A hedgerow can offer beauty, yield, biodiversity, and much more! Discover how to plant a hedgerow to meet your needs in your home landscape.
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In 10 Reasons to Plant a Hedgerow, I review a variety of uses for this planting scheme, including privacy, water conservation, a buffer to noise, wind, or pollution, and more. Furthermore, I outline the difference between a mixed hedgerow and a formal hedge, as well as some of the top benefits that a hedgerow can provide.
Hedgerows are primarily made up of perennial species. However, fast-growing annuals can fill the gaps while a young hedgerow is set up. In this article, I’ll share some design advice, tips on preparing the area for planting, as well as outline a detailed planting list.
Additionally, ongoing maintenance is a factor in how successful a planting will be. To clarify, you should plan to maintain a hedgerow regularly for at least two years by watering and weeding while it becomes established.
Making Observations: The Key First Step
The type of hedgerow to plant, and its layout, depend on a number of factors, such as the purpose you want it to serve, sun exposure of the area, soil conditions, wildlife activity, and many other considerations. We call these passive observations.
In fact, taking a moment to observe before starting is a key first step in permaculture design. Therefore, in my article how to use the power of observation, you’ll be able to get my free, 13-page worksheet Making Observations.
Additionally, active observations are another important tool.
They’re made by gathering data about your site and plotting it on physical maps of the property, so you have visual representation of all the data points that can affect design decisions. Learn more about this activity in my article 6 Maps for the Permaculture Site Design.
Taking the time for both passive and active observations ahead of time can help match your goals with the ecology of the land while saving time, energy, and costly re-work.
Design your Hedgerow
Hedgerows are often used along property lines but they can also be used to divide sections of a property such as dividing recreational areas from garden areas. They can also be utilized to manage water flow, when built as swales or contour gardens.
Hedgerows are ideally twice longer than they are wide.
For example, Dave Jacke, author of Edible Forest Gardens, suggests 40 feet as the critical minimum width for a hedgerow. That’s because depth, as well as multiple layers of plants in height, are needed for creating a rich ecosystem that provides food and shelter for beneficial insects, wildlife, and a variety of plant species.
I suspect, however, that many won’t have the necessary space for this. Therefore, don’t let perfect get in the way of good! I think mixed hedgerows and perennial plantings of any size can do wonders for attracting biodiversity.
If you can swing it, a hedgerow that is at least 10 feet wide (20 feet long) is a minimum size in order to be able to include several rows or layers of plants.
By comparison, farmland hedgerows can in fact stretch as wide as 100 feet (x 200 feet long), and a minimum of 60 feet (x 120 feet long) from a water source in riparian zones.
In fact, mixed hedgerows actually have a lot of similarities with permaculture food forests and fruit tree guilds.
Prepare the Hedgerow Planting Area
There are many ways to prepare an area depending on its size, as well as the type of vegetation that is currently there. On large-scale properties, it might be necessary to till the hedgerow area before planting. You can then add a couple inches of compost and let it rest for two weeks before planting.
For a small hedgerow, however, sheet mulching can be a healthier approach, especially if the existing area is made up of lawn.
First, cut back unwanted growth and remove unwanted woody plants. Then, use a digging fork to aerate the soil throughout, and cover the area in cardboard, overlapping the ends so the soil is entirely covered. Next, alternate layers of organic materials such as aged manure, shredded leaves, or straw. Finally, top with several inches of compost soil (homemade compost or store-bought compost soil), and wait two weeks before planting.
Beware of Herbicides (even if you don’t spray)
Unfortunately, persistent herbicides, which are a lethal type that can haunt soil and kill plants for years, are starting to contaminate compost bins and gardens, even if you have an herbicide-free site.
Therefore, it’s important to learn how to keep herbicides out of your compost bin, even if you don’t spray. Moreover, even Organic-approved compost soil can be contaminated. In fact, manure poses the greatest risk.
Be sure to do your research before importing organic material for your project.
Would you like to grow food in your front yard without sacrificing curb appeal? Check out my mini guide, The Permaculture Inspired Edible Landscape.
Choose the Foundational Plants
A mixed hedgerow includes a variety of plantings such as canopy and understory trees, fruit trees, berry and nut bushes, flowering and native trees and shrubs, evergreen trees and bushes, and herbs, flowers, and ground covers.
Because your plant selections depend on what your goals are and how much space you have, your hedgerow will be as unique as you and your site!
