A guide to hedging plants

It’s a fact – the size of the average UK garden is shrinking with around a quarter of people reporting a garden of ‘terrace’ or ‘patio’ size as long ago as 2006. Space is therefore at a premium but that doesn’t mean you need to compromise on natural features such as lawns, trees and hedges.
How important are hedges –  particularly for urban living?

If you live in the city, one of the biggest urban garden tips we can offer is to add a hedge because they can play a valuable role in increasing privacy, visuality and comfort. They are aesthetically pleasing, living structures that last far longer than any fence and the best hedging plants provide a home to so many kinds of wildlife. Not to mention the gentle filtering wind protection, noise suppression or the reduction in particulate matter brought about by an established Beech hedge.

There are a number of reasons why hedges are important, particularly for those living in urban areas – including:

  • The structure and foliage of hedging plants, shrubs and trees have been demonstrated to help absorb and filter particulates from transport emissions.
  • Thick, well-developed hedges contribute to a significant reduction in road noise, particularly if they are evergreen. Find out more about why evergreen plants are often seen as the best hedging plants.
  • They also take in CO2 and give off oxygen which is, of course, great for us.
  • As hedges grow and develop, a sequestration of carbon occurs taking it from the atmosphere. Sequestration of carbon doesn’t all need to happen via government-funded tree planting, we can all do a little bit too if we have a plot. By planting hedges, you’ll be making the most of a small garden while also protecting the planet.
  • Other benefits of hedges in urban environments is that the areas are visually ‘softened’ and the plants themselves bring about an immediate reduction in temperature by virtue of the shade they provide. As global temperatures rise and increasing numbers of people choose city living, hedging as well as trees and plants will become even more integral when thinking about urban garden ideas.

Hedge planting tips for making the most of a small garden

Having a small or urban garden should not stop you from creating a garden you love – here are several tips for gardening in small spaces:

  • Don’t buy plants that are too big – the best hedging plants for an urban garden are often smaller plants as they are easier to look after, cheaper to buy and need less water.
  • If you are trying to work out what plants are best for hedges in your garden, choose ones that are in proportion to the size of your garden. For example, don’t plant a row of Leylandii down the boundaries of your garden as it’s going to be the bane of your life when it gets big and casts lots of shade over your garden. They also need a lot of maintenance, consider how much time you might have for the upkeep of your beautiful hedges.
  • One of the most important hedge planting tips is to do some research. Have a think about what you want your hedge to do – are you looking for the best hedges for wildlife? Has it got to be evergreen to prevent neighbours from peering into your garden? Do you want to reduce noise and pollution? If you aren’t sure where to start, have a look at our guide on choosing the right hedge.
  • Finally, have patience and accept it may take a little longer to get to the finished product. 

Hedges should be pretty low maintenance unless you’re aiming to have a garden with absolutely perfect box hedges to look like a show garden which will be harder to maintain.What plants are best for hedges in different situations and what is the best time of year to implement your garden hedge ideas?

The time of year you should turn your hedge planting ideas into a reality depends on whether you are planting hedging that’s already in pots or bare root ones. If you are planting bare root hedging then the season to do that is November as the soil is still warm and the roots start growing straight away, and then when they leaf up in April they are already established.

What plants are best for hedges in small spaces?

Laurel Caucasia – (Prunus laurocerasus ‘Caucasica’)  – A dark green Cherry Laurel having longer and narrower leaves and more upright growth, easier to keep narrow than the usual type where space is limited but a hedge giving eye level privacy is needed.

Hicksii Yew – (Taxus x media ‘Hicksii’) – Another more upright version of a favourite hedge species, Hicksii Yews grow reasonably quickly (for a Yew!) when young and the upright habit makes it easier to keep narrow.

Smaragd Thuja – (Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’) – We love these plucky conifers, always keen to please and easy to grow, they deserve to be far more popular. They make a great alternative conifer hedge, upright habit and moderate growth, great for making the most of a small garden.

Cotoneaster Lacteus – Of all the ‘Hedging Cotoneasters’ we choose this one as it’s more reliably evergreen when the weather turns cold in your small but perfectly formed garden, moderate growth rate and a cheery show of flowers and berries which makes it one of the best hedging plants for implementing your urban garden ideas with.

Green and Purple Beech – (Fagus sylvatica/atropunicea) – No introduction needed here, Beech hedges look great all year thanks to their leaf retention, keep them as small as 60cm tall and 30cm wide. A staple of gardens large and small everywhere.

Griselinia Littoralis – A true rising star of the hedging plants, every year we see more and more of the apple green leaved beauties leaving the nursery. Upright stems are held on a hedge that looks immaculate in all seasons and will take up little space, perfect when thinking about how to make the most of a small garden.

