Hedges as Habitats for Wildlife

Habitats for Wildlife : Hedges

Regularly clipped hedges that are dense and twiggy make excellent nesting sites for birds. Some also provide berries for food, and the plant debris that builds up underneath provides a place for hibernating hedgehogs. A hedge also acts as a corridor, allowing creatures to move between gardens and into the wilds beyond.

Habitats for Wildlife : Hedges Planting a hedge is cheaper than putting up a fence and hedges make good windbreaks, filtering instead of blocking the wind. However, a hedge does take up more space. You should allow a strip about 1m (3-1/4 ft) wide for the hedge, and leave 1m (3-1/4 ft) before planting vegetables, fruit or moisture-loving flowers.

Plan a hedge at least on one side of the garden if you can, using walls or fences clothed in climbers for the rest if space is limited.

Types of hedges

Formal hedges

The best plants for closely clipped hedges are neat slow-growing species such as yew, holly, beech and hornbeam). They can be used for medium-height hedges – around 1.2m (4ft) or for much taller ones. The close cutting will remove most seeds or berries, but they still provide cover and nesting sites for birds.

Conifer hedges

Two of the best species of conifer for garden hedges are Western red cedar and Lawson’s cypress. These are most suitable for tall hedges (2m [6-1/2 ft] or more). Some conifer species are not suitable for hedges, particularly in a small garden, as they grow very tall and become bare at the base and do not like clipping or topping. Conifer hedges make dense cover for birds, particularly in winter.

Informal flowering or berrying hedges Some hedging species can be left to grow more naturally so that they give an attractive show of flowers or berries, and these can also benefit wildlife. Good species include Cotoneaster simonsii, Pyracantha rogersiana, Berberis x stenophylla and some Rosa rugosa hybrids such as ‘Scabrosa’. They are mostly suitable for medium-height hedges of 1-2m ( 3-¼ – 6-1/2 ft). Barrier hedges For a hedge that is child- or animal-proof, choose a prickly species such as hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), holly (Ilex aquifolium) or berberis (Berberis spp).

A mixed native hedge

Habitats for Wildlife : Hedges There is a wide range of shrubs and trees traditionally used for countryside hedgerows which together will clip to form a tidy garden hedge. As well as providing dense cover and nesting sites, they form a rich habitat for a variety of smaller creatures that rely on them for food.

Before planning a native hedge, look at field hedgerows to see what species they contain. They will give you an idea of which species you can expect to grow well, and you may want to follow this planting scheme in your garden.

Choose one main species to make up the majority (70-80 per cent) of the hedge. Use prickly hawthorn or blackthorn to keep animals out or in. Field maple also makes a good basis for a hedge. Choose several other native species to make up the remaining plants: it is usually best to plant a block of at least five of each species. Try to include at least one evergreen for winter cover.

Native hedging plants are available as bare-rooted whips 45-60 cm (18-24 in) high from tree and shrub nurseries. It is best to buy plants this small as they establish well and you can clip them to make them bushy right from the start. Allow five plants per 1m (3-1/4 ft) of hedge, planted in a staggered row.

Planting a hedge

Deciduous hedges should be planted from late autumn to early spring; autumn is the best time. Ideally, plant evergreen hedges such as holly and conifers in mid- to late spring.

Prepare a strip for the hedge about 1m (3-1/4ft) wide. On cultivated ground, fork or hoe to remove any weeds and add well-rotted compost or a proprietary organic planting mixture. Leafmould is a good alternative on heavy soils. On uncultivated ground, remove any rough turf and dig out the topsoil from the strip, keeping it separate from the turf. Loosen the subsoil at the bottom of the trench and put the turf on top, chopping it up with a spade. Refill the trench with a mixture of soil and compost, planting mixture or leafmould. Plant the hedging plants at the recommended spacing. Lightly firm the soil and water them well. In spring, mulch them with hay, straw, shreddings or bark to retain moisture and keep down weeds. Use newspaper under the mulch if necessary. Native hedging whips are generally bare-rooted and have small enough roots to be planted through black polythene on very weedy ground.

Trimming a hedge

Never trim a hedge in the nesting season (spring and early summer). An annual trim in late summer or early autumn is sufficient for most hedges mentioned. Informal hedges need even less attention — prune these only to prevent them becoming straggly. Wait until winter when the berries are gone.

27. January 2011 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Organic Gardening | Tags: , | Comments Off on Hedges as Habitats for Wildlife


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