Native Hedgerows and how to plant them

At Kiln Farm Nursery people often come in to ask for advice and plants for a hedge.  We have plenty of the old favourites such as Laurel, Privet and Box.  We also grow and suggest ornamental shrubs that can be used as more imaginative hedging such as Viburnum Tinus, Escallonia or Abelia.  Yet it seems to me that people might overlook the most natural, varied and beautiful of all – the native hedging. 

Here are some of our suggestions for a native hedge and how to plant it.  Use a selection of these to give a wonderful mixture of foliage, flower, and fruit.

Hawthorn and Blackthorn (Crataegus and Prunus Spinosa)

I put these two together because they are so often confused.  They are both common in our Suffolk hedgerows.  We see their abundant, simple flowers with five pale petals in spring and what joy I feel when I see them and know the warmer weather is on its way.  The bees are delighted to find some early pollen at this time too. Both have lethal thorns.  The Blackthorn is the earliest to flower with the pale flowers looking stunning against the black stems.  The hawthorn flowers come out at the same time as its leaves, all on green bark.  We call hawthorn ‘May’ which gives a clue as to when all this happens!  As we move from late summer and into autumn comparisons are easy.  The full, black sloes are loaded on the Blackthorn and this year the Hawthorn seems to be crammed with glistening red berries. 

Field Maple (Acer Campestre)

I include this because it is such a reliable and fast growing plant.  There is plenty of it around the farm and, although it is not evergreen, the growth is so dense that it has the same effect of giving a boundary and providing shelter for wildlife.  The leaves remind me of doilies in their shape and they are tinged pink in spring, green in summer and golden in the autumn.

Holly (Ilex Aquifolium)

For evergreen solidity how about this age old winter favourite?  Slow growing but full of character and with Christmas berries too.

Spindle (Euonymus Europaea)

This has been a favourite of mine since childhood.  Every year at this time I am delighted to find the curious, bright pink berries as they dangle rather like tiny misshapen cherries or fairy purses.

Dog Rose (Rosa Canina)

You do not need many of these stems scattered along the hedge to have a delicate show in spring and stunning display in autumn.  These pale pink tinted flowers with yellow stamen are the image of perfection.  Of course the birds are probably more excited by the bright red rose hips that we are see in the autumn.  This should keep them going in winter.

Extra food for the wildlife

Every natural hedge has a sprinkle of ‘fun’ and adventure.  I would not be scared to add gifts such as Elderflower or blackberry.  Both have been prolific this year.  Perhaps I am being controversial here too . . . . but I love to hear the bees humming in the ivy at the moment.  I know that ivy can smother and ruin other plants but careful management surely leaves room for a bee feast?

Other suggestions for natural hedging plants which we stock in bare root are;

  • Acer Campestre – field maple
  • Alnus glutinosa – alder
  • Crataegus – hawthorn
  • Carpinus betulus – hornbeam
  • Castanea sativa – sweet chestnut
  • Cornus flaviramea – dogwood
  • Corylus avellana – hazel
  • Euonymus europaeus – spindle
  • Ilex aquifolium – holly
  • Prunus avium – wild cherry
  • Prunus spinosa – blackthorn
  • Prunus laurocerasus – cherry laurel

How to plant a native hedge

Our top tip would be to consider using bare root plants rather than buying the hedging in pots at shrub prices. You can transplant them straight into your garden from December to March and watch your new hedge take shape as the warmer weather arrives.  Ideally the whips are planted in a zig-zag formation forming two parallel but alternate lines. Cut a hole in the ground with your spade and place the whip inside it along with a bamboo cane for support. You may wish to use tree guards to protect from rabbits or deer. A mulch of some kind is also helpful to keep moisture in and competing weeds down. If you use this method you will need to be patient as bare root plants are smaller and will take a couple of years to really bush out and reach the height you would like.  If you have a long hedge to replace this is certainly the most economical. 

Ruth Goudy

If you wish to learn more about bare root plants and watch a video Ruth has made about how to plant bare root trees then then click the link below.