Etna Laurel – (Prunus laurocerasus ‘Etna’) – A Cherry Laurel with attractively red young growths in spring that turns a lovely deep green when mature. Significantly slower growing than the type and well suited to smaller gardens.

Euonymus japonicus – The larger leaved ‘Spindles’ are very versatile indeed, another low maintenance evergreen option that always looks good and fits the bill for both small ornamental hedges and taller ones where privacy is needed. We grow the plain dark green species together with ‘Marieke’ and ‘Bravo’ for a splash of colour.

Hornbeam – (Carpinus betulus) – Another one of our favourites, who can be fail to bemcheered by the fresh new emerging foliage each Spring! Like the Beech some leaves are retained in Winter, but this one is more likely to thrive if the builders have left the topsoil of your town plot in a state – easy to grow and tough.

Privet – (Ligustrum ovalifolium) – Another reliable old favourite that adorns many suburban gardens, and for good reasons. Tough, easy to grow, moderate growth and so easy to look after and keep in check. They are one of the best hedging plants for urban gardens as the milder climate in town means it’s more likely to keep its leaves all Winter.

Pittosporum tenuifolium – We have the species and several cultivars like ‘Abbotsbury Gold’ and ‘Elizabeth’. These are all perfect for town gardens where they appreciate the sheltered conditions, with just a little trimming they make the most immaculate and well-mannered evergreen hedges!

What are the best hedges for wildlife and biodiversity in a small garden?

Hedges of just about any species will make a haven for wildlife whether it’s a home for nesting birds, flowers for pollinating insects or fruits nuts and berries – any established hedgerow will be home to a fascinating variety of life.

Any native hedging species will be a great choice to create a wildlife haven, especially if there is the rich variety of a mixed native hedge. We can supply all the individual species for you to create your own mix of plants or we can select the species if you order from one of our hedgerow mixes.

Many other non-native garden hedging plants can also have great wildlife value, evergreens such as Cherry Laurel, Pyracantha and Escallonia are great if hedge trimming does not remove the flowers, other flowering hedges can be a real magnet for pollinating insects, particularly if you can choose some early flowering species to provide pollen and nectar when it can be in short supply.

Here are some of the best hedges for wildlife that you should consider for making the most of a small garden:

Escallonia – When these plants are in flower, they are great for moths, butterflies and also bees. Read our blog on bee friendly plants to learn more about the best hedging plants for attracting and protecting bees.

Privet (Ligustrum) – The nectar rich flowers of Privet can attract more than a dozen butterfly species. Also, later in the season the fruits are popular with a wide variety of birds, making Privet one of the best hedges for wildlife.

Berberis (Berberis darwinii and B.thunbergii varieties) – These are first class bee plants and a nectar source for moths and butterflies, while also providing shelter for many caterpillars. The Barberries are popular with thrushes, waxwings and blackbirds.

Gorse (Ulex europaeus) – This spikey native can be in flower almost all year making it particularly valuable to Bees coming out of hibernation when little else is available. It is also the primary food source for the Green Hairstreak and Silver Studded Blue butterflies. This is an important nesting plant too for Warblers, Stonechats, Linnets and Yellowhammers.

Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea, C. alba varieties) – These shrubby dogwoods are at their most valuable to wildlife when they are allowed to flower. The flat heads of white flowers are nectar rich bringing in Bees and Butterflies, later on the berries and seeds will be a magnet for birds.

Hawthorn/Quickthorn (Crataegus monogyna) – The foundation of many rural hedges, Hawthorn is a great nectar plant for Bees and Butterflies, a caterpillar food plant and is very popular with a wealth of birds and small mammals.

Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) – The Blackthorn or Sloe is one of our earliest flowering native shrubs providing important early season nectar and pollen especially for bees and the Black Hairstreak butterflies that also lay their eggs in blackthorn thickets, a popular nesting spot for many birds too which makes it one of the best hedges for wildlife.

Spindle (Euonymus europaeus) – This native shrub stands out in native hedgerows when the bright pink fruits start to colour, a good nectar and pollen source, the leaves are popular with caterpillars. Established spindle trees are very popular with a variety of birds.

Birch (Betula) – The foliage of the Silver birch (Betula pendula) is a food source for very many butterfly caterpillar species, the Downy birch (Betula pubescens) is also important albeit it to a lesser degree.

Species Roses (Rosa canina, R. pimpinellifolia, R. rubiginosa, R. rugosa) – Species roses are great for bringing wildlife into your plot, their nectar and pollen rich flowers are far better for pollinating insects than more modern double flowered varieties and the hips will be popular with birds.

Cherry Laurels (Prunus laurocerasus varieties) – If you can allow the plants to flower they will be very attractive to bees, the cherry fruits will make a welcome meal for hungry birds later in the year.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

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