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Choosing the best hedging plants for your garden

Val Bourne / 04 September 2012

Follow our guide to the best hedging for your garden, plus how to plant and maintain it.

Woman pruning a hedge
Yew makes an excellent hedge and can also be used to create beautiful topiary shapes

How and when to plant a hedge

October is a perfect time to decide, order and plant bare-root hedging. And although these small, inexpensive hedging whips (which measure 2-3 feet and cost around a 90 pound each) look tiny when you plant them, they will soon romp away and make a hedge that quickly catches up with expensive, container-grown plants.

Always prepare the ground well and clear the weeds and add some compost or well-rotted manure to the ground if you can. If this is difficult, use blood, fish and bone instead, adding it to the bottom of the planting hole.

Each whip needs to be 15 inches apart and each row 18 inches apart. If you want a double row, stagger the planting and always keep the weeds down by mulching and water your new hedge well in dry weather.

Protect your whips with rabbit shields (if necessary) and then stake. You can plant bare-root hedging up to the beginning of March and your whips can be stored in cool frost-free places if the weather is frosty. But always soak them for a couple of hours before you plant.

Read our guide to bare-root planting.

Choosing the best hedge: beech or hornbeam?

When it comes to choosing hedges, there's lots of choice. Decide whether you want evergreen or deciduous hedging and always consider maintenance. The best hedges only need a once-a-year trim and slower-growing hedges make better barriers.

The two obvious choices for a deciduous hedge are  beech (Fagus sylvatica) and hornbeam (Carpinus betulus). Both form attractive green backdrops and they look very similar. But hornbeam comes into leaf earlier and provides a green backdrop by late April.

Beech often waits until mid-May and for this reason alone I favour the crimped, bright-green leaves of hornbeam hedging above the shiny, soft-leaved later beech hedging.

However this decision may be academic. Hornbeam is happiest on heavier, damp soil. If you have lighter, well-drained conditions you will probably have to opt for beech instead.

Conversely beech hates heavy soil. Of the two beech is harder to establish and there are often losses, basically because it's shallow rooted.  New plants often suffer from beech aphid too. You can also plant mixed native hedging that attracts wildlife, it will contain several native species but do discuss your conditions.

August is a good month to cut both hornbeam and beech.

If you're interested in using a hedge as a privacy screen, read our guide to choosing a privacy hedge

The best evergreen hedge

If you want an evergreen hedge, yew is the best maintenance-friendly hedge. But gardeners imagine that it will take a hundred years to grow. They're confused by the fact that churchyards often contain trees that are centuries old. But yew isn't that slow!  No one can pretend that yew is a very fast growing hedge (like those dreadful Lleylandii hedges) but given ten to fifteen years, yew will form a five-foot high hedge.

Help yew hedging grow faster

You can encourage yew to grow faster by feeding your new yew hedge every two weeks with a water-on seaweed fertiliser during the growing season - between April and August. Once established your yew hedge will see you out and it will only require an annual trim.

How and when to prune yew hedging

The chief advantage with yew is that it can be taken back to bare wood and still regenerate, unlike Lleylandi hedges. They just die and even when well-maintained they only have an average forty-year life span. Clip your new yew hedge every August to thicken it up.

Holly as hedging

Holly can make an excellent evergreen hedge too but it's much slower than yew.  It's a twenty-year project at least. You could either use our prickly burglar-proof native Ilex aquifolium or the rounder-leaved, kinder hybrid Ilex x altaclerensis.

If you're interested in growing a thorny hedge to deter intruders, read our guide to improving garden security


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.