Time to put down roots? Be careful where you plant those trees

The hedgerows around the country will soon be coming back to life as the temperatures increase and we will begin to see leaves unfurl as the winter landscape becomes more verdant and springlike.

If you’re planting a new hedge, either of a single species or a mixed hedgerow, then using bare root plants is the best way to go as it will work out much lighter on the wallet. 

Pot grown plants cost more to produce. Bare root plants will establish quickly, provided they are well planted and as they won’t be able to absorb water from the soil immediately, they will have to be kept well-watered for the first growing season.

There is a very definite window of opportunity for using bare root plants. It’s where the old expression comes from — the one that says planting should only be done during the months with an ’r’ in the name, namely September to April.

I would shorten that season and recommend using bare root plants only from October to March. September in Ireland is often a great month in terms of temperature and sunshine and realistically, too early for the nurseries to lift bare root or root-balled plants.

April can be too late, as the plants should be nicely ensconced in their new home before growth starts in earnest with the rising temperatures in the spring.

There’s something about a well-kept single species hedge. I think it speaks reams about the owner, neat, tidy, ordered and organised and equally a mixed hedgerow, left untended, speaks volumes. I’m probably somewhere between the two. As with all plant choices, there’s no right and no wrong way to go.

However, a good garden should work well with the surrounding countryside and to that end single species hedges, (think Griselinea, Photinia and Conifer hedges), are well suited to urban and suburban spaces. That’s not to say they don’t work in rural gardens but they can look a bit contrived in what is otherwise, a more naturally occurring landscape.

And in rural locations, more options are available. At the risk of insulting nearly all owners of single-build homes on sites the length and breadth of the country, I’m not a huge fan of the straight line, single species hedge marking out a site in the middle of what is otherwise a field.

Boundaries need to be marked certainly, and in many cases, shelter needs to be provided, but this can be achieved in several different ways. If it’s just a question of marking boundaries, this can be simply done with concrete posts with wire which can become nearly invisible.

Running a lawn up to these boundaries and letting it become less well tended, a bit unkempt as it nears the greater landscape can work very well in helping the garden to merge into the surrounding countryside. You will be amazed at how many species will start to colonise these areas, once you stop mowing.

Planting some herbaceous and some native flowering plants through this grass will provide even more colour. More importantly these areas will become rich in biodiversity, with bees, and other pollinating insects delighting in the availability of food and places of refuge, and I really cannot overstate the importance of enhancing biodiversity at the moment, as we are witnessing species extinction at a rate not seen in 55 million years.

Trees can be planted through this meadow type grass in clusters as opposed to straight lines and these can actually offer much more in terms of wind protection than a single row of trees which can end up looking like a line of horticultural ‘bouncers’ marking out one’s private property.

If a hedgerow is necessary, perhaps as a backdrop to planting or for security or safety reasons, then do look at mixing it up. 

On saying that, I do love the look of a nicely tended Beech hedge during the winter, anywhere, be it in an urban or rural situation. Look at mixing beech with some evergreen holly (Ilex aquifolium) or perhaps evergreen oak (Quercus ilex) and maybe introduce further species such as the Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus), Hawthorn and Whitethorn (Crateagus), Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), Rosa rugosa, Rosa canina, Fuchsia, and more evergreens in the form of Oleander (Elaeagnus), Portuguese Laurel (Prunus lusitanica) and even Yew (Taxus).

The more you mix it, the more interesting it becomes and the more wildlife species that are attracted. 

Some evergreen, I would suggest, is essential, perhaps as many as half of the plants should be evergreen for the aesthetics and for overwintering wildlife, and the other species can all offer different seasons of colour and interest with flowers, berries and autumn colours.

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