Show your green side, plant a hedge

“The immense value of hedges on farms to biodiversity, carbon and the landscape is increasingly being recognised by the farming community,” says College of Agriculture Food and Rural Environment (CAFRE) Agri-Environment Adviser, Wendy George.

Thursday, 18th March 2021, 12:00 pm
James Speers and Wendy George (CAFRE) discuss plant selection for hedge planting
James Speers and Wendy George (CAFRE) discuss plant selection for hedge planting

New hedges fix carbon dioxide through photosynthesis and help prevent soil erosion caused by flooding.

Planting new hedges with a mix of native species plants will enhance biodiversity, link wildlife habitats, absorb nutrients, enhance the traditional countryside landscape, provide shelter for livestock and limit the spread of disease by reducing nose-to-nose contact between herds.

One farmer who has been carrying out a positive programme of hedge planting is Environmental Farming Business Development Group (EF BDG) member, James Speers who runs a mixed farm in partnership with his father at Drumfergus House Farm near Markethill in County Armagh.

James Speers selecting species for hedge planting

James’s interest in environmental issues was driven by his involvement with the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster Grassroots Challenge project led by Ulster Wildlife. James says: “It’s very important that the next generation of young people in the rural area understand how important the environment is and how we can all do our part to protect and improve it.”

From involvement with Grassroots it seemed like a natural progression for James to join an Environmental Farming Business Development Group and share his experiences and also learn new ways to protect and enhance the environment from other farmers.

Within the BDG programme, Wendy organised an online meeting on James’s farm to discuss best practice for achieving a stockproof hedge. Andrew Gracey, who is a volunteer with Ulster Wildlife, provided a step by step demonstration of the hedge planting process to the members of the Armagh Group.

If you are planning to plant a new hedge you need to consider where to plant, when to plant, what to plant and how you should plant.

James Speers selecting species for hedge planting

WHERE - First determine the suitability of the site. Hedges should be planted in free draining soils, ideally where a previous hedge has been removed or where there is a link with other hedges or habitats.

WHEN - The best time to plant a new hedge on the farm is from November to March, to allow time for successful establishment before active growth starts.

WHAT - Choose the species you are going to plant. Look at the native species growing in the locality as a guide to species selection. To increase the biodiversity potential of the hedge it is recommended that you plant five native species in each 30m length of hedge with a 75% hawthorn and a 25% other woody species mix. Native hedgerow trees, such as rowan, oak or wild cherry, are an important feature in newly planted hedges.

HOW - Prepare the planting site well. On grassy sites, spray a one meter width strip about three weeks before planting and cultivate a trench about 300mm deep and 600mm wide to make planting easier and reduce competition during the first growing season.

Plant five plants/metre in a double staggered row formation with 500mm between plants in the row and 300mm between rows. For every 100 metres of new hedge you should plan for 375 hawthorn and 125 other hedging species that tolerate trimming such as Blackthorn, Holly, Hazel, Spindle, Guelder Rose or Dog Rose. Increasing planting to seven or eight plants/m will help establish a more stock proof hedge.

Protect roots from drying out during planting by keeping plants in a bag until needed. Only plant to the depth of the root collar – don’t bury the stem or expose the roots.

Prune all plants except holly down to approximately 10-15cm above ground level. Use a sloping cut to leave a sharp point. he lower the cut, the lower branching starts, but weed control must be better to prevent competition. Do not prune back If you intend to lay the hedge in the future.

Mulch, bark chippings, approved herbicide or plastic sheeting such as waste silo cover can be used to control weeds. Plastic sheeting needs to be at least 1m wide and can be applied before or after planting. Tuck the plastic in with a spade along the side of the planting area and hold the plastic in place with loose gravel or stones. Hand weeding is also essential for successful hedge establishment.

Plant native trees so that there are at least eight trees per 100m length of hedge or identify individual hawthorn plants and retain them for trees. Trees should be protected with tree guards. This helps identify the location and prevent them being trimmed off during hedge cutting. Do not plant hedgerow trees beneath or within 20m of overhead power lines, close to buildings or at lane or road junctions where they could obstruct lines of vision.

Protect the newly planted hedge from grazing livestock with a stock proof fence on each side, at least two metres apart.

Look after your hedge well in the first year and it will reduce the work you need to do in subsequent years and ensure the hedge becomes an asset on the farm for many years.

The Business Development Group Scheme and Technology Demonstration Farms are part funded through the EU Rural Development Programme.