Planting Hedgerows

©Polly Wise

When we began our work with schools through our School Tree Nursery Programme, the majority of the trees that we supplied to schools were eventually planted out to create woodland areas. However over the last year we have been contacted by a rising number of schools asking if it is possible to have species suitable for hedgerow planting.  We have worked with these schools to provide them with saplings suitable for this purpose as we realise that hedgerows are of great importance both as a habitat, in fact they are a ‘priority habitat’ under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, and a provider of many other eco-system services.

In order to create a hedgerow a suitable number of saplings and mix of species is required, however if your school would be interested in planting a hedgerow either within your own grounds or in your local community please contact  Andreas at earthrestorationservice dot org (written out to avoid spam).

Why have hedgerows declined, why are they important, what species are suitable for creating a hedgerow, and how do you  plant and care for a hedgerow?

Why have hedgerows declined?

Hedgerows have become an iconic feature of the British landscape, creating a patchwork effect as they form boundaries between fields, and borders along country lanes and rural roads. Their presence adds a dynamic beauty and character to our country’s landscape.

However the fact is that these hedgerows that took several thousands of years to establish, are declining rapidly; over the last 60 years, up to 50% of them have been lost through either removal or neglect. Several key events and social and technical developments have led to the loss and neglect of hedgerows since the 1950s:

– Following the Second World War the agricultural labour force was significantly depleted thus leading to hedgerow neglect

– The war’s impact on food supplies, along with the rapidly increasing global population, lead to the European Union developing the Common Agricultural Policy one system of which paid farmers to remove hedges in order to intensify agricultural methods

– Agricultural machinery increased in size making it necessary for larger fields to be created

– Barbed wire and electric fences  replaced many hedgerows

– Many were damaged by straw and stubble burning (banned in 1992)

– Their maintenance cost significantly increased

– Land use changes .i.e. for housing and industry

It is estimated that since 1945 300,000 miles of hedgerow has been lost in the UK.

Why are hedgerows so important?

Hedgerows provide us with many eco-system services which are vital for maintaining the future health of our planet. These include:

– They act as ‘wildlife corridors’ as well as habitats for many species of animals and plants. ‘Wildlife corridors’ are expected to become increasingly important as our climate warms up as these natural ‘motorways’ will act as a transport system enabling species to move to more suitable climates.

– They prevent or reduce soil erosion caused by rainwater run-off and the wind.

– They reduce the amount of pollution that flows from fields into rivers and streams. This is done in several ways; they form physical barriers, they increase the infiltration of pollutants into the soil by making the soil more permeable, they ‘recycle’ the water and its contents.

– They regulate water supply to crops by decreasing wind speed across open fields so reducing the evaporation rate of water; by rapidly removing excess water from the soil during times of flood.

– They slow down the rate that excess rain water enters streams and rivers so helping to reduce risk of flooding.

– They store carbon so having a role to play in reducing the rate of climate change.

– In urban areas they can also help regulate climate, help reduce flooding at times of excessive rainfall, reduce atmospheric pollution by absorbing harmful airborne particles, and provide habits for wildlife

Common Native Hedgerow Plants

Crab Apple
Dog Rose
Guelder Rose

Some of these species can be left to grow to become larger than the rest of the hedge. These are then known as ‘hedgerow trees’. They too are very important as an additional habitat as well as a source of shelter and shade. They can be managed in a way to restrict growth so never reaching their full size.

Hedge trees are commonly of the following timber species:

Field Maple

or fruiting trees such as:

Crab Apple
Wild Cherry
Wild Pear

Advice on how to plant a hedgerow


If you’re planting your hedgerow within the community you may well be working under the guidance of a conservation manager or ranger. However if you are working within your school grounds you may find the following information useful.

Care of plants: If you are planning to plant your saplings within 7 days of receipt leave them sealed within their bag and keep them in a cool place. If they are bare-rooted and you are storing them for longer than a week they will need to be ‘heeled in’. This literally means planting them into the ground/raised bed at a 45 degree angle, ensuring that their roots are covered with soft soil; lightly firm the soil around them. Keep the soil damp until they are planted. They can be stored for several weeks like this.

Preventing the saplings roots from drying out, on the day of planting: It is really important to protect the sapling’s roots from drying out. Always keep the saplings in bags until the point of planting, ensuring the bag opening is away from the wind at all times. If the roots dry out the root-hairs get damaged and therefore will not be able to suck up water when the sapling is planted.

When to plant your hedgerow: Generally the season runs between November and March, but this may vary depending on your location. Ideal days are those damp and drizzly ones. Sunny or windy days need extra vigilance against drying roots. If the ground is frozen or snow covered planting should be avoided. Planting should also be avoided on days when the air temperature is below freezing as this can cause root damage too.

How to space out your hedgerow: Hedgerows can be planted either as a single row of plants or alternatively you may choose to plant it as a double row. If planted as a single row the general rule is that you allow 3 plants per metre. If you are planting it in a double row layout then you should allow for 5 plants per metre, planted in a zigzag/alternating pattern. In this case it is recommended that the rows are planted between 45 cms – 100cms apart. Please bear in mind this maximum width of planting would result in a mature hedgerow of around 3m wide.

How to plant a hedgerow: It is a good idea to soak the roots of the saplings in a bucket of water immediately before planting them. Then with a spade or a trowel a small slit can be dug in the soil. By wiggling the tool backwards and forwards make this slit wide enough to carefully slide the roots of the sapling into.  It is important the part of the plant known as the ‘root collar’ (where the root and stem join) sits at or only just above the surface of the surrounding soil. If the saplings are planted too deep the stems will root and die. Gently firm the slit together around the stem leaving no surface gaps for cold air to penetrate. You should not be able to pull the sapling back out if you give it a tug.

Mulching the hedgerow: It is important to protect the saplings from competition for water, arising from weeds. This can be done by mulching around the saplings with either grass cuttings, straw, compost, cardboard or carpet squares. Mulching is most successful when done straight away. Mulching also protects the saplings roots from heavy frosts in winter and from drying out in hot dry summers.

Protection from rabbits: If your school is in a rural location you may need to place a spiral guard and cane around each sapling to help protect it from rabbits. Obviously care needs to be taken when putting these in place in order to prevent eye injuries. Please contact us at Earth Restoration Service if you require spiral guards and canes to be provided with your saplings.


After care: Water only if very dry. Keep weed free. If you wish your hedge to become dense and bushy you may wish to prune the plants back to around 20cm once planted. This will encourage side shoots to grow. In their first autumn cut these side shoots back to half their grown length.