How to get Low Maintenance Hedges
As part of our series on creating a low maintenance garden we thought it a good idea to see how you can grow a low maintenance hedge.
Ah hedges, us Brits love hedges!
There are millions of miles of hedging in our gardens, some more lovingly maintained than others and some are works of art in their own right.
We trim them, straighten them, pleach and prune them to create boundaries and cocoon ourselves in these great green walls. Let’s face it hedges are fantastic in many ways. They are natural boundaries, really useful wildlife habitats, a good hedges creates the most effective windbreak. Not forgetting too that hedges are much more environmentally friendly than a fence.
Have some fun with your hedges!
However, we’ve always thought, hedges don’t really need to be just a big green block of one type of plant. So we asked the question what is a hedge actually supposed to do?
- Be a physical barrier
- Create privacy
- Separate one area from anther.
- Protect you from the elements.
Where in the above list of requirements does it state that a hedge can only be made of one type of plant and must be 6ft tall, straight and impossible to see through!
We think you should challenge your concept of what your hedge needs to do, because tall big green barriers take quite a lot of looking after. On top of which, many hedges (Leylandii) absorb sunlight better than a black hole and suck up all the available water and soil nutrients so you can’t plant anything anywhere near them.
And big hedges take up a lot of space – which is not good if you’ve only got a small garden….
But we should all try and plant more hedges because plant boundaries are so much better for the environment than a fence panel. So how can you get a hedge that is easy to look after, looks nice and does the job you want it to without creating too much work….
How do you get low maintenance hedges then?
Hedges will never be no maintenance, but you can prevent them being high maintenance;
The ‘rules’ are as follows:
- Hedges should be wider at the base than at the top.
- Limit the height of the hedge to 6 ft – which is tall enough!
- As a general rule, trim only a little off the side growth but you can take more from the top.
- Make sure you have decent tools – an old pair of blunt shears will make a hard job 10 times worse
- Don’t plant thorny climbers into your hedge – unless you are a real sucker for punishment.
- Evergreen Hedging is pruned in the Spring and trimmed in the summer, so early flowering climbers are best avoided in case you chop off the flower buds.
- Deciduous Hedging is pruned in Winter and trimmed again in Summer. Climbers that flower on new growth are good to use, if they get chopped in the winter prune, they’ll grow lots of new flowers for later in the year.
- If you use annual climbers, then plant these away from the base of the hedge or in large pots, so they don’t compete with the hedge for water and food can and get a good start.
- If at all possible, ‘flop’ the climber on the surface of the hedge, you can then move it off the hedge more easily to trim in the summer.
As we have said in previous posts, low maintenance really means reducing the number jobs you don’t like doing in the garden. If you have a hedge then you need to decide what annoys you the most and look to change that.
The Annual Trim.
You will not avoid pruning if you have a hedge, but you can make it easier with a little thought and a bit of planning.
These are a real pain to keep in check, if you can’t easily trim the hedge you may have to hire specialists in, which is expensive. Decide, if the hedge really needs to be 7 feet high? If the hedge only needs to be 5ft tall to screen out next door’s windows, then why grow it to a height where you need steps and ladders to trim it?
Any hedge can to become too wide, which uses up valuable garden space and you can’t easily reach across the top. Most hedges are generally pruned harder on top and less on the sides. If you can see little shoots appearing on the woody stems of the hedge, it may well regrow from the base.
If the width does need to be reduced then it is best to tackle it over a couple of years. Cut back just one side of the hedge to the desired width, lightly trim the other side. If the hedge regrows from the pruned side, wait until this has sufficiently thickened before you prune the other side back.
By the way, this won’t work with any conifers or Leylandii hedge.
Fast growing shrubs:
It sounds tempting when you need a hedge to screen something ugly fairly quickly, to plant something that will grow fast. But remember, FAST growing mean just that – for ever. If necessary, put up a temporary screen until the hedge grows but slow is definitely better here.
We could list lots of shrubs and stuff that would be good, but the RHS have a pretty good list, so why duplicate something? The key point here is that you look for shrubs and plants that are slower to grow and try to avoid leylandii!
Precisely clipped hedges:
If you do like nice sharp hedge edges, they will need regular clipping. Keep these hedges lower, waist height is a good height for faster easier strimming.
Why do leaves make a difference to whether the hedge is low maintenance or not, well
you can use hedge trimmers on small leaved hedges…
but you have to use these on any plants with large sized leaves…
because a hedge trimmer will cut a large leaf in bits and the hedge starts to look rather scraggy. However, all is not too bad, manual trimming may not be particularly low maintenance but you do get great looking arms!
Be Self Supporting
This may sound blindingly obvious, but if you have a hedge or you want to grow something to screen an ugly view – then it is much lower maintenance if you have plants that don’t need constant tying in, staking or supporting.
Growing flowering plants through hedging
This is often written about as a way to make hedges more interesting and ‘pretty’ and indeed it does, the problem arises if you don’t match the annual trim of the hedge with the flowering time of the climber.
The RHS have a good guide to when and how much various plants need pruning.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, do you really need to have a precisely clipped and geometrically rigid hedge?
Cutting ‘straight and true’ with either a strimmer or shears is actually more time consuming than you think.
Maybe your hedge can ‘go with the flow’ a little more?
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Next week: It’s Low Maintenance Lawns…bet you can’t wait!