How to Start a Hedgerow (5 Steps)
Hedgerows bring a lot to any property. But if you’ve never planted one before, it can be hard to know how to start a hedgerow. Here are 5 steps you can take to successfully start your own hedgerow.
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A hedgerow can be thought of as a living fence. But unlike a fence, hedgerows provide more benefits than just marking boundaries or keeping people and animals in or out of an area.
Hedgerows can serve as wind blocks, provide food for your family and community, and also support wildlife. If you want to learn more about what a hedgerow is and the benefits it can offer, then make sure to check out this post:
But how do you start a hedgerow? Here are 5 basic steps to follow:
- Determine the main purpose of your hedgerow.
- Decide where you want to plant your hedgerow.
- Decide how wide and tall it will be.
- Set up basic planting rows.
- Pick your plants.
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Let’s dive into each of these 5 steps. But before we do, make sure to grab your free and easy-to-print cheat-sheet which provides a basic overview of what a hedgerow is and also walks you through a basic hedgerow design that I used on my own property.
1. Start a Hedgerow by Deciding What it’s Purpose is
Why do you want to start a hedgerow? This question should be answered before you do anything else. Though you will need to answer this question alongside the next one, which is where you want to put your hedgerow.
Here are some reasons you could have for starting a hedgerow:
- For privacy.
- As a wind block.
- To keep people in or out.
- As a source of beauty.
- To keep animals (domesticated or wild) in or out.
- For food harvests for your family and community.
- To provide habitat for wildlife such as birds.
- To create afternoon shade.
- Create micro-climates to support other plants planted nearby.
I’m sure you could come up with more reasons than these 9, but this should help you get started. Take some time to think about why you want to start a hedgerow before moving on.
And don’t forget that a hedgerow can serve multiple purposes at once!
2. Where Are You Going to Plant Your Hedgerow?
This question really goes alongside the first, since they inform each other. You can’t really start a hedgerow unless you know where you want to plant it and why you want it there.
Hedgerows are commonly used to replace fences. In this way, they are often planted where fences would be installed.
These are the edges of properties to mark boundaries, but also to separate areas with their own specific uses.
This could be around pastures or around a staple crop garden. Or around a parking area or a chicken run. There are many possible examples.
But hedgerows can also be planted to serve as wildlife corridors that connect different parts of your property to each other. This way birds and other wildlife can move up and down your hedgerows and reach all parts of your property without leaving themselves exposed.
And don’t forget that a hedgerow can be short or tall. A short 4 to 6-foot (1.2-1.8 meters) hedgerow could be planted around a kitchen garden without casting too much shade. Though a taller one could be used to block cold northern winds or provide late-afternoon shade to help deal with droughts!
So take a moment to think where you will be planting your new hedgerow.
3. How Tall and Wide Do You Want Your Hedgerow to Be?
Now that you know why you want to start a hedgerow and where it will be planted, you need to think about how big you want your hedgerow to be.
The location and purpose of your new hedgerow will inform this quite a bit.
If you want your hedgerow to serve as a wind block, then you will need to add trees all along it to make it relatively tall.
But a hedgerow that is primarily for wildlife can have scattered trees and be a fair bit shorter. Though it should be as wide as possible, to provide the most benefit to wildlife.
A hedgerow for privacy only needs to be tall enough to block the view of those on the outside looking in. Though the thicker you can make it, the more effective this will be.
And a hedgerow to keep animals out should be wider, and densely planted, to help make a more thorough block.
Regardless of what purpose you have for starting a hedgerow, you should always keep it at least 6 feet (1.8 meters) wide. This will give you space to plant multiple rows of plants, which will provide far more benefits than a single row of shrubs or trees.
As far as height goes, there is no real minimum. But since a hedgerow is generally planted with shrubs and trees, most hedgerows will be at least 4 feet (1.2 meters) and likely 6+ feet (1.8 meters) in height.
You can make it as tall as you need based on what the purpose is for your new hedgerow.
Write down how wide and tall you want your hedgerow to be—the next step to start a hedgerow is to plan out the planting rows.
4. Planning the Planting Rows
My approach to planting a hedgerow is to break it into rows of plants that have similar growing habits. One row could be all trees that get to a similar height. Another could be shade tolerant shrubs and another could be shorter, fast-growing shrubs.
This makes it easier to plan and make sure the plants grow together in a way that lets your new hedgerow serve the functions it was supposed to.
A hedgerow should have, at a minimum, 2 rows of plants. But I generally aim for 3 rows.
For a 6-foot (1.8 meters) wide hedgerow, you could fit in all 3 rows, placing them 2 feet (0.6 meters) apart. Or just have 2 rows either along the edges or in a bit from the edge.
Remember that your plants will grow as they mature. What starts as a 6-foot wide hedgerow could become 8 or 10 feet (2.4 or 3 meters) wide over time, depending on what plants you plant in the outside rows. Planting non-woody plants like lupines in the outside rows can reduce this issue.
