Why You Should Plant a Hedgerow (Plus 5 Tips to Get Started)
In this episode, we’re going to chat about why you should plant a hedgerow. Planting a hedgerow is a great way to cultivate abundance for people, plants, and wildlife. These living fences support wildlife and can also provide food for your family and your community. Plus, they’re just beautiful—much nicer looking than a fence. Let’s dive into hedgerows.
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If you picture the old English or French countryside you might think about relatively small farm fields surrounded by hedgerows.
Historically hedgerows were often planted to mark the boundaries of fields and to keep animals in or out.
Once barbwire was invented hedgerows kind of just went away. Plus the fields got bigger and the hedgerows were in the way.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t help bring hedgerows back by planting them on your property.
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Even if you’ve just got a small yard you can still plant hedgerows. We’ve got just under 120-feet of hedgerow planted around our front yard which is only about 2,700 square feet or 0.06 acres.
The birds love our hedgerows and so do we—our front hedgerow blocks the view of a busy road while also providing some late afternoon shade.
And it’s often covered with flowers from our native red flowering currants, Osoberries, checkermallows, lupines, and more.
It is a beautiful thing to see out our front window.
So why should you plant a hedgerow? Here are 7 reasons.
- For the beauty.
- Lower maintenance.
- Supporting wildlife.
- Privacy screen.
- Keep animals (and people) in or out.
- Providing food and other harvests.
A hedgerow provides so much more benefits than a traditional fence.
But a hedgerow isn’t just a single row of arborvitaes or shrub pruned to a box or circle shape. A hedgerow is a mix of many different types of plants—native and non-native—that together create a diversity of habitat that truly creates abundance for people, plants, and wildlife.
Most hedgerows are at least 6-feet wide and they can be 10-feet wide or even wider.
The wider they are the better for wildlife but you do start to function less like a fence and more like a forest edge.
This is great—but it does depend on what you’re aiming for. But even a 6-foot wide hedgerow can provide a lot of great benefits for you and your local wildlife.
So let’s dive into the reasons why you should plant a hedgerow along with some tips to help you get started.
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People like you, who want to bring these skills home, to enjoy wildlife, grow more food, and help heal our living world.
Okay, let’s get started.
Further Reading: Growing with Nature episodes and blog posts with more information about the topics covered in this episode.
- What is a Hedgerow and Why You Should Plant One
- How to Start a Hedgerow (5 Steps)
- Why Native Plants Matter (And Why You Need Them)
- How to Find Native Plants for Your Property
- Why You Need Wildlife Corridors and How to Make Them
Books and Other Resources
- Nature's Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard
- Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, Updated and Expanded
Plant List: More information about some of the plants covered in this episode.
The Benefits of Planting a Hedgerow
We’ve planted over 300-feet of hedgerows along the edge of our property and we’re planning to continue planting them until hedgerows are growing around the entire boundary of our property.
We’re also planning to plant them around different zones or growing areas throughout the interior.
The result will be thousands of feet of hedgerows—perhaps even hitting a mile of hedgerows all within an area a bit smaller than 3-acres.
But when we moved here there were no hedgerows—unless you count the invasive blackberries.
Since starting to plant our hedgerows we’ve seen many benefits.
Birds are far more common—they nest in the hedgerows but they also find food in them. Even some forest birds have started to hang out on our property despite the lack of any real forests.
And other wildlife often use our hedgerows as safe corridors to move through.
That is one big way hedgerows can support wildlife—by providing them safe passage through otherwise open areas.
And supporting wildlife by planting a hedgerow doesn’t just benefit wildlife.
When you support a diversity of wildlife you also help to keep pests in balance by supporting their predators.
This is why I always plant for wildlife first and then plant our core food-producing plants. I want a diversity of wildlife first so any pests—like aphids and slugs—will be kept in balance by the predators that eat them.
Our hedgerows along with our log and rock piles—many of which are in our hedgerows—all help achieve this balance.
And our hedgerows also provide us privacy from our neighbors and they’re thick enough to keep dogs out and our kids in.
As the hedgerows grow and become more established they provide not just privacy but also late afternoon shade. And they also serve as wind blocks.
When planted in the right spot a hedgerow can help create beneficial micro-climates that can make your property more resilient to droughts by blocking summer winds and providing some shade.
And you can also get harvests from your hedgerows.
Most of our hedgerows are planted with native plants some of which are edible. But we’ve also planted raspberries along them to provide additional harvests.
And our future interior hedgerows will likely have fruit trees, more berries along with some native plants to provide a mix of harvests and support for wildlife.
We just love our hedgerows and the benefits they bring and if you’re feeling inspired to plant a hedgerow on your property here are a few tips to help you get started.
Tip #1 – Prepare the Area for Planting Before You Plant
I have a confession to make—around 145-feet of my hedgerows haven’t worked out well. And while over 300-feet of our hedgerows are doing great I’m still disappointed in the 145-feet that haven’t.
The reason that section isn’t doing as well is that I ran out of time. I didn’t have time to finish preparing the area for planting and I had to just plant my shrubs and trees into a grass field.