Most importantly, the tallest plantings establish the shape and foundation of the hedgerow. For example, in a spacious area, tall canopy trees can anchor a hedgerow. Meanwhile, in a compact backyard, you’ll likely skip tall canopy trees and select dwarf or semi-dwarf trees or shrubs as your base planting.
In the same vein, another consideration is a planting’s relative location with regard to a property line or fence. In general, you’ll work inward to layer plants from tallest to shortest, but you’ll also want to consider sun exposure as well.
Ensure a Full and Compact Hedgerow at Maturity
To start, plant foundational plants at their maximum suggested spacing. This allows space for harvesting as well as including understory layers around them. Furthermore, it’s a good idea to include extra space beyond that along a fenceline for access and maintenance.
As an example, dwarf apple trees are expected to reach 8-10 feet wide. But there are a few considerations depending on your goals:
Certainly, you want maximum spacing along the fenceline, so use 10-foot spacing, which should prevent fruit from dropping in your neighbor’s yard. On the other hand, to add privacy, you could plant a row of evergreens along the fenceline, with apple trees in front of them. Where a property line isn’t a concern, 8-foot spacing for apple trees provides a more compact planting. (See: 5 Steps to Planting Fruit Trees.)
Continuing with the apple tree hedgerow example, you may want to include shrubs for privacy, or edible fruit for humans or wildlife. For instance, you might plant shrubs about 10 feet from an apple tree (for sufficient sun exposure and space for harvesting), 8 feet from a property line (so they don’t grow through a fence), or 6 feet from each other (for a compact planting).
It all depends on the plants, their expected size, your goals, and even whether you plan to prune them to a different size. In fact, you’ll save yourself some headache if you figure this out before planting. It’s a bit of a puzzle to put together a hedgerow, and that’s why it can be useful to draw it out on paper before getting started.
Choose the Support Plants
Shrubs, herbs, flowers, and ground covers all make up the support species of your hedgerow. One point often overlooked is planning the planting of the second tallest plants. In general, plant them staggered between your foundation plants, and toward the south/west side for sufficient sun exposure (northern hemisphere).
Support plants that face south or west receive more sunlight over time (in the northern hemisphere) than plants facing north or east. Choose appropriate plants for the sun exposure. You may weave a walking path into the design so you can easily visit and maintain the area without stepping on plants or compacting soft garden soil.
For instance, to plant hazelnut shrubs in an apple tree hedgerow (expected 10 feet wide at maturity), plant them 13 feet away from the base of an apple tree to allow space for harvesting.
Perhaps you would like to add red currant bushes to this melee, which are expected to reach 3-5 feet wide. Consequently, you could stagger them about 15-18 feet in front of hazelnuts to accommodate both plants’ mature size, as well as space for harvesting.
Similarly, continue adding plants according to diminishing height and width away from the property line, OR toward the south and west for sufficient sun exposure.
You can create layers and add depth to the hedgerow as a result of planting shade-tolerant herbs underneath the trees and shrubs. Additionally, you could grow mushrooms in the understory.
Meanwhile, sun-loving wildflower seeds and clover can be sprinkled throughout a new hedgerow to grow until your plantings become established. This is an especially good way to create biodiversity and attract wildlife and beneficial insects to your new planting.
You don’t have to plant the entire hedgerow at once. In fact, planting it in sections or in layers—one length of fence at a time, or all foundational trees first—keeps you from feeling overwhelmed.
Are you ready to learn more about using the power of plants to improve the biodiversity of your garden, reduce maintenance, and increase yield?
You’ll find loads of information just like this in my award-winning book, The Suburban Micro-Farm.
When to Plant a Hedgerow
Hedgerows contain mostly perennial species, which are best planted in the cool seasons of spring or fall. However, if you must plant during hot weather, select a cloudy day to reduce shock. Equally important, water and mulch well after planting to protect fragile young plants from the harsh sun.
What to Plant in a Hedgerow
The plants you choose will depend on the function and location of your planting. However, a mixed hedgerow that includes a variety of trees, shrubs, nitrogen fixing plants, herbs, and flowers often creates a healthier ecosystem.
To create a self-sustaining ecosystem, choose plants that perform more than one function.
For example, a holly bush can be a windbreak, privacy screen, and bird habitat. Likwise, yarrow attracts pollinators and beneficial insects, helps to break up clay soil and accumulates nutrients for fertilizer.
