Planting and care instructions
Always think and plan carefully before heading to a garden centre to buy hedge plants. From an ecological point of view, it is wise to prefer indigenous species of plants, ideally those that are locally produced and propagated in an environmentally-friendly way, to avoid adverse impacts on the local flora. Using non-native species may negatively impact the diversity and ecological equilibrium within your area and disrupt the relationships between species in nature. It is therefore important to carefully consider the site conditions, the desired growth height and shape of your future hedge, and to choose species matching these criteria. Make a plan first, and only then visit a nursery in your area.
Younger, or older and already grown shrubs? It is mainly a matter of price, but not just that. Once planted, younger shrubs adapt more easily to the new site. The smaller size of a young plant is often compensated for by vigorous growth in the following years. The larger the shrub, the more care it needs during transport, planting and follow-up maintenance.
Look for healthy and strong plants with:
- visibly strong shoots and compact root system
- shorter and bushier growth is better than a long shrub with thin shoots
- no visible injuries on the trunk and branches
- well healed cuts on the trunk surface, if any
- if buying container plants, pull the root ball out of the pot to check the roots: they should not be twisted or deformed due to growing in the pot for too long
- if there already are leaves on the branches, check if they are healthy-looking - do not buy plants that have any spots or damage on the leaves.
Careful handling during transport is essential to prevent any damage or injuries to branches and trunks of the young shrubs:
- young shoots are very tender, make sure they are not compressed during transport and that they don’t break; if transporting plants upright or fastening them during transport, use soft padding to prevent any damage or tipping-over of the containers
- the shoots of the shrubs should be carefully tied together
- protect all parts of the plants from bruising or other mechanical damage, e.g. with soft padding or blankets)
Bare rooted or container plants?
Trees and shrubs are sold either bare rooted, with root balls or in containers. Bare rooted plants are only available during the period of dormancy, i.e. during the cold months when they rest and have no leaves. The best time for planting woody species is in autumn, after the leaves have fallen off, and in early spring before the buds begin to sprout, as long as the ground is not frozen. The earlier you plant your shrubs in the autumn, the better for the plants as they get more time to establish roots before winter comes. Species that are less hardy and more sensitive to frost should be planted in spring. Container plants can be planted at any time of the year but require frequent watering if planted in summer.
Bare rooted shrubs need to be planted straight away after purchasing, or as soon as possible. If temporary storage is required before planting, you can place the plants in a shaded location, cover the roots with soil, and keep them moist all the time. Before planting, put them into a bucket of water and let the roots soak for a few hours to absorb water. Compost tea is the perfect first drink for the young plants. Trim any dead or damaged roots. Container plants need to be watered well before planting. If their roots are overgrown (growing in circles at the bottom of the container) trim them off. If trimming roots, trim the shoots as well.
If you wish to plant your hedge in a straight line, stretch a cord between two poles as a guiding aid. If you prefer a more natural-looking hedge, it is still a good idea to use the guiding cord, but you may deliberately offset some of the plants from the straight line here and there. Apply this to taller or particularly attractive shrubs that will stand out and become the eye-catchers. When planting in two rows, you can also fill the gap to make the hedge denser. If you intend to create niches, think ahead and design the clusters beforehand (see also Hedge types).
The planting hole must be at least twice as wide and deeper than the height of the root ball. The entire length of the roots must fit in without bending. To ensure better growth, loosen the root balls and roots of container plants before placing them into the hole. The heavier the soil, the deeper the planting pit should be dug. Do not plant the shrubs deeper than they were previously in the pot. If planting roses or any other grafted shrubs, the grafting point lies underground, approximately one palm’s width below the surface, and not above the ground as in fruit trees.
Soil / planting substrate:
If there is regular soil on your planting site, mix the topsoil with 1/3 of well-matured compost. If there are heavy soils, add silica sand, fine gravel or crushed clay to the planting substrate. If you have no compost, use peat-free potting soil from specialist garden centres.
If you know there are voles on the planting site, protect the root balls with screens before planting:
- use netting with a maximum mesh size of 13 mm, e.g. chicken wire
- non-galvanized mesh will slowly deteriorate and not cause damage to the roots as they grow
- if planting into mesh cages, the netting should reach all the way up to the surface and around the trunk, otherwise the voles will get to the root area from above.
Planting and water retention ring
- Root balls must be properly moistened before planting.
- Remove any wire mesh or non-degradable materials around the root ball.
- Cut off any damaged roots with a clean knife.
- The planting depth for a root ball should be approximately the same as the previous planting depth in the nursery – press the soil down after planting: lightly, but firmly.
- Form a water retention ring around the trunk and water the plant thoroughly.
Proper watering is one of the most important things for young trees and shrubs, especially during dry periods when they need regular water supply.
Make sure you water your plants correctly:
- the younger the plant, the more important it is to water it regularly, as the root system is not large enough yet to be able to supply itself, especially during dry periods
- it is better to water less frequently, but with larger volumes of water to get to all the roots
- In periods of extreme drought, allow approximately 10 litres of water per plant every 3 – 4 days per each metre of the plant’s height
- from the second year it should only be necessary to water your shrubs during extended dry periods.
Freshly planted shrubs should not be fertilized, as the substrate or the added compost contains enough nutrients to ensure their establishment. Hedges consisting of indigenous plants do not require any additional fertilizer. Leaves and other natural debris are usually sufficient to ensure humus build-up – make sure to leave them on the site.
Shrubs that are susceptible to fungal diseases may be sprayed and watered regularly with plant-strengthening liquids, such as horsetail broth, compost tea, or organic plant strengthening agents from specialist shops. These measures enhance the vitality of the plants.
Mulch your shrubs with lawn clippings, wood chips, wood and other fibrous materials from the garden, etc. Mulching suppresses weeds that would otherwise compete with the young shrubs, and the soil retains moisture longer under the mulch layer.
The frequency and intensity of pruning depends on their function and the desired appearance.
Thinning free-growing hedges
Near-nature hedges only need to be trimmed about every five years. When pruning, proceed from below and remove older branches or branches that have grown too tall. Leave young shoots and make more space for them to regrow. Pruning ensures natural growth habitus and saves sheltered space for the wildlife that live within hedges. Thinning is the easiest and at the same time the gentlest way of trimming a hedge.
Hedges functioning as formal topiary element require regular cutting. You can use stretched cords as guiding aids to maintain a straight line. Generally, leave the hedge slightly wider at the bottom to create a tapering shape so that the lower branches get enough light.
If you want a very dense hedge, you should trim it regularly, once or twice per year.
When to trim
The right time for trimming your hedge is after the main shoot has finished growing – i.e. in June and then in August, after the so-called St. John’s shoots have grown.
Trimming should not be performed later than in August. Trimming later in the season would not leave enough time for the young shoots to mature properly: in winter they could freeze and die.
Early spring is also a good time for hedge trimming, before the leaves have sprouted. This will protect the birds as in early spring they have not yet started building their nests. For most bird species, the breeding season does not begin until March.
Most of the indigenous hedge species can be cut back before March (cutting back means removing all branches just above the ground). It is recommended to cut back in stages, ideally if the branches become bare at the bottom. Only every third shrub should be cut back at any one time. The second third can be cut back the following year, and the rest in the third year. This way the remaining hedge structures will still be available for the wildlife.