Now is the time to plant your bareroot hedge. Don’t leave it too late! The bareroot planting season is from November to March, when plants are dormant, and the sooner you get them in before bud burst the better.
Getting out into the garden in the winter can be a challenge but planting a hedge is a satisfying task which will keep you warm. Choose a time when the ground is soft but not waterlogged or frozen.
Bareroot is Best
Bareroot plants have numerous advantages over containerised plants:
Cost Effective : Bareroot plants cost a fraction compared to containerised stock.
Quick and easy to plant: There is no need to dig large planting holes. In fact, very small bareroots can even be planted in slits.
Quick to establish: Containerised plants have more restricted root balls which take longer to penetrate the soil. They are also older plants with less vigour. Conversely, bareroots are field grown, their roots have been allowed to follow their natural growth pattern and they will readily start to grow new roots over the winter before putting out leaves. Bareroots are also only 1 or 2 years old and have youth on their side.
Less aftercare: Although you will need to pay attention to watering, bareroot plants are not as vulnerable to water loss as a containerised plant.
How many bareroot plants to order
You want your hedge to fill in quickly, but you don’t want your plants to compete with each other. A good rule of thumb is:
Single row: 3 plants per metre (each plant about 33cm apart).
Double, staggered row: 5 plants per metre (each plant about 45cm apart)
Double rows are best for mixed deciduous native hedging.
Prepare your ground in advance
When your plants arrive it is best to get them in the ground as soon as possible, so preparing the area in advance is a good idea. Clear a strip of ground 45-90cm wide depending on the intended width of your hedge. Remove any weeds and dig over to a spade’s depth.
What to do when your plants arrive
Look after those roots
Try to plant them within 2-3 days of their arrival. The root system of bareroot plants is vulnerable to drying out and it’s essential to keep them moist and cool at all times. Open up your package and if the roots look dry soak them in a bucket of water for 30 minutes. If you can’t get them in the ground straight away, cover the root ball with moist compost and store them in a cool, dark place. They can be stored like this for about 2 weeks.
What to do if you can’t get your bareroots planted within 2 weeks
If you can’t plant your bare root plants within a couple of weeks the best way of keeping them in tip top condition is to ‘heel’ them in. Find a spare patch of ground and plant them in bundles at a 45-degree angle. Make sure all the roots are covered with soil and firm the soil all around with your heel. If you have a lot of plants, then dig a trench about a foot deep with one side sloping at a 45-degree angle. Place the bundles on the sloping side and backfill with soil.
Alternatively, pot the bundles up into containers and keep them moist.
During planting it is extremely important not to expose the bare roots of your plants to the air for too long. Leaving your plants out in desiccating winds or strong winter sunshine can quickly dry out them out. Avoid windy days and if the job is likely to take a long time, keep the plants bagged up whilst you are working.
Mark out your hedge with a string line. Allow about 90cm from your boundary line to accommodate growth. As a measuring guide, cut a piece of bamboo to your planting distance and lay your plants out along the line to the correct spacing.
Don’t bury them too deep
Observe the dark soil mark at the top of the root flare. This is the depth at which the plants were growing in the field, and you need to plant them at the same level.
The most common cause of failure in planting trees and shrubs is planting too deep which eventually causes stem rot. If you are planting in clay, be especially careful and dig to the correct depth. If you dig an oversized hole, it will slump over time and the plant may end up too deep.
If you are working on poor soil, add organic matter to your planting mix.
Your hole should be wide enough to comfortably accommodate the plant roots. Backfill, making sure you get soil all around the roots, gently but firmly pressing the soil around with your heel whilst holding the plant upright.
A thick layer of mulch about 7.5cm deep (3”) will really help your hedge to get off to good start by suppressing weeds and retaining moisture.
Water the plants thoroughly after planting.
Native hawthorn, Blackthorn, Privet: Prune these vigorous plants back to about a foot (30cm) on planting. The first autumn reduce the first season’s growth by about a half.
Other deciduous hedging: Prune lightly, removing damaged stems. The first autumn reduce the first season’s growth by one third.
Evergreens: Leave alone in the first year. Trim side shoots after first season’s growth but leave leading shoot until it reaches desired height.
Watering during the first year is critical
Keep a regular eye on watering and don’t leave your plants to suffer water stress. The first year is critical. When you water, give each plant a thorough soak. Generous watering at longer intervals is better than frequent but skimpy watering.
Evergreen plants are especially vulnerable to water loss. They may drop leaves in response to warm weather. This is normal but keep them well hydrated.
The first spring
Deciduous plants will be later into leaf than established hedges. When buds burst in the first spring plants will begin to lose moisture through their leaves and will still have an immature root system. This makes them especially vulnerable so watch out for spring droughts. If the new leaves begin to crisp up the plants are in trouble – don’t let this happen!
The first summer
During the first summer after planting be vigilant and keep your plants well watered during dry periods.
Apply a general-purpose fertiliser annually in late winter/early spring.
A thick mulch will really assist in the rapid establishment and health of your plants. Try to mulch at least the first 2 years. It will save on watering ,weeding and fertilising. Organic mulches like compost or well-rotted farmyard manure are suitable. Or for a longer lasting mulch use bark chip. Don’t skimp on the mulch. It needs to be at least 3” thick (about 7.5cm).
Weed regularly, keeping the whole planting area free of weeds for at least 2 years. Your new hedge will not enjoy competition. Even short grass is enough to draw water and nutrients away from your hedge and impede its establishment.
Going back to your roots
Bareroots may look ugly compared to an instant containerised plant, but they are plants with potential. Get them in now and you will be rewarded with the excitement of watching your new hedge burst into life in the spring.
Find out how to maintain and care for your hedge over at our dedicated tree and hedge hub page.