What do you want from your hedge?
Unless you have already decided what plant species you are going to use, you need to decide which of the following are important to you:
Some of these criteria are mutually exclusive so you may need to prioritize your requirements.
Suitability of location
It is a good idea to have a look for similar types of hedge in the neighborhood to see what plants grow well in your locality. This is not just a question of soil type - rainfall, drainage or lack thereof, altitude, latitude and exposure to the elements are all significant factors. Remember that if it's a native species and not growing in your locality then there is probably a good reason!
There are also safety aspects and consideration for others to be taken into account. Will the hedge eventually cause visibility problems to road users or vehicles leaving your land? Will it unreasonably reduce light levels? It is a good idea to ensure that neighbors are consulted both out of courtesy and because you may one day want to trim the hedge from their side!
If planting in a garden, have a look at similar types of hedge nearby to see how tall and wide they can get. Remember that the more compact the hedge, the more often it has to be trimmed! Ensure that the line you intend to take for planting will give adequate width for both sides for the hedge as it grows.
All year round cover
This pretty much restricts you to beech, hornbeam, yew, holly or privet. Although the leaves of beech and hornbeam hedges die in the autumn, they remain attached until pushed off by the new buds in the spring so remain an effective screen through the winter months. Yew is slow growing and highly poisonous and should not be used where there are stock. Yew, beech and hornbeam all have the advantage that they can grow tall whilst being kept dense and relatively narrow. In a garden setting a mixture of green and copper beech can look very spectacular. Holly is very slow growing and tends to suppress other plants once it finally does become established.
If this is a requirement you should go for a preponderance of thorn species, preferably hawthorn. Blackthorn has the disadvantage that it suckers vigorously and will encroach either side of your hedge. The deterrent nature of a thorny hedge cannot be overestimated and it has the advantage over any fence or wall that it is not prone to vandalism and looks attractive as well.
Quantity and type of plants required
As a rule of thumb you should allow one plant every 9 inches, so whether planting in a single row or a double staggered row the number of plants required is the same. For a mixed hedge, many nurseries can supply a hedging mix comprising predominantly hawthorn with a small number of other hedge plants included as well. Some may offer a stock hedging mix and a conservation hedging mix, the latter having a larger proportion of plants other than hawthorn.
The size and nature of the plants required will depend on both your budget, your patience and whether your require a formal or informal hedge (see below). Remember that the larger the plant, the larger the roots, and even with some trimming of the roots, more effort is going to be required to plant them. This is especially true with transplants which will already have a dense and well developed root system.
You should also consider whether any hedgerow trees are required. Twenty two yards is the minimum distance that should be left between hedgerow trees so that they remain sufficiently spaced at maturity and do not completely dominate the hedge. One option is to plant them slightly inside the line of the hedge though this may require additional stock protection.
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