Below is a list of various plant species that do well in a hedgerow, but this isn’t an exhaustive list, and your hedgerow need not be limited to these suggestions. There are many more plants beyond these suggestions. Therefore, you’ll need to do more research to find plants that are appropriate to your climate.
*Plant a Fedge: A food hedge (a hedgerow made of edible species) can also be referred to as a fedge. To that end, I’ve noted species below that have edible components with an asterisk.
Would you like to grow more food with less effort? Check out my mini guide, The Permaculture Inspired Vegetable Garden.
Hedgerow Plant Lists
Tall Windbreak Trees
- Black Locust (This wood is often used for farm projects like building raised beds and fence posts.)
Evergreen Trees (for Privacy, Noise Reduction, Windbreak, and Wildlife)
- Holly Bushes
Edible Species (For Wildlife and Food Forests)*
Consider dwarf or semi-dwarf for small hedgerows.
- American persimmon (This perennial edible can grow in damp areas.)
- Cherry (Here’s how I create fruit tree guilds for my cherry trees.)
- Cornelian cherry
- American Hawthorn
- Mulberry (I like to grow this dwarf mulberry variety.)
- Aronia (Learn how to grow this superfood berry.)
- Elderberry (It’s one of many fruit crops that you can propagate for free from cuttings.)
- Nanking cherry (It’s a great addition to the edible landscape.)
- Staghorn sumac
As an example, have you thought of growing a jelly garden? Any of the examples above would be excellent addition to a “jelly-themed” hedgerow garden.
Flowering Plants (For Beauty, Fragrance, Beneficial Insects & Pollinators)
Understory Trees & Bushes:
- False Indigo
- Flowering dogwood*
- Maryland Senna
- Red Osier dogwood
- Witch Hazel*
Herbs and Flowers for Sunny Edges :
- Anise Hyssop*
- Calendula* (Here are 7 reasons to grow this favorite herb.)
- Russian Comfrey (This herb is a popular powerhouse in the permaculture garden. Say that 10x fast!)
Nitrogen-fixing plants convert this essential nutrient from the air into a useable form in the soil and can potentially benefit the plants around them.
Furthermore, it’s recommended in permaculture circles that 50% of your plantings be nitrogen fixers. For example, if you plant three fruit trees, three berry bushes, and three herbs, then you might consider interspersing an equal number of nitrogen fixers throughout the area. That’s a lot!
But I’d say don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good. Include a few, but don’t worry too much. Here’s a nice list of nitrogen fixers.
- Black Locust
- False Indigo
- Goumi* (It’s one of a few nitrogen-fixing berry bushes.)
- Maryland Senna
- Crimson Clover*
- Dutch White Clover*
- Lead Plant
- Round Headed Bush Clover
- White Prairie Clover
- Yellow Bush Lupine
Nutrient Accumulators (make nutrient-rich mulch)
- Black Locust
- Dandelion* (Clover and dandelion are two of my favorite weeds to actually let grow in the garden!)
- Flowering Dogwood*
- Russian Comfrey
Plants for Wet & Erosion Prone Areas (Riparian zones)
- Flowering Dogwood*
- Highbush cranberry*
- Perennial Sunflower
- Miscanthus grasses (native, non-spreading)
- Pussy Willow
- Staghorn Sumac*
Shade Tolerant Plants
- Flowering Dogwood*
- Staghorn Sumac*
- Witch Hazel*
Photo Credit: free photos Flickr
Deer Resistant Plants
Read: NOT Deer Proof. Protect while young.
- American holly
- Holly bushes
- Leatherleaf Mahonia*
- Red Elderberry
- Staghorn Sumac*
- Anise hyssop
- Calendula (annual)
- California poppy (annual) (It’s also one of my favorite flowers to grow in the vegetable garden.)
- Daffodil (Can daffodils improve your soil?)
- Lemon balm
- Oregano (Here are 6 reasons to grow oregano.)
- Ramps (Growing and selling this perennial herb makes a great side hustle!)
- Sweet alyssum (annual) (Combine this flower with Swiss chard for a winning edible landscape combo.)
- Sweet woodruff
- Thyme (Here are 6 reasons to grow thyme.)
Plant a medicinal garden in your hedgerow!
Fennel, lavender, and lemon balm are some of my favorite herbs for the medicine garden. However, there are many others to choose from.
Although perennial hedgerows can be lower maintenance than a vegetable garden, they do, in fact, require more regular maintenance in the first 1-4 years.
