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7 November 2012

Planting a Wildlife Hedge

If you have space in your garden, perhaps after reorganising a border in the autumn, why not consider planting a mixed hedge for the benefit of both yourself and wildlife. This will not be a neat privet hedge or wall of leylandii, but one that will provide interest all year round, in the form of berries and seeds, flowers and a varied range of foliage, not to mention the increased number of birds, insects and small mammals you'll notice in the garden.

You will quickly be rewarded as you start to see the different mammal and invertebrate species that your hedge supports. Birds will be delighted with a new nesting site and feed on the berries, seeds and any insects and spiders lurking in this new found haven. Smaller mammals will use the base of the hedgerow for shelter and will soon add it to their network of trails.

Moths also need nectar and will benefit from any white or cream coloured flowers, so blackthorn blossom is a perfect addition to the menu.

As you watch your native hedge develop, you'll notice the long season of interest, from the spring and summer blossom through autumn colour and berries into the winter.

If you have room, choose a mixture of hedging trees and shrubs; birch, beech, oak, hazel, dogwoods and hawthorn are ideal. If you can't accommodate trees, a mix of hawthorn, blackthorn, field maple, hazel and common dogwood whips should develop into a wildlife - friendly hedge.

The best and cheapest way to create a native hedge is from whips, which are young bare-root saplings, usually around a year old, that can be bought in bundles or as single plants from late autumn to early spring. Some companies supply wildlife hedging mixes which will give you a good mix of species.

These young plants will be dormant when you buy them and won't look much but will burst into leaf when the spring arrives and will quickly establish themselves.

The native hedge will have an informal feel because it's made up of a mixture of different tree and shrub species. It will quickly form a dense barrier and will happily tolerate pruning.

Your hedge will be in place for a long time so prepare your site well before planting. Remove any weeds and large stones, and dig the area over incorporating some organic matter. Any time from autumn to spring is great for planting, as long as the ground isn't frozen or waterlogged.

Plant your whips in a staggered double row roughly half a metre apart, though the spacing of each plant will depend on how quickly and how big it will grow. It's better to be generous when it comes to spacing as you can always fill any gaps at a later date.

Water in well and give your new hedge a thick mulch to reduce any competition from weeds as the hedge gets going.

Feed every year and top up the mulch. You may need to lend a helping hand with the watering through the first two years.

Autumn is the best time of year to prune the native hedge as you won't disturb any nesting birds at this time and the deciduous trees and shrubs are dormant. Don't be afraid to cut back hard as this will encourage the hedge to thicken up.

I hope you enjoy many years of watching your hedge develop and spotting the extra visitors to your garden that it attracts.
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