Devon field boundaries: restoration standards for agri-environment schemes (TIN039)

Hedge planting

When creating a new hedgerow in Devon it is traditional to plant into an earth bank, rather than planting at ground level. Please see section on creating new earth banks.

When planting into a newly built/restored bank, you should first allow the earth to settle. This will often mean planting during the autumn following building. This will ensure the best chance of survival.

The ground should be prepared by either manual or, where appropriate, chemical means (taking account of the floristic interest of the site) and existing hedge material and vegetation cleared. As the soil in a hedge bank is often dry and lacking in nutrients it is advisable to use either containerised or root wrapped plants. Keep roots moist prior to planting and protect them from wind or frost damage.

Bare rooted nursery stock can be planted during the winter months from November to February, when the ground is not frozen. The best time to plant is in November as the weather and soil conditions are most suitable for root establishment. Holly and other evergreen species are best planted in September or early May to avoid the risk of frost damage.

Ideally, hedge plants should be two year old transplants, 45 - 60 cm (18 - 24') high. Planting should be in a double staggered row with each row set far enough apart to allow for the eventual casting up of earth between the rows. Plant at a density of 6 - 8 plants per linear metre.

The number of plants needed per metre will depend upon the size and species of the transplant and the planting conditions. Plant to the same depth as the plant was growing in the nursery or container.

To establish a successful stock proof hedge, the new hedging plants will need to be cut back two years after planting, to approximately 5 cm (2') high. Although this appears rather drastic, this will allow them to shoot out and form bushy growth from the base.

Figure 18 Hedge planting method

Weed control

Weed control may be needed for several years to control competitive weeds, which can kill the young plants by competing for soil moisture, nutrients and light. Weeds can be controlled by hand-pulling or by mulching with either wood chippings or 500 gauge black polythene 1 - 2 m wide. Mulching will also prevent the rapid drying of soil. Alternatively, an appropriate herbicide can be used for the first few years. Strimming is not recommended. In all cases where spraying is involved you must observe the requirements of current legislation and codes of practice. Replace any plants that have died in the following planting season.

The hedge plants may need to be protected from rabbit damage by spiral guards or tree tubes. Tubes are useful for very windy sites. Protective fencing will be needed to prevent damage by livestock and/or rabbits. The fence should be set back at least 1.2 metres from the centre of the hedge (if it is not on a bank) or close to the base of the bank.

Choice of species

Plant native species that are already growing in the hedge or in the immediate locality. In species poor hedges, or when planting a new hedge, opportunities should be taken to include some of the other native shrubs, which will offer great benefit to wildlife. Diversity of species will give a continuity and variety of food sources such as flowers, fruits, seeds and foliage throughout the year. However, single species hedges may be of historic importance and indicate early land enclosure. These hedges should only be replanted with the same species so as to retain this historic characteristic.

Many nurseries or local suppliers offer a 'conservation mix' or a 'Devon hedge mix' that will contain a mixture of species suitable for planting in a wide range of situations. Care should be taken with these, for example, if you are planting on a particularly exposed site or a coastal site prone to sea spray some species in the mix may not be suitable. On some very exposed sites it may not be feasible to plant a hedge at all, since only very hardy species such as gorse will survive.

When choosing the species mixture your choice will be influenced by soil conditions, altitude, exposure, your intended management regime and the composition of nearby hedges. A large percentage of the plants should be made up from the five species listed below:

Hawthorn - very versatile. Grows in most soil types and sites, except very high altitudes and heavy shade. Tolerant of heavy cutting.

Blackthorn - slow growing, semi-shade tolerant, forms thick hedge which deters livestock. Excellent for exposed sites and sea spray.

Hazel - thrives in drier soils, vigorous growth, produces straight sticks when laid or coppiced.

Holly - shade tolerant, evergreen, slow growing, creates thick, stockproof hedge. Prefers light soils, not tolerant of wet clay. Best planted in September or early May to avoid frost.

Beech - Should be planted only where Beech is locally typical. Forms a thick hedge but does not coppice well when mature.

The remainder should be made up of other suitable species as follows:

Hornbeam - useful to plant with Beech.

Oak - grows well in a wide range of soil conditions.

Ash - not a good hedging plant as it is very fast growing, acceptable in small quantities. Produces straight sticks when laid or coppiced.

Field maple - Favours lime-rich soils. Tough species, tolerates exposure.

Dogwood - suited to lime-rich soils.

Spindle - suited to lime-rich soils.

Dog rose - flowers and fruit valuable for insects and birds.

Rowan - suited to acidic soils. Useful on exposed upland sites where little else will grow.

Wych elm - useful in small quantities.

Wayfaring tree - grows in alkaline conditions.

Willow - useful in wet conditions where little else will grow.

Honeysuckle - a key species for Dormice.

If in doubt check the suitability of different species with your supplier or with your local adviser.

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