Transition Woodbridge 

Why, what and how to plant a hedge 

Walls, fences and hedges are all ways we can mark the boundary to a garden or field but hedges are the best as they provide extra benefits. A hedge can be created with a single species of a shrub or tree or a selection of plants. They can be deciduous and give brilliant autumn colour or can be evergreen, not just the usual leylandii or laurel but also holly, privet and yew (but remember the leaves and berries of yew are poisonous to livestock and humans).  Some plants are thorny – holly, hawthorn, blackthorn and so help to deter larger animals – dogs, deer, foxes and two legged predators from pushing through.  A well-grown hedge gives shade and provides a wind break in an exposed spot, it will capture pollution and reduce noise from traffic and, like all vegetation, a hedge will help to sequester carbon, regulate temperature and mitigate flooding.  

Maybe the best thing about a hedge is the benefit it brings to wildlife and that will add interest and activity to your garden. A hedge provides a corridor across a piece of land that allows small mammals such as mice, voles and hedgehogs to move around safely hidden from predators. They can then search for food over a wider area, find mates and so extend their territory rather than be confined to a small patch of ground. The hedge may also provide food, flowers for bees and other pollinators, insects and grubs for birds and hedgehogs, berries and other fruits for birds, nuts for mice and squirrels. Frogs and toads may also find food and take advantage of the cover provided by a hedge.

The wildlife that is attracted will depend on the varieties of plants making the hedge. Any hedge will give shelter and provide nesting sites for birds but a hedge of native plants will be more useful. We are fortunate in the UK to have many native varieties that are beneficial to wildlife and we too find the blossom, berries, and colourful autumn leaves attractive. The flowers on hawthorn, blackthorn, dog rose, guelder rose, bramble, holly, ivy, and privet, and the catkins on hazel all feed bees and other pollinators at different times of the year. In autumn, rose hips, yew, holly, and hawthorn berries feed the birds. We can enjoy the blackberries and also hazelnuts but the mice and squirrels may find them first.  Other useful varieties to consider are field maple, buckthorn, beech, and hornbeam. Suffolk Wildlife Trust: and The Woodland Trust: give detailed information about the wildlife attracted to the blossom, leaves, and fruits of the various plants. Livestock in a field appreciate the shade and shelter from wind and rain that a good hedge will give and animals like to browse on the variety of vegetation in a hedge and this enriches their diet. 

If you are thinking of creating a hedge or maybe replacing one then consider this wide variety of native species available from our local nurseries. But whatever you choose now is the best time to plant a hedge-anytime between November and March when the ground is wet but not waterlogged and it is chilly but not frosty or windy. The websites mentioned above give detailed advice on planting a hedge. You may need to protect the plants from deer and rabbits with plant guards but remove these after two/three years. The plants will benefit greatly if mulched with compost, wood chippings or bark to suppress weeds and help retain moisture. In droughts the hedge may need to be watered until it gets established. When it is well grown trim the hedge to an A shape or it can be ‘laid’ in the traditional way (see YouTube). If correctly managed your hedge could last for hundreds of years! 

Carol Steptoe

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