Late autumn and winter is the time to plant your bareroot hedge. That’s because from late November through to March, most hedging plants are in their dormant phase and can be moved without causing undue stress. If you wait until budburst you’ll have lost your opportunity for the year, so don’t leave it too late! Planting a hedge is a satisfying job which will keep you warm on a chilly winter’s day. Here’s everything you need to know to tackle the task successfully.
Looking for inspiration? Check out our full range of hedging plants.
Why plant a bare root hedge?
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 make a hedge?
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.
How to prepare the ground for a hedge
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. If you’re working on poor soil, work plenty of organic matter into the ground.
Mark out your hedgeline using string and a couple of stakes. Allow about 90cm from your boundary line to accommodate growth. When it’s time to put your plants in, cut a piece of bamboo as a measuring guide to help you find the correct planting distance.
What to do when your hedging plants arrive
Get your bare root plants into the ground as soon as you can – within 2-3 days of their arrival at most. Their root system 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 your plants into the ground straight away, cover the root balls with moist compost and store them in a cool, dark place. They can be stored like this for a maximum of 2 weeks. If you need longer to get around to tackling the task or the weather is against you, the best way to keep your plants in good condition is to ‘heel’ them in.
Find a spare patch of ground and plant your bare roots 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, 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.
Planting your bareroot hedge
It’s 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 them out. Avoid windy days and if the job is likely to take a long time, keep the plants bagged up while you’re working.
Dig a hole wide enough to comfortably accommodate the roots, place them into the hole and backfill. Make sure you get soil all around the roots, gently but firmly pressing the soil around with your heel while holding the plant upright. Water in.
The most common cause of failure in planting trees and shrubs is planting too deep which eventually causes stem rot. 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 to the same level. If planting in clay, be especially careful to dig to the correct depth. You should also be careful not to dig too wide a hole because it will slump over time and the plant may end up too deep.
Get your hedge off to a good start by applying a thick layer of mulch about 7.5cm deep (3”) to suppress weeds and help to retain moisture.
How to prune a new hedge
- Native hawthorn, Blackthorn, Privet: Prune these vigorous plants back to about a foot (30cm) on planting. The first autumn, prune to reduce the first season’s growth by about half.
- Other deciduous hedging: Prune lightly, removing damaged stems. The first autumn, prune to 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 the leading shoot until it reaches the desired height.
How to care for your new hedge
Having a good first year is critical to your hedge’s future health and vitality. Keep a regular eye on watering and don’t leave your plants to suffer water stress. When you do 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 do keep your plants well hydrated.
The first spring, deciduous plants will be later into leaf than established hedges. When buds burst for the first time, the plants will begin to lose moisture through their leaves but 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! Likewise, during the first summer after planting be vigilant and keep your plants well watered during dry periods.
Applying that thick mulch will really assist in the rapid establishment and health of your plants. Try to mulch for 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 chips. Don’t skimp – your mulch should be at least 3” thick (about 7.5cm). Fertilise your hedge annually in late winter / early spring using a general-purpose fertiliser.
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.
Bareroots may look ugly compared to an instant containerised plant, but they are plants with potential. Get them in over the winter and you’ll be rewarded with the excitement of watching your new hedge burst into life in the spring. Learn more about choosing and maintaining your hedge over at our dedicated tree and hedge hub page.
Annelise Brilli is the Horticultural Copywriter for Thompson and Morgan. Annelise caught the gardening bug from her mother, whose tiny backyard was crammed with a huge collection of plants. As an adult, she had a career change into horticulture, gaining a training apprenticeship with the National Trust at Powis Castle Garden in Welshpool. She went on to work in a range of private and public gardens, later running a garden design and maintenance business. She is passionate about sustainable gardening and has developed her own wildlife-friendly garden which she has opened as part of Macmillan Coastal Garden Trail.