if you can fence in your hedge instead that’s a better option.
First off, you MUST keep the base of your native hedge clear of weeds and grass. The whips don’t need to compete with perennial weeds while they are getting established. If you don’t use a mulch then you’ll have to weed for a couple of years. WE don’t recommend using strips of plastic mulch as the voles love to hide under them and eat your new plants’ roots!
Once established – after a couple of years – removed hedge guards and canes if you have used them.
Without plant management, in a few years’ time you’ll have a different problem to deal with. Although we’ve pretty much arrested the decline in the length of hedges in the UK, they’re beginning to turn into rows of small trees. Left unattended your native hedge will go vertical, which is less helpful for all than a dense hedge with a wide base.
As time goes on the ideal way to ensure a perfect hedge is to lay it, but that’s often not practical. That’s a whole different blog anyway! Establish a trimming regime that impacts the least on local wildlife, though. The Single Payment scheme asks for hedge cutting to stop between 1st March and 31st July, but the optimal time to do it is January and February. That’s after the berries have been eaten but before birds start nesting.
Same Hedge, 6 Years Later
Don’t butcher a hedge to an inch of its life, as you often see flails do, but trim it in a two or three year rotation to let it fill out. The Single Payment scheme quite sensibly specifies a 2m wide uncultivated zone from the middle of the hedge.
If you do need to take extreme action to get a mature hedge back under control, coppice it in sections, year by year, to minimize the impact on wildlife. Ideally, gap up a hedge while renovating it with locally sourced whips in keeping with the species you see around you.
Mixed Hedging Packs
Mixed Native Hedges
All packs on this page are discounted, offering great value for money and a species-rich, ready-made mix of hedge plants. Our mixed hedging packs make choosing a hedge easy and cost-effective. Why erect a boring, lifeless fence when you can plant a living, growing, fragrant, blossoming boundary hedge instead? Our mixed hedging packs are an easy way of creating a diverse wildlife habitat for garden planting or to use for a large scale project.
Native hedge plants and hedgerows are synonymous with the UK countryside. The winding rows of shrubs and bushes, commonly interspersed with native trees, are a national heritage that should be encouraged and protected.
Mixed Hedging – The Ultimate Wildlife Sanctuary
Hedgerows are an idyllic habitat for a huge variety of wildlife. They provide blossom, brimming with nectar in the spring, dense thickets in summer and deliciously juicy berries in autumn. As well as acting as Nature’s pantry, our mixed hedging packs can also provide a home for many of our British wildlife species. Small mammals including the dormouse, vole and hedgehog, nest and feed in the security of these shrubs and rows of mixed hedging will provide a natural corridor for these animals, making it safe and easy for them to travel and forage.
Mixed hedging also offers our native birds a safe, sheltered place to nest, particularly the evergreen hedging varieties, providing lasting cover all through winter. A native hedgerow creates a complete Eco-system, thriving with life.
Why else should I choose a mixed hedging pack?
Not only do mixed hedging packs benefit our wildlife, but they also help the environment. Mixed hedging can aid in the prevention of soil erosion, can absorb pollution from pesticides and even store carbon to help in fighting climate change. Remember, the more diverse the hedge, the more species it is likely to attract and support. Native hedging is not only a great way to give back to nature and the environment, but our mixed hedging packs are an interesting and attractive feature in their own right.
Our mixed hedging packs have been specially created for a variety of different purposes. The plants have been chosen for their ability to wonderfully complement each other, providing a striking aesthetic and the mixed hedging packs are put together based on an overall look or theme. Our Garden Mix is ideal if you require some evergreen cover, whereas our Coastal mixed hedging is perfect for more exposed conditions.
View the full range of hedging plants from best4hedging for more inspiration.
A Guide to Wild Flowers of woodland and hedgerow
Flowers and Fruits
Features of the flower to look for.
Petals : the petals are often the most obvious feature of a flower. They are may be brightly coloured to attract insects, and have nectaries (offering a sugary solution as a ‘reward’ for the bees, moths, butterflies…..). Some petals are highly reflective, like those of the buttercup family (see adjacent photo). The number of petals present is an important feature of a flower but look at several flowers as the number can vary. Collectively the petals are known as the corolla of the flower.
Sepals : the sepals lie outside the petals. Generally their ‘job’ is to protect the petals in the formative bud stage. Collectively they are termed the calyx of the flower. Whilst they are often green, they can be almost indistinguishable from the petals. When petals and sepals are similar they may be referred to as tepals, and the structure of the petals and sepals called a perianth.
