What is a Hedgerow? And Why You Should Plant One

What is a Hedgerow and Why You Should Plant One

What is a hedgerow? You may have heard this term used on and off, but maybe you’re a bit confused about what a hedgerow really is. Beyond that, you may be wondering why you would ever want to plant one. A hedgerow is an incredible feature that can make the living world around you come alive with abundance for people, plants and wildlife. Keep reading to get the scoop on what a hedgerow is and why you should plant one.

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Have you ever seen pictures of farm fields in England or elsewhere in Europe that have trees and shrubs growing around the edges of the pasture or crops? These borders are hedgerows.

A hedgerow can be thought of as a strip of densely planted trees, shrubs and other plants forming a border. You could think of a hedgerow as a living fence, though a hedgerow should be much wider than a typical fence.

Hedgerows are often planted along property boundaries or along roads or driveways.

Hedgerows provide numerous benefits on a property or around a garden. Here are 5 main benefits they bring to your space.

5 benefits of hedgerows

  • 1
    Serve as low-maintenance “fencing” once established.
  • 2
    Support local wildlife such as birds.
  • 3
    Create beneficial micro-climates and reduce watering needs.
  • 4
    Provide a harvest.
  • 5
    Add beauty to your place.

Let’s dive into the specifics of a hedgerow to help you get started with your own. But first make sure you grab your free and easy-to-print cheat-sheet so you can take the next steps to get started with your own hedgerow.

The Basics of a Hedgerow

Hugelkultur beds are beautiful and a gift to your future self

Hedgerows can be a great addition to your property. This is one of my hedgerows the summer after it was planted. Today the shrubs and trees have replaced the flowers as the dominate element.

If you want to know what a hedgerow is, first you need to know what it’s not. A hedgerow is not just a “hedge.” In other words, it’s not just a row of a single type of plant species. You may see strips of arborvitaes planted as a screen. That’s a hedge, not a hedgerow.

When you plant a hedgerow, you’ll want to add multiple plant species, often including a mix of trees and shrubs. Increasing the diversity of plant life in the hedgerow makes it a beautiful, functional, and resilient addition to your property.

It will support wildlife and help you make the living world around you come alive.

Hedgerows should also consist of more than a single row of plants. This means that a hedgerow should be at least 5 or 6 feet wide, with 10+ feet being ideal, if you have the space for it. This lets you fit in 2-3 rows of trees and shrubs, if not more.

To create a functional screen, you’ll want to choose plants that vary in height, including small-medium shrubs, large shrubs, and full-size trees.

How you stagger the plants among the rows is really up to you. Some people plant the tallest plants on the outside and work their way inward. Another option is to plant the trees on the middle row and intersperse the smaller or larger shrubs on either side.

I often plant with the thickest, densest shrubs on the outside and work up row by row with trees on the inside. (This is partly to discourage deer from venturing in.)

Wild Tip:

In my hugelkultur hedgerows I planted small (4 to 6 feet tall), dense, thicket-forming shrubs along the property line in a single row. In the middle of the hedgerow, I planted a row of relatively tall shrubs (10 to 15 feet tall). For the third row on the inside of the hedgerow, I planted a mix of trees (20 to 25 feet tall) and shade-tolerant shrubs (6 to 10 feet tall).

Once this hedgerow is mature, the view from outside (facing my neighbors) will be a thick 20-25 foot hedgerow with trees reaching up from behind a thick layer of shrubs. I also planted quite a lot of flowers along this hedgerow to help beautify the space—for us and the neighbors—while also providing privacy.

Ultimately, the order of the trees and shrubs in your hedgerow really depends on your own preferences. But the key feature here is that the variation in plant height will create a solid block or screen reaching the height of the trees you planted.

If you don’t want the hedgerow to be so tall, you could either scrap the trees altogether or stick with smaller trees and shrubs. Planting dwarf fruit trees in one row and berry thickets in the other rows is a lovely way to create a functional, edible hedgerow.

If you have space to make an even wider hedgerow, just add additional rows of shrubs and trees.

For hedgerows of any height or width, it’s a good idea to add non-woody (herbaceous) plants on the ground level to fill in the niches that weeds would otherwise fill.

Summary - The Basics of a Hedgerow

  • Consists of a mix of several varieties of plants, including trees and shrubs, with some non-woody plants mixed in.
  • Should be a minimum of 5 feet wide, with 10 feet or more being ideal, if you have the space.
  • Plant 2-3 rows of plants along the length of the hedgerow.

