Neat and tidy hedges can make a big impact on the overall look of your garden. Understanding what type of hedge you have will ultimately determine what you will need to do, as each species and style will have different needs. To make things easier we’ve put together the top five things to consider.
1. Find The Right Shape
Before you get cracking with the hedge work you should always plan ahead. The end result is something you will have to live with for a few months so you’d better make sure you get it right the first time. Make sure you plan how much you want to cut back and what type of look you’re after. The age of your hedge will determine how much you need to cut, as new hedges will need more formative pruning than the more established varieties.
Overall when trimming the hedge it is very important that you shape the hedge correctly. Ensuring a clean cut that leaves the hedge wider at the bottom means the sunlight can hit every inch of the hedge, which will promote an even growth. If you don’t shape the hedge the areas that don't get enough sunlight will turn brown and die, which will then affect the whole look and shape of the hedge.
If you are feeling ambitious it can be worth adding a slight taper to the top of the hedge, similar to a dry stone wall. This can add additional stability, which will be very helpful if snowfall is heavy over the winter period. It is worth cutting only a little bit at a time, as this will promote stronger growth.
2. Cutting Back
Formal hedges will need a lot more work than an informal hedge. Once the hedges have established themselves regular maintenance will be required to ensure it stays healthy and neat. Informal hedges will not require as much maintenance as they don't need to be kept as tightly clipped.
A new hedge will also require initial formative pruning in the first few years to make sure it grows in the right shape. This is either carried out in winter or spring when the hedge isn’t growing before the new season arrives. Each hedge is different and will require different trimming needs; evergreens and deciduous hedges have different requirements so be sure you are aware of what you are up against.
The trim is one of the most important things about hedge care; this is not just how but when you choose to trim. Picking the right moment is important as you want to encourage growth and the different types of hedges will determine the timing. Formal hedge species like box or privet may require 2-3 trims during the growing season (between May and September) and faster growing conifers may need even more. It’s not recommended to trim after the end of August. If any major renovations are required it is better to leave the hedge until February whilst the hedge is still in a dormant state in advance of the new growing season. It is worth researching your species of hedge for more specific instructions on how best to manage the cutting process.
3. Prevent Weeds From Encroaching On Your Plants
In order for your plants to grow in the best possible conditions you need to ensure there is enough light and moisture. Weeds can steal much-needed nutrients from a hedge that can affect growth. Ideally you should look to weed the area by hand (with gloves), this will keep the hedge happy and healthy during the growing season. Keeping on top of the weeds can be crucial to the health of your hedge as certain weeds can get tangled in the roots; if this happens they are very difficult to eradicate.
The simplest way to remove weeds from the equation is just to pull them out. On a sunny day the remains will wilt in the sun. This can be time consuming and is fairly old fashioned but sometimes the old ways are the best. Organic mulch in springtime is also a strong idea, as, when covered, the lack of air and sunlight will kill them. It is also nicely eco-friendly if you use something like woodchips or bark mulch, which decompose slowly. Mulch made from grass cuttings can be good too if you are sure there aren’t any weeds in the mix. However you should make sure that you wait for the grass mulch to wilt slightly or you will attract snails.
4. Water Well
Sometimes rainfall alone isn’t enough to keep a hedge going. In the dryer months, the last thing you want is for your hedge to dry out due to hot or windy weather so it may need to help with some additional water from you. A hedge needs to have a healthy supply of water to make sure it grows with enough strength, especially in the first two years.
If you are using your hedge as a boundary from your neighbours you will need to make sure it establishes as quickly as possible. As a result watering is very important in the early years. If you are able to set up an irrigation system with drip lines this can take a lot of the work away from you in the long term, however you will still need to put the work in to make sure it is laid properly. If you are going to lay drip lines be sure to lead a close spacing to ensure an even water flow. It is not recommended to water with a spray function with a sprinkler system as this can waste water. It can also encourage fungal leaf diseases, which can end up ruining your hedge.
There are many different factors that can affect the actual amount of water your hedge will need. You will need to consider the type of soil, type of plant and the amount of wind or sunlight the hedge is usually exposed to. As an example, if the soil cannot retain the water then you will need to water the hedge more often and add lots of organic material to the soil.
Ideally the best time of day to get the watering done is in the evening. This way the plants can take advantage from slightly damper soil throughout the night. If you have set up an irrigation system you can set this on a timer to make it easy for you. You will, however, need to be careful not to run this when it is raining or over watering can cause the roots to rot.
5. Check For Nesting Animals
During some periods of the year your hedge might become a safe haven from the weather or predators. Certain birds or mammals might use your hedge as their new settlement to rear their young. When this happens it is imperative not to disturb these animals.
Crucially, it is against the law to “kill, injure or take” any wild bird or nest of a wild bird. The punishment can be quite severe resulting in a fine or even a prison term. If the hedge acts as a boundary between two gardens the responsibility is shared between the two parties.
More often than not however, discovering that you have more neighbours, can affect how much work you can get done. You can check out our blog post to see how nesting birds affect what hedge work can be done.