Use Small Spreading Native Shrubs to Create a Dense Hedgerow
In this episode, we’re going to look at the role small spreading native shrubs can play in creating a dense hedgerow. Making a dense hedgerow can be a challenge. But by planting small spreading native shrubs you can easily have a dense hedgerow. Native plants like Nootka roses and snowberries will quickly fill in the gaps and can make your hedgerow solid enough to keep even deer out.
I love our hedgerows—we’ve planted over 300-feet of hedgerows along the edges of our property and we’ve got a lot more planned.
Just a quick note—we’ve covered hedgerows in a past podcast episode and several blog posts. I’ve included links to all of those in the resources section of the show notes to help you get started if you're new to hedgerows. Just click on the link in the description to find the show notes.
All of our hedgerows not only provide privacy and habitat for wildlife they also serve to keep our kids in our yard and deer out. You need dense hedgerows for this to work.
And that can be a challenge.
Even for us, we’ve struggled to get some of our hedgerows dense enough. Some of that is due to poor soil in a few areas.
But it also took some experimentation to figure out which combination of plants would result in dense hedgerows. And I’m adding more plants to some of our earlier hedgerows to fill them in.
Often as the plants grow bigger they shade out their lower branches and they actually start to open up down low despite still being thicker higher up.
To solve this you need small shrubs that can fill in the gaps as they open up. And you need plants that will stay below your taller ones.
Here in western Washington Nootka rose and snowberries are 2 great native plants that can handle this role.
So let’s dive into why these plants are so good for this so you can find plants where you live that can also help you create a dense hedgerow.
But before we do I want to take a moment to say thank you to two of our newest patrons James and Andi.
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Okay, let’s get started.
Further Listening and Reading: Growing with Nature episodes and blog posts with more information about the topics covered in this episode.
- Why You Should Plant a Hedgerow (Plus 5 Tips to Get Started)
- How to Start a Hedgerow (5 Steps)
- What is a Hedgerow and Why You Should Plant One
Books and Other Resources
- Learn more about hedgerows
Plant List: More information about some of the plants covered in this episode.
Create a Dense Hedgerow by Planting Small Spreading Native Shrubs
There are a couple of different options for creating a dense hedgerow. One way that was used historically is to prune them and even weave branches together.
When my wife and I got to spend a year in England I watched a farmer partially cut down a row of hawthorns.
Each hawthorn was cut about halfway through and then bent over so it was leaning towards the next one in the row.
Hawthorns can survive this and keep growing.
The next step was to prune and weave all those hawthorns together to create a very dense and thorny hedgerow that will keep most animals either in or out depending on which side they’re on.
This approach takes a fair bit of effort and time since you have to wait for the hawthorns to grow enough. Though it’s likely the best approach to keeping animals like pigs in.
It’s a great approach that has a lot of very practical uses. But I want something easier that I don’t have to manage as much.
This is where the second approach comes in—and that is to plant the right mix of plants that naturally result in a dense hedgerow.
I always like to have a mix of trees and large shrubs in my hedgerows. These plants are the foundation of the hedgerow and give it a good amount of height—up to 20 or 30-feet.
But the small spreading native shrubs are the key to making it dense enough to keep our kids in and deer out.
I’ve found our Nootka roses and snowberries to be 2 of our best native options. There are a few reasons why these are my go-to plants for dense hedgerows.
They’re both very quick-growing and readily spread via shoots from their roots. And both Nootka roses and snowberries are tolerant of some shade though generally still prefer some sun.
Being fast-growing, tending to spread, and being tolerant of shade but preferring sunlight really makes these plants champions for dense hedgerows.
And they both stay under 10-feet in height.
The reason it’s a good thing that they like sunlight but can handle some shade is it means they will grow under your taller trees and shrubs but will focus their growth away from your other plants.
As long as you plant them on the sunny side of your hedgerow with your other plants behind them they won’t tend to compete with your other plants or spread back into the hedgerow.
And since they stay relatively short Nootka roses and snowberries won’t be able to shade out your taller shrubs and trees.
Combined with how quickly these plants spread they will quickly fill in any gaps and create a very dense hedgerow—especially on the outside edge facing the sun.
Any plants that have these characteristics can be great options for your hedgerows. There should be native options where you live but you can also use non-native plants in the same way.
For example, I’ve used red raspberries along some of my hedgerows and they work great.
Once you have the plants picked out, the key is to plant them in the right part of your hedgerow—so let’s look at how you do that.
Planting a Dense Hedgerow – Use Rows
Planting a dense hedgerow doesn’t just take the right combination of plants but they also need to be planted in the right way.
My favorite approach is to plant in rows—2 is the minimum but I like to plant at least 3 rows when I want a dense hedgerow.
With 2 rows you will plant one of them with your fast-spreading shrubs—the Nootka roses and snowberries. The other row can be planted with your trees and tall shrubs.
When you plant 3 rows, one can be for trees, one for your large shrubs, and one for your fast-spreading shrubs.
The fast-spreading shrubs should be planted along the sunny side of your hedgerow with the tall shrubs in the middle row and the trees either mixed in with the large shrubs or planted in the 3rd row.
This way your fast-spreading shrubs will spread out and form a dense thicket along one side of the hedgerow.
Your taller shrubs and trees will grow up behind them and above them making the hedgerow thicker and taller. This also will create a very shady area behind the smaller shrubs which will help keep them from spreading where you don’t want them to.
I really like planting a mix of Osoberries and red-flowering currants for my tall shrubs with black twinberries scattered in between them. Cascaras and Douglas maples are 2 great Pacific Northwest native trees that can be added in.
Without the small spreading shrubs you will need to prune and use other management techniques to create a dense hedgerow. But with the small spreading shrubs you can fairly easily create a dense hedgerow.
But it still takes some time to get dense and fill in. Depending on your site conditions you’re looking at 3 to 4 years before they’re thick enough to keep animals like deer out.
I’ve used temporary fences made out of t-posts, u-posts, and aluminum wires to keep deer out during these first few years.
I also like adding logs, stumps, and snags to fill in the gaps between the trees and larger shrubs. This not only supports more wildlife but also makes it harder for animals like deer to get through.
Due to the lack of predators, there are too many deer which makes it challenging to get native plants and other plants established if they’re not kept out.
Dense hedgerows can keep deer out while still providing habitat for other wildlife.
So now you just need to figure out which types of small spreading shrubs will work where you live. Look for thickets along the edges of forests and see what is growing there. Native roses could be a great option.
You can also try asking your local plant nurseries and if you’re in the United States your local conservation district should be able to help you.
And stay tuned for our next episode where we talk about cascaras. These great small native trees are good for hedgerows and also great for wildlife. Plus, they have some medicinal uses. And don’t forget to check out the show notes for more links and resources related to this episode.
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