A hedgerow can offer beauty, productivity, biodiversity, and much more! Discover how to plant a hedgerow to meet your needs on your permaculture homestead.
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In 10 Reasons to Plant a Hedgerow, I outlined the difference between a mixed hedgerow and a formal hedge, as well as some of the top benefits that a hedgerow can provide. Some examples include privacy, water conservation, a buffer to noise, wind, or pollution, and more.
In fact, the type of hedgerow you plant depends on the purpose you want it to serve, the sun exposure of the area, soil conditions, wildlife activity, etc.
Another key point is that hedgerows are primarily comprised of perennial species. However, quick-growing annual plants can fill the gaps while a young hedgerow becomes established.
Finally, ongoing maintenance is a factor in how successful a planting will be. To clarify, you should plan to maintain a hedgerow for at least two years by watering and weeding while it becomes established.
Design your Hedgerow
The layout of the hedgerow depends on its desired function and location.
Hedgerows are often used along property lines but they can also be used to divide sections of a property such as animal paddocks or dividing play areas from garden areas. Hedgerows can also be utilized to manage water flow, if built as swales or contour gardens.
See 6 Maps for the Permaculture Farm Design to learn more about planning the layout of your farm or garden.
Hedgerows are ideally 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 some depth and layering of plants is needed for creating a biologically rich ecosystem that attracts and holds beneficial insects, wildlife, and a diversity of plants.
However, I suspect that many don’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 in your space, a hedgerow that is at least 10 feet wide (20 feet long) is a minimum size in order to be able to incorporate several rows or layers of plants.
By comparison, farmland hedgerows can in fact stretch as wide as 100 feet, and a minimum of 60 feet from a water source in riparian zones.
Photo Credit: daryl_mitchell Flickr
Prepare the Hedgerow Planting Area
On large-scale properties, it might be necessary to till the hedgerow area before planting. Add 2 inches of compost and let rest for two weeks before planting.
For a small hedgerow, however, sheet mulching is a healthier approach.
To sheet mulch the area, first cut back any unwanted growth and remove unwanted woody plants.
Use a digging fork to aerate the soil throughout, then cover the area in cardboard. Overlap the ends so that the soil is entirely covered.
Next, alternate layers of organic materials such as aged manure, shredded leaves, or straw.
Wait two weeks before planting.
If you deal with poison ivy in your hedgerow area, read about how to kill poison ivy using a permaculture approach before planting.
Beware of Herbicides (even if you don’t spray)
Unfortunately, herbicides are starting to contaminate compost bins and gardens, despite being herbicide-free. As such, it’s important to learn how to keep herbicides out of your compost bin, even if you don’t spray.
Organic-approved soil can also be contaminated with herbicides. As a result, it’s important to learn how to source herbicide-free compost soil.
Finally, manure poses a great risk of contamination, so it’s important to learn about herbicides in manure before using it in the preparation of your hedgerow.
Would you like to grow food in your front yard without sacrificing curb appeal? Check out my ebook, 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!
The tallest plantings establish the shape and foundation of the hedgerow.
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, work inward to layer plants from tallest to shortest.
Photo Credit: hardworkinghippy Flickr
Ensure a Full and Compact Hedgerow at Maturity
Give each plant their maximum suggested plant spacing to ensure a full and compact hedgerow at maturity, while allowing space for harvesting. Add extra space along a property line.
For example, dwarf apple trees are expected to get 8-10 feet wide.
To plant them along a property line, allow 10-foot spacing so that you have enough room for harvesting. After all, you wouldn’t want the fruit to drop on your neighbor’s side of the fence, unless that’s part of your plan.
Where a property line isn’t a concern, however, 8-foot spacing for apple trees provides a more compact planting. (See: 5 Steps to Planting Fruit Trees.)
In another case, using the maximum spacing and planting a row of evergreen bushes behind them would help with privacy.
Mahonia, also called grape holly, is an evergreen shrub that reaches around 4-8 feet wide. It’s often planted for privacy and in wildlife hedgerows. However, the purple berries are edible for humans, too, and make a delicious jelly.
I would plant Mahonia about 8 feet away from a property line, and 6 feet from each other to accommodate the maximum width.
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 slightly in front of, and staggered in between, your foundation plants.
For example, to plant hazelnut shrubs that are expected to reach 10 feet wide, I would plant them 13 feet away from the base of an apple tree, to allow space for harvesting.
Support plantings 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.
Continue adding species according to diminishing height and width away from the property line.
For instance, red currant bushes are expected to reach 3-5 feet wide. Therefore, stagger them about 15-18 feet in front of hazelnuts.
To create layers and depth, shade-tolerant herbaceous perennials can be planted underneath the trees and shrubs. You can also try growing mushrooms underneath an edible hedgerow.
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.
Start small: You don’t have to plant the entire hedgerow at once. In fact, planting it in sections or in layers—all tall trees first, or one length of fence at a time—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. 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 may 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 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 ebook, The Permaculture Inspired Vegetable Garden.
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)*
Edible Understory TREES:
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.)
Edible Understory BUSHES/SHRUBS:
- 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
Have you thought of growing a jelly garden with wild and ornamental bushes and trees? Any of these edible trees and shrubs mentioned above, for example, would be an excellent addition to this type of themed hedgerow garden.
Flowering Plants (For Beauty, Fragrance, Beneficial Insects & Pollinators)
Flowering Understory Trees & Bushes:
- False Indigo
- Flowering dogwood*
- Maryland Senna
- Red Osier dogwood
- Witch Hazel*
Flowering Herbs 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. Therefore, they can benefit the plants around them.
In fact, it’s recommended that 50% of your plantings be nitrogen fixers.
So if you choose 3 fruit trees, 3 berry bushes, and 3 herbs, then consider interspersing an equal number of nitrogen fixers throughout the area. 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*
Deer-Resistant Herbaceous Plantings*:
- 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 some maintenance in the first 1-4 years.
Sufficient watering is key, to be sure. Water your plants in dry periods, plant in a rain-harvesting swale, or install an irrigation system. Equally important, mulching helps to maintain control over the weeds.
Once the system is established at full size, the hedgerow should be a self-maintaining ecosystem that requires very little maintenance.
- Planning an Edible Fedge, or Food Hedge
- Replanting Hedgerows using Permaculture Design
- Suburban Hedgerows: Grow a Living Fence
- Hedges and Hedgelaying: A Guide to Planting, Management and Conservation
What will you plant in your hedgerow?