How to grow hedges
Hedges are a great asset to any garden, ideal for marking boundaries or dividing up different areas. A wide range of plants can be grown as hedging, so there are options for all locations and all styles of garden. They make valuable wildlife habitats too.
- Hedging plants are generally easy to grow given the right conditions
- Native hedging species are especially wildlife friendly
- Plant deciduous hedging from autumn to late winter
- Plant evergreen hedging in autumn and spring
- Plants are available to purchase in various sizes, even instant hedging
- There are choices of hedging plants to suit sunny or shady aspects
- Most need to be trimmed annually when mature; but more often when initialy being trained
All you need to know
What is a hedge?
A hedge is a row of closely planted shrubs or trees that knit together to form a barrier or screen. Many woody plants can be used, but the most popular tend to form dense growth and tolerate regular trimming, so the hedge can be kept neat and at a set size.
Choosing the right hedging plants
There are hedging plants to suit almost any growing conditions, from full sun to shade, and most types of soil. As these are long-lived plants, it’s important to choose suitable species for your site, otherwise your hedge will never look its best.
Also consider how much time you want to spend maintaining your hedge – some species are faster growing and need more regular trimming than others. Certain hedging plants will also grow taller, which can make them trickier to maintain, requiring ladders or long-handled trimmers.
Check plant descriptions carefully before buying and see our guide to choosing hedging plants.
Getting the right look
To narrow down your choices, consider which style and size of hedge you prefer and what functions you want it to perform, including:
- Small, medium or large?
- Dense and impenetrable or loose and informal?
- An eye-catching feature or a green backdrop?
- A valuable resource for a wide range of wildlife?
- Providing screening all year round (evergreen)?
- Leafless in winter to let in more light (deciduous)?
- Fast growing and in need of regular trimming, or slow growing and low maintenance?
- A single species for a uniform look, or several species for a patchwork effect
- Flowers, berries or colourful foliage?
- Native species or something more exotic?
- A thorny deterrent to intruders?
- Shelter from the prevailing wind?
For more on choosing suitable hedging plants, including the pros and cons of evergreen and deciduous hedging, see our guide to selecting hedging plants.
How and what to buy
The plants come in a range of sizes, from about 60cm (2ft) upwards - even to a fully trained formal hedge. In general, smaller plants tend to establish more rapidly and successfully than larger plants, but take several years to knit together into an effective hedge.
To work out how many plants you will need for your hedge, measure the length of the site, then see our guide to selecting hedging plants. This gives spacing recommendations for each species, so you can calculate how many plants you will need.
Hedging plants are usually sold without containers, in two main ways:
- root-balled plants – these have wrapped rootballs that are still in their original soil. The plants are usually larger and include evergreen species.
- Bare-root plants don’t have soil around their roots. They are usually deciduous, as this method does not suit evergreens and are only available when dormant, in winter and early spring
- Bare-root plants are often smaller, younger plants, and can be a cheaper option for buying hedging plants, especially if you’re creating a long hedge
- As an alternative to buying just one species, you can buy hedging mixes designed for different requirements. Options may include bird-friendly, native, edible, flowering, all-season and coastal hedging mixes.
- Try to choose all deciduous or all evergreen species however, as their pruning times are different
A few specialist suppliers also sell ready-made hedging – usually a long container of several established plants that are already growing together as a solid hedge. These are more expensive, but give an instant hedge.
Where to get ideas and advice
To explore and narrow down your choice of hedging plants, you can:
- Visit various gardens in different seasons – most large gardens feature plenty of hedging in a range of styles. The RHS Gardens are good options, as all plants are labelled, so you can note down your favourites.
- Go to RHS Find a Plant: hedging and screens to browse the photographs and plant descriptions, and find out where to buy them.
- Explore the websites of specialist hedging suppliers.
Where to plant
There are hedging plants to suit almost every situation and soil type. Many online suppliers let you search their hedging plants according to their growing requirements, so make sure you assess your planting location before you buy.
How to identify your soil type
Hedges are often planted on exposed sites to act as windbreaks – only certain plants are suitable for this, and they usually need additional protection for the first few years, until established. See our guide to planting a windbreak.
Prepare your soil
Make sure your whole planting area is free of weeds, then dig out a generous planting trench 60–90cm (2–3ft) wide and one spit (or spade blade) deep.
For a boundary hedge, position the trench a little way back from the boundary line. This will allow the hedge to fill out without encroaching on the neighbouring property or pavement beyond.
How to plant
Planting a hedge is straightforward, and very similar to planting individual shrubs or trees:
- Place the hedging plants in your trench, spacing them evenly along its length, about 30-60cm (1-2ft) apart – see our guide to hedge plant selection for recommended spacings for specific species.
- Position them at the same depth they were previously growing – this is usually obvious with containerised and root-balled plants. With bare-root plants, you should still be able to see the soil mark on the stem. If not, plant so that the flare formed by base of the first roots from the stem is just visible.
- Backfill the trench with soil and firm in.
- Water well and add a generous mulch around the plants to hold in moisture and deter weeds.
Water newly planted hedges regularly for the first two years. Once established, hedges shouldn’t require additional watering.
Feeding young hedging plants will help them establish well and grow strongly. Apply a general-purpose fertiliser annually in early spring. More mature hedges should grow well without feeding, but you may still prefer to feed annually to encourage strong, healthy growth especially after pruning.
Remove weeds regularly from the whole area, so they don’t compete with the young hedging plants for water and nutrients. Try not to let perennial, deep-rooted weeds get a foothold within or around the hedge, as they can be hard to get rid of once established.
Spreading mulch around the hedging plants can help to deter weed germination.
Apply a thick layer of organic matter, such as garden compost, to damp ground annually, in spring or autumn. Mulch helps to hold moisture in the soil, improve soil structure and fertility and deter weeds.
Caring for older plants
Hedges can soon become misshapen or too large if they're not pruned annually. Most deciduous shrubs can be rejuvenated by hard pruning – see our guide to hedge renovation.
Most conifers and a few specific hedging shrubs, such as leylandii and lavender, won’t re-sprout from old wood if cut back too hard.
- New deciduous requiring to be developed into a specific style will need its leading shoots to be pruned by one third in winter in the first and second year after planting to develop side branches.
- After this the hedging can be trimmed in June and again in August to further develop the shape of the hedge the and density of stems and foliage
- After planting leave the leader to grow unpruned until the desired height has been reached when it can be trimmed back, but prune side shoots to promote the denser branching required to form the hedge
- Prune your hedge one to three times during the growing season until August, to develop or maintain the shape of the hedge
Neat, formal hedging will need more maintainance than informal hedging, so choose a style of hedge to suit the amount of time and effort you wish to spend on it.
For full details on how to trim different types of hedges, see our guides:
Avoid disturbing nesting birds
Hedges are valuable nesting sites for many bird species, so to keep them safe, avoid trimming between March and August. Alternatively, check hedges very carefully for active nests before starting work, as it is illegal to disturb or damage them.
Hedges are usually pretty tough once established, and rarely suffer from serious pests or diseases.
However, be on the lookout for the following destructive diseases:
Newly planted hedges can be more vulnerable to problems than established hedges and may occasionally fail to thrive. See our guide to establishment problems.
Hedges themselves can sometimes cause problems:
If not trimmed regularly, many hedges can grow tall and wide, looking misshapen and unkempt. This can cause friction between neighbours. See our guide to nuisance and overgrown hedges.
Overgrown deciduous hedges can usually be pruned hard to get them back into shape. See our guide to renovative pruning. However, most conifer hedges won't regrow from old wood if pruned hard.
The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.