Hedgerow Planting

Learn how to plant a hedgerow.

How to Plant a Hedgerow

1. Purchase native trees of Irish provenance

Irish provenance = grown from seed collected in Ireland. Irish provenance trees preserve genetic diversity and reduce the spread of diseases such as Fireblight.

The retailers and nurseries listed below stock native trees of Irish provenance, but not all their stock falls under this category. We recommend contacting them to see what Irish provenance stock is available this season as it tends to fluctuate. We are not affiliated with any of the retailers or nurseries listed below.

  • None So Hardy Nursery
  • Wild Oaks Nursery
  • Kearneys Nursery
  • Celt
  • Future Forests
  • Cappagh Nurseries
  • Fermoy Woodland Nursery
  • Irish Tree Centre 

Usually, hedgerows are planted with bare-root trees called ‘whips’. Farmers can avail of grants through ACRES. Otherwise, you could contact the organisations below to see if you can avail of free trees: 

The Tree Council describe all 28 native Irish tree species on their website, click here to read more.

Native, Irish provenance trees are better adapted to our climate, and therefore, are more resilient to ecological shocks and stressors. They are also more suitable as food sources because their nutritional quality and flowering time match the seasonal needs of Irish wildlife. Including pollinator-friendly trees in your species mix also benefits insects such as bees, butterflies, moths, and hoverflies.

Ireland’s native pollinators are in decline due to agricultural intensification (reduced flower-rich areas and increased use of chemicals), urban land-use change, and other environmental pressures. Learn more at https://pollinators.ie/.

Recommended species mix:

  • Whitethorn/hawthorn: pollinator-friendly, blossoming May-June
  • Blackthorn: pollinator-friendly, blossoming March-April
  • Hazel
  • Holly
  • Guelder rose: pollinator-friendly, blossoming May-July
  • Crab apple: pollinator-friendly, blossoming April-May
  • Alder buckthorn
  • Spindle: pollinator-friendly, blossoming May-June
  • Rowan: pollinator-friendly, blossoming April-May
  • Bird cherry: pollinator-friendly, blossoming April-May 
  • Wild cherry: pollinator-friendly, blossoming April-May
  • Downy birch
  • Oak
  • Willow: pollinator-friendly, blossoming March-April
  • Whitebeam: pollinator-friendly, blossoming May-June

You don’t need to plant each of the species above. Rather, look at what is already growing in your area and pick a similar species mix. Hawthorn, blackthorn, and hazel will usually comprise roughly 60% of the species mix. The remaining plants should be intermixed randomly between these core plants.

  • E.g. 100 metres x 6 trees/metre = 600 trees total. Here’s what you can do to calculate proportions:
    • A mature tree or ‘standard’ every 10-15m equals 40-60 standards per 100m. So you can purchase a mix of 40-60 Bird Cherry/Crab Apple/Rowan/Oak. These will not be cut or laid, but rather left to grow tall as bird perching posts.
    • If we go with 60 standards, now we have 540 trees left to divide up. Most of these can be Hawthorn/Hazel/Blackthorn, e.g. 60% of 540 equals almost 325 Hawthorn/Hazel/Blackthorn.
    • This leaves you to purchase a mix of 215 Spindle/Holly/Guelder Rose/Other appropriate trees.
    • 600 total = 60 standards + 325 core plants + 215 plants for extra species diversity.

There are many more tips included in a Hedge Link guidance document, you can read it by clicking here.

2. Prepare the area for planting.

If you are planting as a community group, ensure you receive all the necessary permissions from your Local Authority and nearby residents.

Purchase fencing, tree guards, and mulch, if needed.

You can prepare the soil by digging over the area you’ll be planting, however, this is not always essential depending on the ground conditions.

3. Plant your hedgerow.

View the video on slot planting above. Once the soil is prepared, it’s very quick and all you need is a spade. Make sure to keep the roots of your bare-root trees damp to avoid drying out. If you need to store them for an extended period, dig a small trench and heel in your whips.

Space out and plant the rarer trees first. i.e. first the standards at 10-15m spacing, then the ‘extra species diversity’ trees, and lastly fill the spaces with core plants (Hawthorn/Hazel/Blackthorn). Plant in a double staggered row with 30-40cm between trees (it will look like a zig-zag), this provides a denser hedgerow than a single row and is better for wildlife. Mark out the trees to be left as standards and not trimmed.

Click here for a step-by-step overview of hedge planting. Plant bare-root stock (whips) from October-March. Planting early, before January, will allow the plant roots to develop before spring. However, in clay soils, it is best to avoid waterlogged periods (this causes root rot) and wait till after frost periods to avoid frost heave (this causes root exposure).

After planting, you can leave your trees to grow until the stems are thick enough for hedge laying. If you do not plan to lay the hedgerow, you can follow the Teagasc guidance of pruning the whips to within an inch (30mm) or so of the ground level after planting, the following year cut about 30mm above the first cut, and on the 3rd year, 30mm above the second cut. This maintains the growth at ground level to produce a denser base and allow the hedge to slowly grow up. This practice was tested by Kildalton College, you can read more by clicking here. Incremental height increase is a key element of hedgerow management.

Leave a nature-friendly margin on each side of the hedgerow, where possible. The wider and wilder your grass or wildflower margin is, the more suitable it is for ground-nesting birds and foraging wildlife. Hedge margins are essential networks for nature by improving food availability and protecting wildlife from predation.

4. Maintenance and Aftercare

Depending on what sort of grazers you have nearby, you might need fencing. If you don’t have any grazing problem (e.g. in a housing estate), then you may not need fencing. If you have many rabbits, your fencing should go below the surface to prevent burrowing. If you have deer, you need taller metal wire fencing to prevent them from jumping over it. If you have cattle/horses, then an electric fence may suffice. If you have sheep, sheep wire or multiple lines of electric fence may be needed. If you’re very concerned about grazers, you can add tree guards too. However, these must be removed as the trees mature. 

In a community setting (e.g. housing estate or local park), it may be beneficial to install temporary light fencing or signage to delineate the hedgerow and avoid your trees being accidentally mown down when they’re still small!

Trample down competing vegetation (e.g. grasses) in the first couple of growing seasons to allow maximum light to reach the young trees. You can also use a biodegradable plastic or mulch (e.g. sheep wool).

Do not use chemical sprays and slurry as these have a negative effect on plant diversity and wildlife, counteracting the positive effect of less intensively managed hedgerows and wilder hedge margins. They reduce the health of wildlife and remove their food source, thus limiting their ability to recover from shocks and stressors and raise young.