Heavenly hedges

Garden Life
From Sarah's garden to yours

If a house is a castle, then a backyard can be a kingdom. A place where outdoor living, eating, playing, gardening, and finding peace can be done. Enclosing the backyard along the boundary can add to that sense of privacy that can make your green space a tranquil retreat from the world.

While a fence is often the most common option, with its range of styles and colours, a hedge can offer so much more. It can provide a lush green outlook that is known to help with a healthy mental wellness. It filters the noise to the world beyond the garden and can slow the wind blowing through the neighbourhood. A hedge is also a naturally sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative to a fence, as it can become a haven for desirable wildlife. Many hedges host nesting birds.

There are many varieties of shrubs and trees that will make a suitable hedge, providing a constant evergreen background, or seasonal interest with blossoms and berries or leaves of many natural shades. Even a mixed hedge containing a variety of plants can look great. There is an option for every garden.

Although a hedge isn’t a maintenance-free option. To get a great looking hedge there is a little care and attention required, but it is well worth the effort.


Establishing a hedge

The autumn months are a great time to plant a hedge. The ground is still warm from the lingering summer, allowing the plants to settle in and before the worst of the winter weather arrives and growth slows or stops altogether.

The first step to a good hedge is to choose plants suitable for hedging that don’t mind being pruned and will grow well in your area and situation. There are plenty of plants that respond well to becoming a hedge and can even provide seasonal interest, including fragrant flowers. Spend time researching the plants you would like to grow to find out what conditions they need to ensure they will thrive. A struggling hedge can look unhealthy or may not grow as fully or lusciously as you would like.

As with any plant, it is always a good idea to check to make sure the area has good drainage and doesn’t become waterlogged, before planting anything. Test your intended planting site by digging a hole and filling it with water. It should drain away freely and quickly. Repeat this in several spots along the length of the proposed hedge to make sure the conditions are similar and will encourage even growth. Also look out for any variations in the soil that could hinder even growth. Adjust if necessary to improve drainage, then remove any weeds and roots by disposing of them away from your garden. Enrich the soil with organic material to provide a consistent soil quality and give the plants a good start.

However small the new plants seem; it is important to space them correctly to avoid overcrowding which can cause problems in the long term. Conversely, spacing them too far apart to stretch resources can create a thin-looking or gap-prone hedge. The best distance to plant a hedge is half the width of the mature tree. The plants will soon grow to take up their space.

A good thick mulch out to just beyond the dripline of the plants will help to suppress weeds, retain moisture, and insulate against the coldest winter conditions. Do avoid putting mulch up around the trunks though, as this can harm the tree. A light prune after planting helps to establish the hedge and give a uniform look from the start.

It is important to keep the young trees well-watered for at least the first year while the tree establishes, but also during dry seasons. To make it easy, think ahead and plan for regular watering at planting time. Consider setting up an irrigation system or a simple weeper hose under the hedge that can be controlled with a water timer, or easily connected to a hose. This will make your water management more efficient and reliable, while also making it low maintenance from the outset.


Maintaining a hedge

Once the hedge is established, it will require some care and attention to keep it looking its best. Use a good balanced fertiliser, suitable for the plants in your hedge, several times a year. This will promote lush leaves, good health and an increased resilience to pest and disease. A regular top-up of the mulch layer with compost or well-rotted manure will feed the micro communities within the soil, keeping it healthy for the plants that live in it.

As living plants, hedges are vulnerable to pests and diseases, particularly in summer when the risk is higher. Inspect your hedge regularly for any problems and treat them as soon as you can. This will help avoid a problem that can spread to the rest of the hedge making it difficult to control or resulting in unsightly gaps in the hedge.

To keep the hedge looking crisp and in control it will need a regular prune. Pruning in late winter, spring, and early summer encourages dense bushy growth and controls the height. Always use good quality, sharp cutting tools to avoid causing harm to the trees, and clean your tools frequently to avoid spreading disease. Take care not to disturb nesting birds in the spring - it is better to wait until the nests are empty.

Start your pruning by removing dead or diseased wood, right at the base of the branch. Then prune any large protruding branches, before trimming the hedge for shape and even growth. To ensure the sunlight reaches the whole plant, trim the hedge so it is wider at the bottom than the top. Avoid cutting beyond the green growth. To prevent fungal diseases, prune in clear dry conditions during the cool of the day.

As with most things in gardening there are always exceptions, so it is important to find out how your hedge variety likes to be treated and when it prefers to be pruned before attempting to trim. This is even more important with flowering hedges to avoid removing next seasons blooms.

Once you understand what your hedge needs and develop a comfortable routine, your backyard will become a green bordered sanctuary that you can enjoy with pride.