If you’re aiming for a dense hedgerow, (ideal for privacy and keeping people/animals in or out,) then put roughly 2 feet (0.6 meters) between each planting row. For less dense hedgerows, a row every 3 feet (0.9 meters) can work.
Make sure to figure out how many planting rows you need before you start a hedgerow.
5. Picking Your Plants
When you start a hedgerow, the last steps are to pick your plants and start planting. Here are some tips to help you plant your hedgerow.
Hedgerows are often seen as consisting of shrubs and trees. But you can also plant non-woody plants such as flowers and even vegetables.
Over time, these non-woody plants may be pushed out by your trees and shrubs. But that’s okay.
Most of the time, when you start a hedgerow, you can plant very densely. I often plant every 4 feet (0.9 to 1.2 meters) in my hedgerows along each planting row.
This results in a very dense hedgerow! Especially when this planting density is followed across multiple planting rows.
A dense hedgerow is great for providing privacy and keeping people/animals in or out.
Though I don’t plant trees this densely. If a row is going to be primarily for trees, then I will put 6 to 8 feet (or more for large trees) between each tree.
You can plant less densely if your hedgerow was meant to provide food, and support wildlife. But at maturity, there still shouldn’t be any gaps between your plants. This can be achieved by mixing in non-woody plants between your shrubs and trees so you can keep those woody plants better spaced.
I’ve also found that planting plants with similar growth habits in each planting row has the best results.
For example, what would happen if you planted a mix of shrubs that are the same size at maturity, but 2 of them are fast-growing and the 3rd is slow-growing?
Chances are, the slow-growing shrub will be overwhelmed by the 2 fast growing shrubs.
A better choice would be to only plant the 2 fast growing shrubs or find another fast-growing shrub to add to the mix.
I’ve made this mistake before, and it has resulted in more work for me since I’ve had to cut back the other shrubs to make room for the slow growing shrubs. Otherwise there would be a gap in the hedgerow.
When you’re picking your plants don’t forget about native plants! Hedgerows are a great area to fit in natives, which will provide additional benefits for your property.
Another tip is to make sure to think about when you start a hedgerow is which parts will be sunny and which will be in the shade.
You may have a planting row that will need to be planted with shade loving shrubs or trees. And I’ve found in general that picking out plants that can handle sun as well as shade gives the best results.
These shade and sun-tolerant plants do a better job growing together than a plant that can’t grow in the shade at all.
And finally, don’t forget that your hedgerow will change as it matures. You will likely need to go back in and add additional plants to replace ones that got pushed out.
This is especially true for flowers and other non-woody plants.
My hedgerows started with tons of sun-loving flowers mixed in between the shrubs and trees. But now that the hedgerows are more mature, I’ve been planting shade-tolerant flowers, perennial vegetables and native vegetables to replace those first flowers.
Summary - Picking Your Plants:
Planting Tips for Starting a Hedgerow:
- Bareroot plants can be a relatively cheap way to get lots of plants for planting a hedgerow.
- Mix in non-woody plants in addition to the classic shrubs and trees.
- Try adding perennial vegetables and/or native vegetables to your hedgerow.
- Hedgerows can be planted very densely compared to a normal planting area.
- But trees should be spaced out more than shrubs.
- For each planting row, pick plants that have similar growth habits.
- Think about mixing in native plants in your hedgerow.
- Consider which planting rows will be sunny and which will be shady at maturity.
- Plants that are tolerant of both shade and sun will likely do the best in a hedgerow.
- Your hedgerow will change over time, so be prepared to add new plants.
Final Step and Tips to Start a Hedgerow
Congrats! You’re ready to start a hedgerow. But there is one more thing you need to do and that is to prepare your new hedgerow area for planting.
This can be done using the same techniques you would to get any growing area ready for planting. Sheet-mulching is one option. But you could also build a hugelkultur bed.
I’ve used both of these methods to prepare future hedgerow areas for planting. But there are other great options. Here is a list of other blog posts that can help you get your new hedgerow area prepared for planting.
My final tip for you to help you start a hedgerow is this. Don’t take on too much at once.
Planting a hedgerow is hard work, and it will take time. You can make your new hedgerow as long as you want, but consider breaking it up into smaller sections.
This will give you time to see which plants do the best for you. Plus, you’ll have time to learn from your mistakes and fix them when you expand your hedgerow.
And this will spread out the cost. Also, you could even start propagating your own plants from the ones growing in the first sections.
Some of the plants in my hedgerows work well for live-staking. I often take cuttings from these plants in the fall and use them to fill in gaps or help fill in new areas. This is a great way to save money on later hedgerows.
The key is to start a hedgerow—not to build it all at once.
I’ve planted almost 400 feet (121.9 meters) of hedgerows, with lots more on the way.
If you get started and add to it over time, you, too, can have hundreds of feet of hedgerows on your property!
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