Sufficient watering is key, to be sure. Certainly, you’ll want to water regularly during dry periods. Therefore, you might consider planting in a rain-harvesting swale or installing an irrigation system. Similarly, mulching helps to maintain lock in moisture as well as control over the weeds.
Once the system is established at full size, the hedgerow should be somewhat of a self-maintaining ecosystem that requires little maintenance.
- Planning an Edible Fedge, or Food Hedge
- Suburban Hedgerows: Grow a Living Fence
- Hedges and Hedgelaying: A Guide to Planting, Management and Conservation
What will you plant in your hedgerow?
Thank you so much Amy for such a nice and thorough part 2 to the hedgerow theme. I am inspired, and I have a better vision of what I will do on my property! I like the idea of using holly for evergreens as a backdrop, though I’ll have to find a variety that works for zone 4. I have a significant slope on my property line, which will will make privacy more difficult to achieve, but am also thinking of having a swale on contour, which I have never done. And the advice to start small or in stages or layers is reassuring. The idea of putting in a hedgerow seems very daunting otherwise, especially for someone who hasn’t planted a tree since gradeschool!
It sounds like you’re going about this project in the right way. No need to be in a hurry 🙂 We have always completed projects in our yard in stages, and it’s always worked out for the best because observations after each stage revealed things we hadn’t thought of initially, changing how we wanted to proceed.
As far as your slope, it sounds like you will have to choose some of the taller shrubs to help with privacy.
How very exciting for you! Good luck on your project and let us know how it goes!
Wow , nicely said. My hedge started 25 years ago as a cut and layed over. I just cut into the trunks enough to lay them over at about 45 degrees .and intertangled the small branches. It’s now moose proof. Nothing was planted I just used what was growing there. Now it needs to be topped as it it shading the garden. It’s narrow about 2 meters thick , but interlocked. It’s on a natural berm about 3to4 meters tall , enough so moose and deer have to go around the garden no through.
Narrow enough so fox and owls gan get to mice under it.
This sounds like an excellent, low maintenance hedge!
Thanks for a great article. I’ve been working on establishing a small hedgerow by a portion of our sidewalk to replace the old fence. So far the most success I’ve had is with Nootka rose, snow berries, and high bush cranberries, all native to my area in the Pacific Northwest.
That sounds like a winning combination!
I’m sharing this article on my page. I wish I could just use your list of plants. I live in the high dessert and it’s hard finding plants that will thrive in the dry climate which burns everything up in the summer and freezes the survivors in the winter.
The desert isn’t my area of expertise, but your best bet is to check with your local county extension office for your climate-appropriate edible perennials.
Kelly Curry says
GREAT posts on hedgerows! I have a question…we’re in a new construction home (in Charlottesville, Va) and we have a fence 5′ in from our property line (HOA rule). We had Green Giant Arborvitae planted along the outside of the fence (for privacy) BEFORE I started reading about hedgerows. In hind sight, I would’ve done a hedgerow but since we already have the arborvitae my question is what do you think about adding blueberry shrubs, brambles, climbing roses, wildflowers and maybe a small serviceberry tree on the INSIDE of the fence to create a kind of hedgerow? Would that work? Also, what roses would you recommend?
Planting arborvitaes for privacy is totally fine! Your HOA neighbors will probably appreciate a very neat-looking buffer. I think your idea of adding edibles for you and wildlife on the inside of the fence sounds fantastic. Just be sure to plan out little pathways throughout this hedgerow area so you can get to everything for harvesting and maintenance. I’m not super-knowledgeable about climbing rose varieties, so look for ones that specifically call out a large hip size.
Great idea 🙂
Vivien G says
A very interesting article – I placed a link on my desktop so that I can keep referring to it.
One question: you mentioned that your apple trees are far away enough from the property line to harvest, but later mentioned planting hazelnut shrubs only 7 1/2 ft away from the apples. How are you going to prune or pick the apples?
