Planting a hedge can be the ideal solution for a garden that lacks structure and adornment. Well-maintained hedges act as screens, boundaries and features of interest in any outdoor space, helping to protect your privacy, shield smaller plants from the elements and impress your guests.
Planting hedges can also help you attract and house more wildlife in your garden, which is a great benefit for nature lovers. Best of all, planting a new hedge is relatively easy once you know what to do, so here are some step-by-step instructions on how to plant a hedge and help it thrive, including how to choose the best plants, when to plant them, how to space them, ground preparation tips, planting best practices and aftercare advice.
Choosing the Best Hedging Plants
The right hedge plants for your garden will be the ones that best fit your needs and preferences. For example, if you’re looking for a natural privacy screen, you may prefer a fast-growing, tall, evergreen hedge that will instantly create a solid barrier around your outdoor space, such as Green Leylandii. Or, if you’re looking for a decorative feature, then you may find a deciduous hedge that loses its leaves in the winter more aesthetically pleasing, such as Green Beech.
You also need to consider whether you want bare root, container-grown or rootballed hedging plants, as this will affect how you plant them and how they grow:
- Bare root hedging plants: These plants are grown in the field and are lifted and planted during Winter. They are sold bare rooted (all the soil is shaken off so they simply have bare roots) This makes them cheaper to produce and cheaper to buy. Hedges made from bare rooted plants are generally cheaper and smaller, which can make them easier to plant. However, they can take longer to establish as a hedge and must be planted when they are dormant (i.e. during winter).
- Container-grown plants: Container-grown or pot-grown plants have a fully intact root system as the roots have established in the pot within the soil/compost. They can be planted year round and usually establish quickly as there is no shock to the root system. Our 10 litre potted hedge plants can give an instant effect if you need an established hedge as soon as possible, but they are more expensive than bare root plants as they cost more to produce and cultivate.
- Root ball plants: These hedge plants are also grown in the field but for longer and are therefore more established and a great option if you want instant hedging. The roots are harvested in a ball of soil and tied up with fabric, which will either decompose once the hedge is planted or will need to be removed. (We can advise which).
- Instant Hedging Plants: Instant Hedging Plants are pre grown hedges that are grown in containerised troughs. For a truly instant effect, this product is usually sold in 1 metre lengths and comes in varying heights. An instant 6 foot hedge can be planted in a garden in a single day using this system.
What Is the Quickest Hedge to Grow?
If you can’t wait months for a hedge to become tall and dense enough to act as a screen or boundary in your garden, then you’ll need Instant Hedging Plants or pre-grown root balled plants that have been harvested from a field. These instant hedges may be more expensive, but it’s definitely worth it if you want rapid results.
Best Time to Plant a Hedge
By planting a hedge during the right time of year, you can give it the best chance of establishing and thriving. The best time for planting will depend on what kind of hedge you’ve got:
- Evergreen and semi-evergreen bare rooted hedges: The ideal time for planting these hedges is around early autumn, but they can also be planted anytime between late autumn and late winter.
- Deciduous bare rooted hedges: Similarly, these hedges should be planted during their dormant period, which is from mid-autumn to late winter.
- Potted hedging plants: Planting can be carried out at any time of year for potted plants. With the exception of drought or very cold conditions.
If planting your hedge during autumn or winter, you need to watch out for adverse weather conditions. Hedges should not be planted in frozen or waterlogged soil as this could be fatal for the plants, so you’ll need to wait until it’s thawed or drier.
What If You Can’t Plant Your Hedge Immediately?
It’s not always possible to plant your hedge straightaway. Here are some ways to maximise success when planting your hedges at a later date.
Bare Rooted Plants: If your hedge planting is delayed by waterlogged or frozen soil, then you’ll need to keep your plants safe and keep the roots moist while you wait.
If the delay lasts for less than a week, all you need to do is keep your hedge plants in a sheltered location (e.g.shed or against a fence or wall) and keep the roots moist. To do this, you could place moist straw around the plant roots or cover them with compost and a plastic sheet.
However, if the delay lasts longer than a week, you’ll need to heel in your plants to preserve them. Heeling in your plants means that they’re temporarily planted while you wait. You’ll need to dig a V-shaped trench, soak the roots in water for up to an hour, place the plants into the trench at a 45 degree angle and backfill with soil. This will protect and preserve your plants for up to 8 weeks.
