Plant a wildlife hedge

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Make your boundaries more wildlife friendly by laying a hedge for shelter, food and nesting sites

When it comes to creating a boundary between neighbouring gardens, hedges are far and away the ‘greenest’ solution compared to solid walls and fences.
Evergreen hedges look much the same year round and offer constant privacy. Deciduous hedges change with the seasons and can still be surprisingly good at screening in winter. Small-leaved plants such as yew allow for the neatest lines. Mixed native hedges usually contain hawthorn, buckthorn, hazel, dogwood, wild privet and field maple (Acer campestre) with dog rose or honeysuckle weaving through. This diversity makes it the best hedge for wildlife.

Here’s how to create a hedge:

1 CLEAR THE SITE Clear and dig a metre-wide strip along the line where the hedge is to go, removing all weeds.Measure how long your hedge will be. You’ll need about five plants for every 2m (6½ft) of hedge for a single row, and ten for a double row.

2 SET THE PLANTS IN A ROW Buy deciduous hedging plants as bareroot ‘whips’: living sticks 60-90cm (2-3ft) high. Evergreen hedging plants come potted (as shown) or with their small rootballs in hessian. Keep their roots well covered and moist until the very moment you plant them. Plant the whips 40cm (16in) apart for a single row; just remember a double row creates a much thicker hedge. For a double row space two parallel lines 30cm (12in) apart, and stagger the planting so the whips in the second row are midway between those in the first, forming a zigzag.

3 FIRM IN AND WATER Firm in with your hands, water well, then mulch with bark chippings or compost to keep the weeds at bay. With deciduous whips, cut them down to half their height immediately. This seems harsh, but will give you a much thicker hedge at the base.

4. MULCH TO HOLD BACK WEEDS Lay bark around the plants to give them a head start on any grass or weeds. Prune the hedge each autumn, after the birds have finished nesting. If you don’t mind a slightly wilder look, cut one side one year and the other the next. A cordless hedge trimmer can really make short work of it.

PLANTS TO USE

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) Deciduous and thorny but not savagely so, it’s cheap, fast-growing, easy and can be clipped into a neat hedge. May blossom and autumn berries.

Privet (Ligustrum vulgare) Semi-evergreen, with no thorns or spines, it prunes into a neat hedge. Choose native wild privet for spikes of scented white flowers and black berries.

Beech (Fagus sylvatica) Deciduous, but hedges tend to hold onto their dead golden-brown leaves in autumn and winter, which can look attractive as well as maintaining privacy.

Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) Deciduous hedging plant that holds onto dead leaves in autumn and winter for attractive effect. Leaves have a pleated look with a doubly serrated edge.

Yew (Taxus baccata) Sleek evergreen that’s easy to prune into shape. It’s faster-growing than most people think and forms an incredibly dense hedge with red winter berries.

Holly (Ilex aquifolium) Slow-growing evergreen that makes an impenetrable hedge with glossy, prickly leaves. Only female plants produce red berries and need a male plant nearby.