Stamens : these are the male organs of a flower. They produce the pollen. The pollen is produced in the anthers, which are held at the end of the filaments. A flower may have a ‘low’ number of stamens – 2,3 4 or 5 or there may be lots (as in the buttercup – see photo), in which case the number is sometime said to be infinite. Collectively the stamens of a flower are referred to as the androecium. Most flowers are hermaphrodite, that is, they have male and female structures present but some are unisexual. Unisexual flowers will have either male organs – anthers, or female structures – the style, stigma and ovary.
The pollen forms within the sacs of the anthers and when it is mature, the anthers split open (dehisce) and release the pollen.
Style, stigma and ovary : these structures form the female part of the flower – the carpal or carpals, which collectively constitute the gynaecium. In some flowers, there is a single stigma, style and ovary whereas others have many.
The stigma is a receptive surface for pollen grains. The pollen grains germinate here sending tube-like structures down through the style (a filament that supports the stigma) to the ovary.
Pollination is the transfer of pollen grains from anthers to stigma, fertilisation is when a nucleus from a pollen grain meets with a female nucleus contained within an ovule within the ovary.
A fertilised ovule develops within the ovary into a seed. Botanically speaking, the ovary becomes a fruit which encloses / contains the seeds. The fruit may be in the form of a berry (such as those on honeysuckle or deadly nightshade), or an achene ( a one-seeded fruit) as in the little ‘pips’ on the outside of a strawberry, or an aggregate fruit such as the blackberry or the ovary wall may dry out to form a structure that helps disperse the seeds -for example, the capsule of the poppy. The classification of the different types of fruit can become quite complex. The structure underneath the flower into which the various parts are connected is the receptacle. Sometimes the receptacle enlarges after fertilisation to form the edible / fleshy part of a fruit – as is the case of the strawberry (sitting on its surface are the many one seeded fruits – the achenes).
Some flowers, for example, those of daisies are a bit more complicated than this. What appears to be one flower is, in fact, many 100’s of flowers or florets ‘squeezed’ together to form a single structure that looks like a single flower. These are composite flowers – found in members of the family Compositae or Asteraceae; asters and sunflowers fall into this family, as do the common weeds – dandelion and groundsel.
How to select and grow a native British hedge
Short bit of the history of British hedgerow
Few things have helped create the look of the English countryside more than the hedgerows you can see from your car window whilst driving on the motorway.
Hedges have been used as field boundaries in Britain since the times of the Romans. The Anglo-Saxons also used hedgerows extensively, and many that were used as great estate boundaries still exist. Mainly hedges were used as field enclosures or to mark the boundaries of people’s property, as they are today.
The farm field hedges you can see from your car window were a reaction to pressures of population expansion leading to a widespread clearing of land for agriculture, and the new fields needed to be marked clearly.
Not much has changed in some ways the difference being these days the rush to supply cheap food to feed the continuing population explosion means less hedges and bigger open fields.
Why is our Traditional native hedgerow in danger of disappearing
Landowners and factory farmers are the main culprits, pulling up and destroying the hedgerows that divided our British countryside into the attractive patchwork of greens, browns and gold, creating instead, the massive fields with swathes of yellow Rape seed, the stuff we see growing wild along the motorway verges.
lucrative E.U. subsidies are not paid to grow traditional British hedgerows, but very lucrative E.U subsidies are paid to landowners and factory farmers who rip up our traditional hedges and grow Rape seed.
To get the absolute maximum crop followed by the euro in the bank, the factory farmer ploughs right up to the base of the hedgerow to create maximum growing area and uses herbicides, pesticides and fertilisers on the fields of Rape seed, causes damage to the remaining hedges. The hedge dies of or becomes to weak to act as a boundary and is then replaced with wooden or wire fences.
How to make a hedge for wildlife
Choosing your plants:
Native shrubs and trees like hawthorn, field maple, blackthorn, beech, hornbeam and holly make an ideal mixture of hedging plants. Grow rambling plants, such as wild rose, bramble and honeysuckle, through your hedge to provide even more shelter and food for wildlife.
Ivy is particularly beneficial for nesting birds and it flowers in the autumn when few other nectar sources are available to insects. Encourage prospective wildlife by growing it up into large trees.
Planting your hedges:
The best time for planting is between November and March, but never plant into waterlogged or frozen ground. Bare, rooted plants are cheaper, but take care not to expose the roots for long when planting. Until they are established, keep the base of your plants free from weeds with a thick mulch or matting.
For a mixed native hedge, try to include three plants of the same species per 1 m (3 ¼ ft) with one each of two other species.
Maintaining your hedges:
Hedges should not be pruned until late winter or early spring so that wildlife can take advantage of the insects and fruits provided during the winter months.
In the first spring, cut shrubs back to 45-60 cm (18-25 in) above the ground. This encourages bushy growth.