Rootballed Plants: These really are best planted straight away to maximise success, but if this is simply not possible, follow the steps above for bare rooted plants.
Potted Plants: Potted plants should also be kept in a sheltered location and watered until they are planted. Potted plants will take up more space than bare rooted plants and will require more management to care for them until they are planted. If the plant rootballs do dry out slightly, it is best to re-wet them before planting. Remove the rootball from the pot and submerse the rootball in a big bucket of water. Once the air bubbles stop coming up, the rootball should be wet through to the core.
Spacing for Planting Hedges
Next, you need to consider the spacing of your hedging plants. If you don’t allow each hedge plant enough space to grow and thrive, the roots may not be able to establish properly, and if you space them too far apart, you may not achieve the right density for your new hedge.
The ideal spacing for your plants will depend on their size, your desired hedge density and whether you’re planting hedges in single rows or double rows. In general, planting distances will vary from 30cm to 60cm depending on the size of your plants. If you require a hedge thicker than 90cm, you could plant a staggered double row 45cm apart with plants that are around 90cm apart. Set your hedge back from the boundary line around your property so that it doesn’t grow onto pathways or into someone else’s garden.
If you’re using bare rooted or small plants, your hedge plants will not resemble much of a hedge to begin with. However, they will fill out significantly in the first and second growing seasons after planting. For more information related to the optimal spacing of your particular hedge plants, make sure you read the recommended planting densities displayed for each plant on the website. If in doubt, make the spaces between planting holes slightly larger to allow enough room for growth.
Preparing the Ground for Planting a Hedge
Good soil preparation is an essential part of hedge planting. If you don’t ensure that your soil is in the right condition before you begin planting, you may be preventing your plants from thriving, or in the worst-case scenario, they may fail to establish at all.
Any perennial weeds or grass should be removed before planting to reduce competition and give your hedge enough space to grow. To be on the safe side, you should aim to leave a 30cm gap between your hedge and grass or other plants for the first two years after planting, as this will ensure that the hedge has the space it needs during the crucial establishment period.
The use of a systemic herbicide (containing glyphosate) will kill any weeds down to the roots. Make sure you apply this before you start planting a hedge so that the soil is prepared in advance. Additionally, weed killer sprays such as ‘Roundup’ require a dry spell of at least 4 hours once applied to do their job, which means you need to allow enough time for the weed killer to work before planting.
Cultivating or tilling the soil is the process of loosening it up before planting in order to maintain soil health and prevent weed development. Compacted soil is detrimental to plants because it reduces water infiltration and root growth, which can eventually lead to plant death.
Soil that has experienced a lot of foot traffic or the use of heavy machinery is more likely to become compacted. To eliminate the risk of soil compaction during hedge planting, the ground should be turned over to loosen and aerate the soil. This will make it easier for the roots of the new hedge to establish.
If the soil into which the new hedge is to be planted is not very fertile, then the addition of a fair amount of new organic matter is generally a good idea. Suitable products include topsoil or garden compost. Bagged compost can be used as an additive to the soil, but this does have a different structure to soil and since using it on its own could make the ground very wet in winter and dry in summer, it’s often better used as an additive as opposed to a direct replacement for the soil.
Planting a Hedge
Once the surrounding soil is prepared, you can get started with planting your new hedging. Following your previous calculations on hedge spacing, dig out your trenches or planting holes and poke the bottom and sides of the holes with a garden fork to reduce soil compaction. Check the size of the root balls or plant pots to work out the size of the trench or holes required. Digging a trench is easier for plants that are closer together, but you may prefer individual holes if you have larger hedging plants that require more space.
Whilst you dig, you should submerge the root ball or bare roots of your hedge in a bucket of water until no new air bubbles appear. This indicates that the roots are thoroughly watered.
Next, you can start placing the hedge plants in each planting hole. Make sure you hold them straight as you start backfilling with the soil mixed with fertiliser. Once the hole is filled, you’ll need to firm the soil around the plant to remove air pockets, as these can cause frost damage in colder months. Firming or tamping the soil will also prevent dislodgement during windy conditions, but if you have a taller plant that needs extra support, staking it is advisable.
