How to plant a hedge – top tips
The farming community is “increasingly” recognising the immense value of hedges on farms to biodiversity, carbon and the landscape.
That is according to College of Agriculture Food and Rural Environment (CAFRE) Agri-Environment Adviser, Wendy George.
The adviser stated that new hedges fix carbon dioxide through photosynthesis and help prevent soil erosion caused by flooding.
Planting new hedges with a mix of native species plants will:
- Enhance biodiversity;
- Link wildlife habitats;
- Absorb nutrients;
- Enhance the traditional countryside landscape;
- Provide shelter for livestock;
- Limit the spread of disease by reducing nose-to-nose contact between herds.
One farmer who has been carrying out a positive programme of hedge planting is Environmental Farming Business Development Group (EF BDG) member, James Speers.
He runs a mixed farm in partnership with his father at Drumfergus House Farm near Markethill in County Armagh.
James’ involvement with the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster Grassroots Challenge project, led by Ulster Wildlife, drove his interest in environmental issues.
James says: “It’s very important that the next generation of young people in the rural area understand how important the environment is and how we can all do our part to protect and improve it.”
From involvement with Grassroots, it seemed like a natural progression for James to join EF BDG and learn new ways to protect and enhance the environment from other farmers.
Within the BDG programme, Wendy organised a virtual meeting on James’s farm to discuss best practice for achieving a stock-proof hedge.
Hedge planting – top tips
Andrew Gracey, who is a volunteer with Ulster Wildlife, provided a step-by-step demonstration of the hedge planting process to the members of the Armagh Group.
If you are planning to plant a new hedge, you need to consider the following:
- WHERE – First determine the suitability of the site. Hedges should be planted in free-draining soils, ideally where a previous hedge has been removed or where there is a link with other hedges or habitats.
- WHEN – The best time to plant a new hedge on the farm is from November to March, to allow time for successful establishment before active growth starts.
- WHAT – Choose the species you are going to plant. Look at the native species growing in the locality as a guide to species selection. To increase the biodiversity potential of the hedge, it is recommended that you plant five native species in each 30m length of hedge with a 75% hawthorn and a 25% other woody species mix. Native hedgerow trees, such as rowan, oak, or wild cherry, are an important feature in newly planted hedges.
- HOW – Prepare the planting site well. On grassy sites, spray a one-meter width strip about three weeks before planting. Cultivate a trench about 300mm deep and 600mm wide. This will make planting easier and reduce competition during the first growing season.
How to plant a hedge – top tips
Firstly, plant five plants/metre in a double staggered row formation with 500mm between plants in the row and 300mm between rows.
For every 100 meters of new hedge, you should plan for 375 hawthorn and 125 other hedging species that tolerate trimming such as blackthorn, holly, hazel, spindle, guelder rose or dog rose.
Increasing planting to seven or eight plants/m will help establish a more stock-proof hedge, according to George.
Furthermore, potect roots from drying out during planting by keeping plants in a bag until needed. Only plant to the depth of the root collar – do not bury the stem or expose the roots.
Prune all plants except holly down to approximately 10-15cm above ground level. Use a sloping cut to leave a sharp point.
The lower the cut, the lower branching starts, but weed control must be better to prevent competition. Do not prune back If you intend to lay the hedge in the future.
Mulch, bark chippings, approved herbicide, or plastic sheeting such as waste silo cover can be used to control weeds. Plastic sheeting needs to be at least 1m wide and can be applied before or after planting.
Tuck the plastic in with a spade along the side of the planting area and hold the plastic in place with loose gravel or stones. Hand weeding is also essential for successful hedge establishment.
How to plant a hedge – dos and don’ts
Plant native trees so that there are at least eight trees per 100m length of hedge or identify individual hawthorn plants and retain them for trees. Trees should be protected with tree guards. This helps identify the location and prevent them from being trimmed off during hedge cutting.
Do not plant hedgerow trees beneath or within 20m of overhead power lines, close to buildings or at lane or road junctions where they could obstruct lines of vision.
Protect the newly planted hedge from grazing livestock with a stock-proof fence on each side, at least 2 metres apart.
Look after your hedge well in the first year. It will reduce the work you need to do in subsequent years. Ensure the hedge becomes an asset on the farm for many years.