Why You Should Plant Hedgerows

You can start a hedgerow today

Just a few years ago, this view looked out to a busy road. My 4-year-old hedgerow in our front yard is really filling in. Over time, the trees, shrubs, and berry bushes will continue to grow, offering even more beauty, privacy, and abundance.

Now that you know the basics of a hedgerow, you might be asking why you should plant one. It’s not a simple thing to design and establish. Is it really worth the effort? You might be thinking that a good fence or a row of arborvitae would be easier and faster.

And you’d be right… in the short run.

In the long run, hedgerows are amazing features that need little maintenance and provide a number of benefits for your property.

Here’s what hedgerows can do for you.

1. Serve as Low Maintenance “Fencing” Once Established

Hedgerows make great fences

A hedgerow can make a great fence. This one is more managed than I prefer but is a very effective fence. You can see some hedgerows in the background with trees and shrubs. Image credit: H A (CC BY 2.0)

A fence may be quicker and easier to install than a hedgerow, but once established, hedgerows can be self-sustaining and require very little maintenance.

There are no posts to rot or boards to fall. If a tree or big branch falls in your hedgerow, it will regrow on its own. Plus, you never need to paint or re-stain a hedgerow.

If you mix in evergreen trees and shrubs, a hedgerow can provide the same level of privacy that a fence can.

If you’re willing to wait for the hedgerow to become established and grow to maturity, then planting one is a great alternative to a fence.

2. Support Local Wildlife, Such as Birds

A hedgerow supports wildlife.

Every morning my kids watch birds flying around the hedgerow from our front window. The hedgerow was primarily created for privacy, but it is doubling as fantastic bird habitat.

A nice thick hedgerow filled with a diverse array of trees, shrubs, and non-woody plants will attract beneficial insects and other wildlife, like birds.  

This is especially true if you include native plants in your hedgerows. These plants will help your hedgerow support a much wider range of wildlife than it would without native plants.

And hedgerows also act as wildlife corridors that allow wildlife to move safely from one place to another.

By supporting local wildlife, you can work with nature to bring pests into balance and enjoy better harvests.

Since hedgerows are often planted along the edges of a property, this is a great way to fit in habitat for wildlife without taking away from your core food production areas.

(Though you could plant a small hedgerows of dwarf fruit trees, berries, and flowers as a border around your vegetable garden! Just keep it far enough away from the edge of the garden to not shade your garden!)

Wild Tip:

Are you interested in adding native plants to your hedgerows and other growing areas? Do you want to learn more about how to do this and the benefits of native plants? Then make sure to check out these 2 awesome books all about native plants and how to design with them.

3. Create Beneficial Micro-Climates and Reduce Watering Needs

Once established, hedgerows will create micro-climates by blocking the wind, providing shade, and slowing surface water runoff.

In other words, a hedgerow near your garden could extend your growing season and perhaps alongside a swale.

Here’s how it works:

If you planted a hedgerow on contour, (that is, if you planted it along level ground that runs perpendicular to the slope of the land—try planting it alongside a swale,) it would help slow the flow of water over the land. This would help hydrate the land below the hedgerow and help keep the hedgerow watered as well.

You can also plant a hedgerow to block the cold winter winds, creating a relatively warm micro-climate on the side not exposed to the wind.

A hedgerow could also block the hot summer winds to help decrease water evaporation from the soil.

You could also use a hedgerow to create afternoon shade and further decrease evaporation.

4. Provide a Harvest

Get a harvest from your hedgerow

These greens were harvested from native perennial greens (plus some chard that over wintered,) growing in one of my hedgerows. I love getting salad greens from my hedgerow, and also fruits, berries, and even green beans.

Hedgerows don’t only improve the conditions for separate food-growing areas—they can also provide a harvest, themselves.

You can design hedgerows to provide abundant harvests of fruits, vegetables, roots, and berries. By mixing edible plants into your hedgerow, you can easily get a great harvest from the edges of your property, which are sometimes overlooked as food-growing areas.

One great option is to mix perennial vegetables into your hedgerows. This is a fantastic way to get started with perennial vegetables without having to change your regular vegetable garden.

When your hedgerows are new, and the shrubs and trees have not filled in, you can also easily grow regular vegetables. I grew peas, beans, carrots, lettuce, orach, tomatoes, broccoli, Swiss chard and other vegetables in my hedgerows when they were just getting started.