When backfilling, you should be careful not to bury the roots too deeply as this can cause the roots of the plant to rot. Ideally, there should be around an inch of soil covering the top of the root structure.
Another hedge planting technique is slit planting. This method is normally only used for bare rooted or small plug plants. This technique can be much faster, especially if you’re planting a lot of new hedging, but bear in mind that you probably won’t achieve as much planting success overall.
With slit planting, all you need to do is stick your spade fully into the ground and wiggle it back and forward. This will reveal a slit in the soil where you can place your hedge plant. Then, you’ll need to remove the spade, push the soil back and firm it around the plant.
The process of planting a hedge successfully doesn’t end once it’s in the ground. To ensure that your newly planted hedging establishes and thrives, you need to take good care of it. Here are the main areas to focus on:
Any newly planted hedges are susceptible to drying out if not carefully watered. This is particularly important if the planting is carried out during spring or summer or in sandy soils where moisture retention is poor. The first essential watering is at planting time. If the plant root balls have been allowed to dry out then they should be soaked thoroughly before planting and then watered in well after planting.
Watering should then take place at regular intervals (i.e. twice a week or potentially every day during spring or summer) unless there has been sufficient rainfall and the soil is already moist. New plants can take up to two years to develop a sufficient root system in the soil to support themselves, so up until this point, watering is vital to plant survival, establishment and growth.
Different soils will require different frequencies of watering. Get to know your own soil and how quickly it dries out in warm dry weather. The best way to test if your soil needs watering is to scrape away a few inches of soil around the base of the plants and feel the soil. The soil around the plants wants to be moist, not saturated, as waterlogged soil is detrimental to healthy growth. If it feels dry or is only slightly moist at the bottom, then you should water it. Each watering should be a thorough drenching applied evenly from a hose, watering can or leaky pipe-type irrigation system.
Mulching is the application of a layer of organic material on top of the soil around the plants. Mulching serves several purposes. It will suppress the growth of weeds in the newly planted area. Weeds will compete with your new hedge for moisture and nutrients so must be controlled. It will also provide some nutrients to the plants and conserve moisture by preventing evaporation.
Suitable materials for mulching include garden compost, mushroom compost, bark mulch and bark chips. These should be applied at least 2–3 inches deep to be effective. Mulching should be carried out in the spring when there is still plenty of moisture in the soil. If you’re applying mulch in the summer, then the area should be well watered beforehand.
Feeding a young freshly planted hedge will encourage it to grow and will speed up the establishment to mature hedge height. In addition to applying fertiliser before planting hedges, you may also decide to apply it to aid growth after planting. The best types of fertilisers to use for a new hedge are controlled-release fertilisers. These are granular fertilisers that release nutrients gradually into the soil over a certain period, such as six months. This type of fertiliser can be added in the spring when the plants start to actively grow again and will feed the plants through the growing season.
Non-controlled-release fertilisers, including manure and fertilisers derived from manure, can scorch the roots of the new plants and burn the foliage if applied too heavily. Bonemeal, Growmore and controlled-release fertilisers such as Osmocote are suitable fertilisers for use during and after planting. Please follow the manufacturer’s recommended rates.
Trimming or pruning your new hedges involves cutting back overgrown or dead branches. This is important for tidying them up, creating more density and aiding healthy growth.
The best time to trim your new hedge is around spring or summer, although this will depend on the species of your hedge since evergreen and deciduous hedging can have different requirements. Generally, maintenance trimming will only need to be carried out once a year, but if you discover nesting birds in your hedge, you may have to postpone the pruning until the nesting season ends.
Final Thoughts: How to Plant a Hedge Successfully
This helpful guide shows you the best way to plant a hedge so that it thrives for many years to come. With the right hedge, excellent timing, good ground preparation, proper planting procedures and fantastic aftercare, you’ll be able to showcase the very best evergreen and deciduous plants in your garden.
Here at Hedging UK, we can help you find your perfect hedging. We stock a wide range of hedge species, including evergreen hedges, deciduous hedges, root ball hedges, thuja hedging plants, pot-grown hedges, instant hedging plants and much more. Check out our hedge collections to take advantage of this amazing selection, our expert advice and free delivery on selected orders.