How to plant a hedge in Ireland.
Hedging will be available to you in two form, they are.
(1) Bare-root hedging.
These are hedging plants; they are supplied as the name suggests with bare-roots, comprising just plant stem, roots and whatever clay still clings to the roots. Bare-root plants such as these have a relatively short window to facilitate planting, just running the course of their dormant period from mid-October to mid-March.
They fortunately have the up-shot of being the most economical to buy due to the lower production costs involved, often 1/3 the price of similar potted varieties. If you are contemplating planting a long run of hedging then think bare-root.
Note: Many of our native deciduous hedging varieties are easier to source bare-root rather than potted. On occasion certain varieties are only available bare-rooted.
(2) Container grown hedging (potted).
You can plant container-grown hedging plants at any time of the year, provided the soil is not frozen or waterlogged. However, if your garden is very exposed and windy I would recommend that certain varieties of hedging are planted in April. This goes for container-grown conifers (Leylandii, Thuja etc) and other broadleaf evergreens (Escallonia, privet etc). This will allow them to become established before the onset of winter.
Assess your planting location. Is it windy, prone to frost, sunny, shady, is the soil wet or dry, do you wish to encourage wildlife or do you wish to grow natives? Then choose a hedging variety to suit your needs and location, see here for a detailed list of varieties. Hedging plants in Ireland (size, spacing, flowers and fruit)
In windy areas, it is also worth putting up a protective barrier of windbreak netting (Netlon etc) after planting until the hedging is establised, this is more important for evergreen/conifer varieties. A windbreak barrier can reduce damaging winds by 50%
Need more materials?
- Windbreak bargains-
The ideal situation would be to have a 2 ft (60cm) depth of topsoil to plant your hedge into. But we don't all have that so digging the planting area deep and wide plus incorporating a good quantity of organic will make up for a lot of this. That being said though, don't try and grow a Leylandii hedge in six inches of soil and expect it to thrive.
Prepare the hedge planting area by spraying with a Glyphosate based herbicide (Roundup, Gallup etc) to destroy any perennial weeds. Leave for a month, inspect and re-spray any regrowth. If you had to re-spray, you must leave it a minimum of 3 weeks before continuing work.
If you wish to burn off the planting area without using chemicals, you can use an organic method known as solarization. To solarize an area of soil it must be covered with a clear plastic cover or transparent film for 8-10 weeks. read more on this method here. Solarize your soil.
If the growth in the area has been killed off correctly, there will be no need to remove the top surface of the planting area (this is sometimes call scrawing off). You can simply dig your planting hole into the burnt off surface and plant away. This is perfect for the larger growing/wider spaced hedging varieties eg. Western red ceder, but for the closer planting varieties eg. anything closer than 60cm, you would be better digging a planting trench.
Peg out your planting line with pegs and string; mark the area under this line with line marking spray, so you can then remove the string and pegs to allow planting (no tangles or trips).
Planting your hedge.
Once you have prepared the strip of ground, you may begin planting. Digging a hole/trench at twice as wide and deep as the hedging plant's container will give the hedge a brilliant chance of success.
If planting bare-root plants then dig the hole/trench a touch wider than the spread of the roots. Again like with the containerised plants, for bare-root hedging there should be enough depth to the hole/trench to add a good layer of topsoil and compost/organic matter mix all along it beneath the plants.
You see when planting bare-root or container grown hedging, instead of backfilling with the soil you removed from the pit you should instead backfill will a 50 / 50 mix of topsoil and compost/organic matter.
Mix the soil you've removed from the planting hole with well-rotted organic matter, this can be done in a wheelbarrow or on the ground next to planting. The organic matter you incorporate can be leaf mould, well rotted kitchen compost or well rotted farmyard manure. Garden centre bought soil enrichers can also be used.
If your soil is heavy or sticky, it is worth breaking up the sides and bottom of the hole by gently pricking the smeared and panned surfaces with a fork - this will allow the roots to grow into the surrounding soil. Adding a quantity of gravel or grit to the planting mix will also benefit hedging being planted into sticky soils.
