How To Grow A Modern Hedgerow

Revive your home or farm landscape with a modern hedgerow that can provide soil stability, privacy, wildlife habitat and other benefits.

by Kevin Fogle
PHOTO: Simon Huggins/Flickr

While hedges and hedgerows sound similar, a hedgerow is not a simple synonym for a hedge. A hedge is a narrow linear planting of single shrub species, such as a boxwood or yew planted very closely together so the plants grow together. Unlike the monoculture of hedges, a hedgerow is a diverse, widely cultivated row composed of native trees, shrubs, and a variety of vines and undergrowth.

Hedgerows are an age old English agrarian tradition that functioned as living fences between fields and used to direct the flow of human and livestock traffic across the landscape. While true English inspired hedgerows are impractical for most gardeners who live far away from the countryside, modern versions can be created by installing scaled down hedgerows in urban or suburban environments which can provide many of the same benefits.

Why Plant A Hedgerow In The First Place?

Modern hedgerows are slowly popping up on landscapes across North America due to their beauty, utility and ecological benefits. First off, hedgerows can be aesthetically pleasing landscape components that feature a variety of native flowering and fruiting species. These dense and potentially tall plantings can also be installed to block unwanted sights or to provide a degree of physical and visual privacy for your property and outdoor space.

From an environmental perspective, adding hedgerows to your landscape provide numerous benefits, including by helping prevent erosion around the yard and stabilizing soil around small urban waterways. Mature hedgerows can serve as effective windbreaks that can help reduce evaporative water loss in nearby garden space. And perhaps most importantly, hedgerows function as essential wildlife habitats for native mammals, reptiles, birds and insects, offering shelter and a vital urban corridor for animal travel along and between hedgerows.

Do You Have Space For A Hedgerow?

Traditional English-style hedgerows are massive dense borders that were often 20 or more feet wide and stretching as far as the eye could see. Modern hedgerows or short hedgerow segments need only to be about 10 feet wide and can be cultivated in most traditional yards along the perimeter of your useful outdoor space. Look for space along fencerows, above slopes or along waterways. Hedgerows can also be a collaborative effort among adjoining neighbors working to build a longer hedgerow along the adjoining property lines.

Composing And Planting Your Hedgerow

The makeup of your hedgerow should include a diverse mix of deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs with slightly higher ratio of evergreens. The plants you choose should feature a wide range of seasonality to ensure fruits and flowers across all seasons to help feed and shelter native animals and insects throughout the year. Also plan to plant a range of plant heights from ground covers all the way to trees. Mature plant height is an aspect that is very important consider in residential landscapes, as tall hedgerows may create too much shade or interfere with aboveground utility lines.

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A classic rule of thumb is to plant in fall or spring, interspacing your shrubs and trees in several rows. The plants should be placed slightly closer than their recommended spacing so that they will grow together into a single feature. When selecting and placing plants, be sure to plan for plant growth and potential shade issues that may crop up in the future. As your hedgerow grows, plan to add shade-loving plants once shaded zones are regularly produced.

Before planting, be sure to work in a significant amount of compost and organic material into the planned hedgerow area, especially if you happen to have poor soils often found in modern residential landscapes.

Hedgerows should primarily include native species, as exotics tend to be poor sources of nutrients for native insects, especially the threatened native pollinators, like bumblebees. Talk to your local extension agent or garden center for a list of suitable native plants that will thrive in your area and in your specific soil and light conditions. After your initial hedgerow is planted, put down a thick layer of mulch to help maintain moisture and protect your sensitive new plants.

Maintaining A Hedgerow

The good news is that hedgerows can be largely maintenance-free after it becomes established. During the first three or four years, your hedgerow will need to be regularly weeded and watered. If width and size of your hedgerow is a concern for your space, actively prune and maintain the outer edges of the hedgerow to keep the planting from becoming too bushy or tall.

With a bit of forethought and planning, you can have a hedgerow that adds visual interest to your landscape and supports native life of all kinds.

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