I planted my “hedgerow” 4 years ago when we moved to a city lot from a farm because the neighbour’s are close! It’s only 80 ft long by about 30 ft deep, with a winding path. The previous owners had planted some spruce trees and we had two 20 ft trees planted so that we had a quick start. (We’re in our 70s – not a lot of time to wait for trees to grow!) I go walking in a nearby woodland to look at what grows there. Then found a local native plant nursery that sells the (native) trees and shrubs. The neighbours are already almost completely hidden in the summer, and it looks so nice! The one type of plant I am avoiding are thorny ones. I had lots of holly and roses on the farm, but now I’m done – they are beautiful but the length of time they bloom is not worth the high maintenance and wounds. (I live close to Niagara Fall, Canada, Carolinian zone)
Yes, good point. The key is to only leave just enough room to get through. If you leave too much room, it’s no longer a hedgerow. In my example, I was using dwarf apple trees, so there’s more room to move.
The Maximillian sunflower has edible rhizomes and the seeds can be used for oil, in addition to being a lovely flowering plant for a hedgerow.
Jennifer Montgomery says
Thank you for the insight on this topic. I’ll be using some of your suggestions to create a (mainly) floral hedgerow. We live at 7000 feet and get about 30 feet of snow per year, so I’ll be looking to plant mainly root hardy perennials along with a few low and fast growing shrubs……
Sounds like a plan!
I want to plant a hedgerow to keep the local farm dogs off of our property, as well as keep young children and future livestock in. I’m having a hard time envisioning how I plant it thick enough for that purpose, while also leaving enough room to harvest. Should I plant a very dense line of mixed, inedible evergreens and thorny things on the property line and then just plant my edibles with access paths within that border?
In your situation, I’m not sure a hedgerow can replace the need for a physical fence. That’s because a hedgerow takes a long time to mature and fill out. Planting a hedgerow is definitely a long game. A fence with a hedgerow on the inside may be a more functional and economical solution. Hedgerow plants can get expensive, and the fence may not require you to plant as many layers all at once.
Thank you for your response. I’ve been giving the matter a lot of consideration. I am thinking of putting a fence up, then starting with a few hedge plants and propogating from them to slowly fill in all around the property line. I already have young willows in abundance that pop up on their own everywhere anyways and easily reroot. I really appreciate all the wonderful information you share. It has been very helpful to me in my homestead journey!
That sounds like a great plan. Best wishes on your hedgerow and homesteading journey! 😀
Pamela White says
Excellent article and very helpful.
I do have one negative comment. It has been found that the miscanthus senesis is quite self seeding. There are other well behaved grasses to consider: prairie grasses, some pennisetums and an ornamental grass called ‘karl foerster’.
Hi! Loving your articles, thank you! Might you have any insights for plants along a narrow area on the outside of our fence? We’re on a corner residential lot next to a somewhat busy road. There’s about 18 inches….with a rock wall of about 4ft, down to about 8ft of city property (of overgrown shrubs, blackberries, and such. Looking for noise reduction yet adding to the quaint yard on the other side. Grateful for any insights!
Such an excellent article and rich in resources. And such an important subject. Interfaces such as hedgerows and forest edges support more wildlife per square foot than either forest or meadow, and they serve so many functions.
I am enjoying your 10 day class a lot as well. I need to study the materials more, and to help me along, I went and bought one of your books.
In your writings, please consider writing about how to maintain hedles. I grapple with many invasive vines in our area, like poison ivy, wisteria, honeysuckle, kudzu and trumpet vine. They appear and soon they kill the tree or shrub they climb on. Also, the birds plant privet hedge and wax myrtle, which need to be constantly removed . The wax myrtle is a veritable torch.
As mentioned above, it’s important to give your hedgerow some attention in the first 1-4 years. Weed them at least once per season, keep them hydrated, and mulch deeply. After that time period, one or two weeding sessions a year should do it. The key is to catch the aggressive weeds while they’re young. Unfortunately, there’s no secret trick for managing them after they’ve established themselves.
You mention a deer fedge in your book: a hedge with food for deer on one side and food for humans on the other. I know deer eat practically anything, but what plants are most appropriate for the deer-side of the hedge?
The fedge concept is really great, but can take years to get going, as the deer will likely trample through a young hedge unless it is caged for at least a couple of years. In addition, the mature hedge should be several layers deep to really discourage the deer to stick to “their side”, so you have to be mindful of the space this strategy requires.
Because of that, I think simple fencing is a good strategy. Fencing, with a deer hedge on the outside and a human hedge on the inside, eventually grows up and is barely visible but provides an extra deterrent and motivation for them to “stay on their side”.
You’re right, deer are resilient and will love to eat anything that isn’t listed as “deer resistant”. Any fruit trees and berry bushes will be popular, as will hazelnut or filbert shrubs.