And while we did clear out small circles for each of these plants at least half of the plants we planted over that 145-feet didn’t survive.
But the ones that did are still growing and are looking decent today. Though they’re still far smaller than the same species of plants planted in the areas I had time to prepare.
None of these plants have been watered or fertilized. The only maintenance has been some basic pruning to promote thicker growth.
The one difference is that in the areas I had time to prepare there is no grass and the soil is covered with mulch and perennial ground covers like strawberries, ferns, lupines, miner's lettuce, and other similar plants.
Because of this hard lesson, today I always make sure to take the time to prepare areas for planting before I plant. This involves sheet-mulching over the grass a good 6 to 9 months before it’s time to plant.
The result is far better survival and much faster plant growth.
So if you’re going to plant a hedgerow make sure to take the time to prepare the area for planting by removing any existing grasses. And then make sure to mulch your new plants with wood chips, fall leaves, or living mulches.
I’ve had good luck using native lupines and native strawberries and miner's lettuce as living mulches. But many other options can work.
Tip #2 – Don’t Start too Big
My 2nd tip for you is don’t start too big when planting a hedgerow. I made this mistake when I started and it’s why I ran out of time to prepare that last 145-feet before planting.
Start small—pick a 10 to 20-foot section and prepare that area for planting. Don’t try to go 50, 100, or more feet at the start.
And don’t go too wide either. Start with a fairly narrow 6-foot hedgerow.
You can always expand your hedgerow in the future by making it longer or wider.
This will also give you a chance to learn which plants do well in your hedgerows and which don’t.
Another lesson I learned early on was that some of the plants I planted grew far faster than others despite both having a similar maximum size.
This created more work for me since I had to keep pruning the faster-growing plants so they wouldn’t overwhelm their neighbors.
But now I know which plants grow well together which will make it much easier to plant new hedgerows.
Tip #3 – When Planting a Hedgerow It’s Okay to Plant Densely
When you plant a hedgerow you can plant densely. In my hedgerows, the plants were planted with only 2 to 4-feet between them.
Trees were spaced out a bit more from the next tree but the shrubs planted between them were all planted very densely.
And the outside rows of Nootka roses were planted with only 2-feet of space between them.
The result has been very dense hedgerows that work great as a living fence that can keep my kids from getting out and animals like deer and dogs from getting in.
Though it has taken a couple of years for the hedgerows to get thick enough to deter deer on their own. I put up temporary fences to give the hedgerows time to get established.
And that leads to the next tip.
Tip #4 – Hedgerows Take Time to Get Established
Unlike a regular fence, your hedgerow won’t provide privacy or keep animals or people in or out right away.
The plants have to grow and fill in and this can often take a few years.
I’ve set up temporary fences to give time for the hedgerows to get established.
At first, I didn’t want to do this but I quickly learned that without some fences to keep deer from eating the new trees and shrubs the hedgerow would never get thick enough to do the job I wanted it to do.
But if you’re not dealing with deer or needing to keep animals or people in or out then a temporary fence isn’t needed.
Regardless just keep in mind that it will take time for your new hedgerow to get established.
But also keep in mind that once a hedgerow is established it will need far less maintenance than a regular fence and will last far longer.
Tip #5 – Use Native Plants
The final tip I’ve got for you is to use native plants when planting a hedgerow. Planting native plants will greatly boost the amount of wildlife your new hedgerow will support.
From picky insects that can only eat the native plants, they co-evolved with to the birds and other wildlife that eat those insects.
A hedgerow filled with native plants will support a wide diversity of wildlife.
Here are some of the native plants that have thrived in my hedgerows here in western Washington:
- Red flowering currants
- Black twinberries
- Douglas maple
- Nootka rose
- Riverbank and bigleaf lupines
- Red and blue elderberries
There are other great options but if you live in western Washington or Oregon or British Columbia these are great native plants to start with.
Getting Started with Planting a Hedgerow
I hope this episode has left you inspired to plant a hedgerow on your property. We sure love ours and they provide us with a ton of great benefits.
There are lots of ways to plant a hedgerow but make sure to keep in mind the tips I shared with you in this episode.
Many of those tips come from the lessons I learned while planting my first hedgerows.
And if you want to get started with planting a hedgerow a great way to do so is to plant in 3 rows.
Plant some small fast-growing shrubs on the outside edge—plants like Nootka rose and snowberry works great for this here in western Washington.
Then in the middle row plant some tall shrubs—this is where I planted red flowering currants and Osoberries.
And on the 3rd row which will be on the inside of the hedgerow plant your trees—I’ve planted Douglas maple and cascara trees in this row.
The result will be a nice, thick, and tall hedgerow that will work great along the boundary of your property.
Add in a few lupines and other flowers and non-woody plants and you will have a lovely hedgerow that will bring tons of benefits to your property.
You could even plant some vegetables between the trees and shrubs for the first year or 2. This was how we grew our vegetables before we had our food forests and kitchen garden.
Planting a hedgerow is a great way to cultivate abundance for people, plants, and wildlife.
And stay tuned for our next episode where we will look at how you can control garden pests by supporting the predators that eat them.
Let’s work together to heal our living world.
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