The hedging plants need to be planted at the same depth as they were in the pot, or if you are planting bare-root specimens, to the depth of the existing soil mark on the stem. If you use an incorrect planting height this can lead to hedges refusing to bloom or thrive. If the plant is standing too high or low, you will need to remove or add
some of the newly made soil mix in the bottom of the hole.
Water your hedging even before planting. Immersing the pots of container grown hedging and the roots of bare-roots hedging in water-filled containers for about 10 minutes before planting is the best method, after this time remove them and allow the surplus water to drain away.
Remember, you must remove the plants from their pots before planting (you may laugh and think that this is obvious but I have seen hedging planted with their pots on). To remove a plant from a 2litre pot, simply push the centre of the pots base upwards with your two thumbs. The easiest way to get a large plant out of its pot is to gently lay it on its side, with one hand supporting the shrub, tap the pot rim, and ease the rootball out of its pot.
After removing the pot, check to see if the plant roots are wrapped tightly, if so you should gently tease some free. This will cause new roots to branch out into new soil instead of continually encircling themselves. Position the hedging plants in the centre of the hole at the correct spacing. You will find that it is worth cutting a piece of bamboo cane to length as a quick guide for accurate spacing.
Start to fill in the sides of the hole/trench with the soil mixture, gently firming it down with your fingers or heel. Bare-root hedging benefits from being lightly shook up and down whist backfilling is taking place, as this allows the soil to fill in between the roots. avoiding air pockets.
Regularly check the plants are straight and upright. Many people find hedge planting is easier with two people, one person planting and the other preparing the plants and holding them while soil backfilling takes place.
Once the hole/trench has been filled, gently firm the soil once more, don't hop up and down on the soil, you want to only get rid of any air pockets and make sure the plant is secure. Water the hedging plants once again using at least one full 10-litre watering can per plant; this is often known as puddling in.
Weed and pest control after planting.
Weed growth can strangle and kill a young hedge. As long as a weed can grow taller than the current hedge height you should worry about this.
I would highly recommend covering the surface of the soil at the base of the hedge with a generous layer of mulch, such as bark mulch. This will help discourage weeds and reduce the amount of water loss from the soil. You can take this idea even one step further by laying a sheet of weed prevention fabric either side of the hedge disguised with a layer of bark mulch.
If you live in an area where wild rabbits and hares are common, you may need to protect your hedge against the nipping teeth of these pests. See here for information how to protect your hedge. Rabbits.
Remember the extra rules to be followed for planting bare-root hedging.
Bare-root hedging is hedging lifted direct from the nurseries soil and transferred into your garden. It is a more economical way of creating a hedge, often 1/3 the price of its containerized version. However, bare-root plants can only be planted during the dormant season of November to March.
The rules regarding planting bare-rooted hedging are similar to containerised hedging with the following exceptions. Bare-rooted hedging plants should be kept moist at all times before planting. If the fine roots on the hedging should dry out you may have many failures within your hedge.
The best-case scenario would be to have your planting pits created beforehand, and then go to the garden centre / nursery purchase your plants and pop them in the ground that very day. Any plants you cannot plant that day should be heeled into some moist topsoil until the next day.
Plant bare-root hedging to the height of the existing soil mark on the plants stem.
With bare-rooted plants, the planting pit created should allow you to carefully spread the roots out across the bottom of the hole. Shake the stem of bare-rooted hedging plants lightly whilst back-filling your soil mix, this will ensure soil trickles down in between the roots.
Bare-root hedging may be more susceptible to wind rock and wind throw in the first few years after planting than container-grown plants. Because of this, you must keep a watchful eye on them especially during the windy winter period. Resettle "shook" hedging lightly with your heel when needed.
There is a case to be made for removing (clipping) the top third to half of growth from freshly planted containerised and bare-root hedging. This technique is the same as pinching off the top of a lanky plant to induce bushiness. Topping a newly planted hedge will spur the plants on to produce more roots, side shoots and prevent the unsightly bare "dog run" type look that many hedge bases have.
If you want to carry this out, do so upon planting or at latest by early spring ie. before new leaves emerge from buds of the hedging plants. However many new gardeners are loath to reduce in height a hedge they are desperately willing onwards to grow, grow, grow. The choice is up to you.
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