hedge planting

Hedge Planting Tips

The fastest and easiest way to plant a hedge is to dig a trench that can accommodate all your hedgelings in one major planting binge.

What about spacing?

How far apart the plants should be planted for a clipped hedge depends on the plant choice, and the patience and budget of the gardener. A general guide for hedge planting would be to space them about a quarter of their fully-grown width apart.

Do the trench

  • If you’re planning to go straight and formal, use wooden pegs or steel droppers (two markers at each corner) and two lines of string to mark out your trench.
  • If luscious curves are what you envisage, use a hosepipe (especially one that has been lying in the sun for a while to make it pliable) to define the lines that can then be marked out before digging with baking flour, river sand or mealie meal.
  • Dig to the depth of a large garden spade if you are planning to use plants in 4-litre nursery bags or smaller. For bigger hedge plants you will have to go as deep as about 60cm.
Note: If digging a trench sounds like too much work, consider the following: Digging individual planting holes will make it harder to keep to a straight line – there is simply nothing worse looking than a skew hedge! And, by the time you get to hole number fifty, you might start thinking of giving up and doing something else less energetic…

Now, prepare the soil and plant

The more effort you put into soil preparation, the faster the hedge will become established and the lusher your first growth will be after the hedge planting.

  • Mix the excavated soil with compost and bonemeal. To do the sums, work on a wheelbarrow full of compost and about 60g of bonemeal for every running metre of excavated soil. You can add about a handful of organic slow-release fertiliser at this stage too.
  • Backfill the trench, keeping in mind that the plants should be planted into the garden at the same level that they were growing in their nursery containers.
  • When satisfied that your planting levels are correct, you can now simply remove the hedge plants from their containers and set them out in a row.
  • Cover them with the leftover soil, tamp down firmly and water them immediately.

You will need cutting tools

The secret to a dense, low hedge is to prune frequently with sharp and efficient tools. First prize is battery-powered, lightweight shrub shears such as the Stihl HSA 25, but ordinary hedge clippers or trimmers and even sheep shears will do the job too. Your second step is to fashion guide strings over and along the hedge in order to cut straight and even. This can be done by using steel droppers on each side of the hedge and a string square tied to it, to guide an even cutting height and neat sides, creating a ‘box’-like’ effect. The third point to remember is that one should always shape any hedge so that the top of it is slightly narrower than the base. This is done to allow the maximum light to reach the whole hedge, which will encourage good new growth from top to bottom.

Prune frequently and lightly throughout the summer months when growth is active. If a low hedge is allowed to grow out too much, you will have to prune much harder, resulting in bare patches that will take time to recover.

General aftercare

Supply a mulch of extra compost after you have planted and water the hedge frequently. If you are going to use very small hedge plants, like rooted cuttings or plantlets from a six-pack tray, it is a good idea to fill up the prepared trench with the soil and then place a strip of weed matting over it. One can then simply cut slits into the material and plant through them. The weed mat will not only prevent weeds from growing between the young plants, but will also keep the soil around the roots moist for longer. It can be camouflaged with a layer of mulch. Feed the hedge plants in spring, summer and autumn with a slow-release fertiliser.

Maintain good growth with correct pruning

Immediately after planting you can start pinching or pruning lightly by removing the growing tips of all side branches to encourage new growth. Keep on doing this every few months until the plants have started growing into each other. Actual pruning and perfect shaping into the permanent form only starts when the plants have grown to their required height.

The Gardener