This gave me a bountiful harvest while I waited for the shrubs and trees to get established and fill in.

5. Add Beauty to Your Place

A hedgerow adds beauty

Hedgerows can be very beautiful. This one is along a dirt driveway that I share with my neighbors. My family and I take walks along this hedgerow to enjoy the lovely flowers and foliage.

The last key benefit I want to highlight is that hedgerows add beauty to your property. Far more, in my opinion, than a single row of arborvitae or a fence.

My neighbors come out to take pictures of my hedgerows when they’re in bloom, and they even thanked me for planting them. I doubt they would be doing that if I had just installed a fence.

My wife, son and I enjoy taking walks along the hedgerows to see all the flowers, and we love to watch the myriad birds and other wildlife that like to linger there.

There’s a reason that people love the old hedgerows of England and France. They are gorgeous features that impart serenity while also providing other great benefits to your property.

Getting Started with Your Own Hedgerow

Hedgerows are beautiful

When my wife and I first moved to our property, the hedgerows were some of the first projects I took on. Today, we get to enjoy all the benefits these hedgerows provide for people, plants and wildlife.

So, are you ready to get started with your own hedgerow? For more information on getting started, be sure to check out the cheat-sheet companion to this post. But here are the basics:

The first step is to pick a location. Consider starting small—maybe along your driveway or a short path, and you’ll probably want to keep it within 2-3 rows of plants.

Wild Tip:

A hedgerow can serve many different functions on your property if you take the time to plan it out. Not just planning the hedgerow, but planning out your property and how they fit together. If you want to get the most out of your hedgerow, it’s a good idea to look at the big picture first.

You can do this by looking into strategic design tools like permaculture zones, or you can take another step back and look at what you need to know before you start to cultivate abundance.

Once you have a good idea of where you want to plant a hedgerow, the next step is to figure out what to plant. Identify 2-3 types of trees that do well in your area.

Then pick out 3-6 shrubs to use. Try to include a mix of large and small-to-medium shrubs.

Next pick out a handful of non-woody plants like bulbs, wild strawberries, or perennial vegetables.

When you’re picking out plants, remember that including evergreen plants in every level are great both for privacy and for supporting wildlife. You can use edibles at any of these levels as well. And you’ll always add more value to the wildlife on your property when you remember to look at native plants.

Try out the plants that interest you and see how they do. You may find that some plants do better than others. Over time, you’ll find a good mix of plants that work well on your property. These can be your go-to plants for future hedgerows.

Don’t stress too much about each plant. You can always add new plants as needed based on your observations.

Now it’s time to get started. Keep in mind that when you’re planting a hedgerow, you can plant things much closer than you would in a normal planting area, so don’t worry about packing it in.

Are you going to plant your own hedgerow? Have you done so already? Let me know in the comments below!


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Daron

Daron is a restoration ecologist, lifelong gardener, and founder of Growing with Nature. He created this site to help people enjoy wildlife, grow food, and help heal our living world. He has managed the restoration program for a local non-profit, and he’s applying principles of restoration and permaculture to transform his property in western Washington to forests, wetlands, hedgerows, food forests, and permaculture gardens. He holds a Masters in Environmental Studies and an Associate of Applied Science degree in Water Resources. He loves sharing the joy of growing food with his two beautiful children.

  • D says:

    This is another thoughtful and interesting
    article. Thank you! and keep them coming!

  • Joann Gardner says:

    Oh boy, now I have another project on my hands – but one I’m very much looking forward to ?

    You and your lovely wife have provided a the well thought out article that is chock full of in-depth information that is so inspiring. Even looking at the pictures makes my hands itch to go get dirty (okay, even dirtier) and pull out the seed/plant catalogs in search of some new goodies to plant.

    I signed up for your newsletter earlier, then realized that I forgot to leave you a comment. I’m looking forward to reading all of your articles – in between the Permies articles, all of the Spring work in the yard & gardens, taking care of all of the animals, making sure my husband, kids & grandkids aren’t neglected, and of course, building my new hedgegrow.

    Many thanks for creating a fabulous escape for my downtime. ? ?

    • Daron says:

      Thank you and good to see you on here! I’m really happy to hear that you enjoyed the posts and I always like hearing that the posts inspired people to get out and “play” in the dirt! 😉

      The posts come out each week on Monday and the newsletter goes out on Tuesdays. Hopefully between everything else you have to do you can check them out 🙂

      Thanks again and I hope to see you around here and on permies!

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