Why You Should Consider Adding a Hedge to Your Yard

 With outdoor areas becoming more valuable and many people showing a renewed interest in protecting the natural world around us, our yards have to work harder than ever. Hedges are a great way to bring seasonal color and interest into your space and provide food and shelter for a wealth of birds, animals and insects, enriching not only your plot but the surrounding area too.

Hutker Architects
Reasons to Plant a Hedge

“Hedges can make a wonderful contribution to the beauty of your [yard] as well as provide significant benefits for wildlife and the environment,” says designer Jane Ashley of Jane Ashley Garden Design. In fact, some hedges can even help to improve air quality “by providing a barrier that traps pollution particles,” she says.

Katy Fielding, Hedgerow Heritage project manager for Surrey Wildlife Trust, agrees. “As a food source, it can provide a vital supply of early pollen and nectar in spring, right through to brambles in the autumn and everything in between,” she says. Fielding says hedgerows can also provide broader ecological benefits. “Hedging plants are great at capturing carbon, for example, as well as holding water back on land, so they can help to guard against flooding,” she says.

Then there are the aesthetics of planting hedges. “They bring more calming and attractive greenery into your garden,” Ashley says. “And you can also make use of their deceptive potential — they can help to disguise where your [yard] ends, as the view of the hedge can blend into the borrowed landscape of trees beyond.”

leah pine landscape architect, LLC
Wildlife Benefits of a Hedge

“Hedges are like mini ecosystems in themselves, with wonderful environmental benefits,” Ashley says. If you’re able to plant a hedge, she adds, you might also provide a corridor for small animals to move more safely between yards, “thus increasing their chance of finding food and a mate.”

“The wildlife benefits of a hedgerow are huge,” Fielding says. “As well as providing valuable food and pollen and creating wildlife corridors, they offer nesting space for a wide variety of mammals and birds, from small mammals sheltering at the base to birds building nests in the middle. They also offer perching points on top for birds to watch and guard their territory.”
Jane Ashley Garden Design
Key Considerations Before Adding a Hedge

The first question to ask yourself is whether your hedge’s main purpose is privacy, security or largely decorative. Each of these factors will influence the type of hedge you ultimately choose, as will whether you want a formal or informal look in your garden.

The width and height of the hedge are also big considerations. Rebecca Smith of Rebecca Smith Garden Design suggests thinking about how much space there is for one and asking yourself if you have room for it to grow wider. She also recommends checking how tall your chosen plants will eventually grow, as some could quickly get too big for your yard.

Ashley also suggests considering the speed of growth of a hedge before planting, “bearing in mind the trade-off between quick establishment in the short term and maintenance issues in the longer term,” she says.

How to Choose the Right Hedge for Your Yard

Both Ashley and Smith emphasize that the hedge you choose has to be suitable for your yard’s soil type and light levels.

For example, if your garden is shady, Ashley suggests holly (Ilex spp.) or yew (Taxus spp.). If your soil is wet, she recommends avoiding yew and trying alder (Alnus spp.) or dogwood (Cornus spp.) instead. If your garden is exposed and windy, she suggests hawthorn (Crataegus spp.)If you want a hedge for security purposes, both Smith and Ashley recommend choosing a prickly plant such as holly or hawthorn.

It’s also worth considering who will be using the garden. If you have young children, for example, Ashley suggests checking the toxicity of hedge plants and avoiding ones such as yew.

Chris Snook
Why You Should Consider Native Plants

“Native mixed hedging will attract so much more beneficial wildlife to your garden [than some single species], from butterflies and insects to small mammals and songbirds,” Fielding says. “We usually plant 80% hawthorn or blackthorn, with the remaining 20% a mix of seven or eight other species.”

“Native hedging is a great option for supporting wildlife,” Ashley says, “especially mixed native hedging, since this can provide a succession of food for birds and insects, as the different varieties produce fruit and flowers at different times of year.”

“A hedge is constantly evolving, so have fun with it and experiment. The main thing to remember is to enjoy it,” Fielding adds.

Greey Pickett
Adding a Hedge to a Small Yard

Fielding encourages homeowners with small yards to add hedges. “Planting a hedge is just about giving it a go. However much space you have, it’s always worth it, as you’ll be providing that little bit of shelter, food and protection for wildlife. As is the case across so many areas of conservation, we don’t need a few people doing it perfectly, we need millions of people doing it imperfectly,” she says.

“For a small garden, a hedge needs to consist of a plant that can be cut back hard, so it doesn’t start to encroach too much on the [yard], or a plant that will not grow too quickly,” Smith says.
Vertoch Design Architects
The Best Time to Plant a Hedge

Your local climate will affect when you can plant, with gardeners in some regions able to plant fall through spring. Others will need to wait until the ground has thawed. “I generally prefer to plant hedges in the autumn if possible, while the soil is still warm, to give plants time to settle their roots before winter. You shouldn’t plant if the ground is frozen or waterlogged,” Ashley says.

Bare-root plants can only be planted over the winter months, from November until March or April, depending on the weather,” Smith says. “While autumn and spring are the best times to plant [container-grown plants], it’s possible, though not ideal, to plant them anytime,” she says. “However, hedges should not be planted in the height of summer, as they can dry out too quickly and require too much watering.”
Tracy Foster Gardens
Maintenance Requirements

Most hedges will need to be pruned annually to maintain their size and shape, Smith says. They may also need fertilizing once established to keep them looking their best. Ashley agrees and adds that they’ll also need frequent watering in their first year of planting.

“Hedgerow management is essential, but we advise people to manage on a three- to five-year basis,” Fielding says. “For example, one year you could cut back one side, the next year cut back the top and the following year cut back the other side. That way, you don’t stress the plant too much and you don’t remove all the food source in one go, either.”

Comparatively, a fence can be installed that might not require maintenance for several years. Eventually, though, Ashley says, it will need replacing if not properly maintained, “while hedges, once established, can easily outlive most fencing.”

Swick's Organic Landscaping
Do You Need a Neighbor’s Permission to Plant a Boundary Hedge?

You don’t need permission to plant a hedge on your land, but you do need to make sure it won’t negatively affect your neighbor’s enjoyment of their yard by growing too tall and blocking light, views or access. Homeowners can contact their local authority if they have a problem with a hedge, but it’s usually best to try to settle any issues with the homeowner in person first.

“I believe a face-to-face chat prior to instigating works can alleviate any tension,” Smith says, “as the neighbor will have to look at the hedge and have to either agree to maintaining their side of it or allow you access to their garden in future for maintenance.

“If the hedge is planted within the boundary (leaving room for growth) and a maintenance plan can be agreed upon between both parties prior to planting,” she says, “the outcome should be a happy one.”

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