We can already see the days getting longer, and that is a sure sign that we are on the downhill winter slope to spring. As you look out the window, is that old hedge looking really bad? Thin at the base? Full of gaps? Broken top from winter snow? So fat it takes up half your garden? If you answered, “Yes” to one or more of these questions, then it sounds like time to replace that hedge, and plan for a new one. Spring is the ideal time to do this, as the new plants will have plenty of time to establish over the summer, and they will be in great shape to pass easily through winter and really get moving the next year. With that in mind, let’s look at the important steps in moving from the idea to the reality of a new hedge.

Planning a New Hedge

  • Choose the plant variety to use
  • Calculate how many you need
  • Remove the old hedge
  • Prepare the ground
  • Do the planting
  • Care for your new hedge

Let’s look at each of these steps and see what is involved.

Choosing the Right Plant

Mostly we want a hedge that is there all year. Sometimes a deciduous hedge is the right choice, but if privacy is an issue, remember that a deciduous hedge is anything but private for a large part of the year. Evergreen plants make a lot more sense. Although broad-leaf evergreens like laurel or holly make great, fast-growing hedges for shadier places, some kind of conifer is usually the best choice for sunny or partially-sunny locations. If you want a fast-growing hedge, then the top choices come down to just three; Emerald Green Arborvitae for cold areas; Italian Cypress for very hot, dry regions; and the king of them all, Thuja Green Giant, for everything in between. Hardy from zone 5 to zone 9, this is also the fastest-growing evergreen of all, so it’s the ‘go-to’ plant for almost everyone.

How Many Plants are Needed?

There are two basic ways of planting a hedge. You can plant a single row, with the plants close together, or a double row, with the plants staggered, and more widely spaced. In a smaller garden a single row is best, because it won’t take up so much room, but in a bigger space a double row will give you the densest and sturdiest hedge, without needing a lot more plants, since the spacing is wider. For Thuja Green Giant, use a single row spacing of 3 feet. You can go a little wider, up to 5 feet, but of course it will take longer to fill in. Don’t make the mistake of going closer than 3 feet, as there must be enough room for each plant to develop properly. For a double row, space the rows 3 feet apart, and the plants 5 feet apart in the rows. Again, you can go to 8 feet, but it will be longer before you have a uniform hedge.

For Emerald Green Arborvitae, use a 2 to 3 foot spacing, or a 3 to 4 foot spacing in a double row, allowing 2 feet between the rows. For Italian Cypress use the same spacing, because although this tree grows taller, it has a narrow profile, and spaced too far apart it will never fill in.

To calculate how many plants to order, measure the distance carefully, and then divide it by the spacing you are planning to use. Clearly for a double row you will multiply that number by two. Add a couple of extras at least, in case your measuring is a bit off.

Removing That Old Hedge

For this job it is best to hire someone with a chain-saw and a back-hoe. If you are happy using a chain saw, you can do all the cutting down – wear a hard-hat – and have a contractor come in and remove the wood and stumps. Have the back-hoe dig over the area for you, going deep, as this will make preparing the area a whole lot easier. Before anyone starts digging, it is vital to have the area checked for services. The last thing you want it to rip up your water mains, sewer pipes, or underground cable or electricity services!

Preparing the Ground

That old hedge will have taken a lot of nutrients from the soil, so replace them, and restore the quality of the soil itself, by digging in plenty of rich organic material. Garden compost; rotten cow, sheep or horse manure; mushroom compost; or even rotted leaves, are all good materials. Spread a layer at least 2 inches deep over an area at least 3 feet wide, where your new hedge is going. Add a good sprinkling of superphosphate or bone-meal, or a hedge ‘starter fertilizer’. Use a rototiller to mix everything together and then rake the area level, firming it down with your feet as you go. If you can do this at least a couple of weeks before planting, that is best, as the ground will have some time to settle.

Planting Your New Hedge

The night before planting, water the containers with your new plants thoroughly. Next day, space them out carefully along the row, using a taut string to keep the row straight. Make sure each plant is exactly the same distance apart, or your hedge could have gaps in it. Use a stick across the planting hole to get each plant at the level it was in the container. Have a hosepipe handy, and as you put each plant into its hole, fill the hole with water and let it drain down before adding the last of the soil. This method gets water right down to the roots, where it is needed, instead of watering just the top.

Caring for Your New Hedge

Once you have taken a day or two to admire all your work – and to recover – don’t neglect your new plants. Give them a deep soaking at least once a week, and twice a week if the weather is hot. A soak with a water-soluble hedge food once a month is a terrific way to really get your hedge off to a flying start. As soon as you see some new growth, start trimming just a little bit from your hedge. Don’t wait to trim until it reaches the final size you want. For the best hedge you need to develop a dense structure from an early age, by regular light trimming. You only need to take an inch or two off, but this is the secret of a superb hedge. Once it is forming nicely, keep the upper part narrower than the lower part, so that the bottom stays dense and green right to the ground.

 

After all that work you deserve a beer – or at least a Coke! Within a very short time your new hedge will be looking great, the hard work will be forgotten, and your new hedge is set for the next few decades at least. Job well done.