"How should I do this?"
Hedges come in many shapes and sizes so planting them can be just as varied. So let’s start with the simplest. In the UK our landscape is crossed by tens of thousands of miles of hedges going back hundreds of years – or even longer. The majority of these were planted using very small plants, which we now call whips, and the variety of plants in the hedges has increased with time. Indeed it’s possible to estimate the age of a hedge by measuring the number of different species in the hedge for every hundred metres.
The cheapest and easiest way to plant a modern hedge is to buy whips. Whips are small trees which normally have side branches, depending on the species. They are at least 2-3 years old and have been transplanted to ensure a compact and fibrous root system for successful planting. Nevertheless when you buy them they will probably look to you like sticks with a small bunch of roots on the end. They are purchased and planted in winter when the leaves are off the trees and don’t look impressive at all. They are very cheap however and will soon leap into growth in the spring. Whips can be bought to suit your local conditions. Sandy soil mixes, clay mixes and chalky soil mixes are available and you can make up your own mixtures to suit your conditions and wishes. You will not find evergreen plants as whips as they do not lose their leaves or become dormant in the winter. If you want Holly or other evergreens you will have to buy them grown in small pots and they will be a little more expensive.
To plant whips you will first have to clear the ground. Small trees do not like to compete with weeds and grasses for the nutrients and moisture in the ground. You can get round this clearing to some extent with a mulch made of a modern landscape material which will suppress the weeds and keep the roots of these small plants moister in their first, critical growing season. If you have cleared the weeds then a mulch of bark or other natural material may fulfil this function just as well.
The whips are usually planted at 5 plants per metre in two staggered rows about 30cm apart. Usually there is no need to feed these tough native species but it is vital to ensure that they don’t succumb to drought in their first couple of growing seasons. A mulch will help but some watering may be needed.
New plants often need protection from deer and rabbits so cheap tubes and coils of plastic are readily available to act as guards until the plants are large enough to look after themselves.
Hedges can be planted in several other forms which give more maturity from the start. These vary from larger individual plants in pots, through plants in troughs which are starting to grow together, to fully mature hedges knitted together and planted by professionals to give a truly instant effect. Within this great range there are all sorts of possibilities. You can buy large plants up to the size of small trees which will grow into each other to form a tall hedge or screen. These are available as trimmed plants or even as squared off units which will fit next to each other to give a continuous hedge almost from day one. These are especially effective when they are evergreens (though please note that, within the UK, neighbours and local authorities can object to evergreen hedges over 2m high and require you to cut them back). When you are dealing with these plants at large sizes be aware that they may be very heavy and difficult to handle, move and plant. Professional help and even machinery may be needed.
To prepare the ground for larger plants, or troughs with several plants in them, will be more complicated than for whips. Whips can often be planted simply by making a slit in the soil with a spade, placing the roots of the plant in the ground and firming them in with the heel. Larger plants and especially those in troughs or with enormous rootballs, need trenches or large holes. This can cause problems in heavy clay soils where a hole dug in the clay can become waterlogged and act effectively as a small pond. This would give very bad conditions for root growth so drainage at the
bottom of the hole is essential before planting.
Root ball plants come with their roots wrapped in hessian ready to be placed straight in the ground without unwrapping. These and plants in containers need firm ground around the roots to stop them swaying in the wind – a process which stops the roots from growing into close contact with the surrounding soil. In windy situations, and especially for large plants and evergreens, it may be necessary to restrict the movement of the plants by tying them to wires attached to tensioning bolts and braced fenceposts. This however is usually a job for professionals, not for someone attempting the job for the first time.
Feeding plants with slow release fertiliser is worthwhile but the number one essential is to avoid the roots of your new hedge drying out completely during the first year or two. An automatic watering system is the best way of ensuring this but, at any rate, vigilance and an effective back-up system for watering are vital.
Planting a large area with large trees- “How should I start planting to achieve fast results without spending a fortune?
Many people want to create small woodlands or simply make their land more attractive but don’t want to wait too long for results. In the past the reasons for planting woods were often different from today’s reasons – for instance planting to produce valuable timber or cover for game. These days the reasons are more likely to be aesthetic as there is a general understanding that huge areas of woodland have been lost and the countryside looks poorer as a result. Landowners may also be inspired by the valuable habitats which woodlands can provide or the future use of managed woodlands as sources of biofuel.
The first place to start when considering planting a woodland is to try to ensure that the trees planted suit your environment. For residents of the UK it is straightforward to discover what is native to your area by entering the first three digits of your postcode into the appropriate part of the website www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/life/plants-fungi/postcode-plants which is a national database provided by the Natural History Museum. This excellent resource will tell you all the native plants, not just the trees, for your local area. You should then look at any particular problems which your land may provide for a growing tree. These would principally be problems of drainage, soil type and exposure. All three of these could vary within a very small area so that very damp or dry patches, extremely windy areas or local soil problems might produce situations which may not be obvious from the database. The soil for instance may have been compacted by building machinery or polluted by previous use. If any of these problems seem likely then a site visit from an expert may be necessary and soil samples may need to be taken and analysed.
However if your site is fairly typical of your neighbourhood the database will give you a good idea of where to start in choosing trees (or for that matter hedges and smaller plants).
There are several varieties of trees known for the speed with which they grow. Poplars, Willows and Eucalyptus are amongst the commonest. Indeed Poplars are the fastest growing source of hardwood in the UK. These varieties may not give you the end result which you need especially if you have a vision of stately trees with large spreading crowns lasting through the centuries. If you imagine your land covered in large Oaks, Beeches, Ashes and the like you will need to take a longer term view. Planting a fast growing species to give an early effect, with these larger species growing more slowly next to them, one day to take over from them and shade them out, may be your best approach. Willow, Alder, Poplar, Sorbus (such as Rowans) and Birch will give you the fast growing “nursery crop” amongst which the giant trees of the future can develop. Willows and some Poplars can sometimes be grown successfully simply by sticking suitable branches straight into damp ground, though they will need protection from rabbits and deer.
Buying and planting these larger trees is not entirely straightforward as there are several options. Mature trees, up to 9m (30ft) tall, can be bought, transported and planted by experts but this is a pricey business. You will be spending thousands per tree and access for large machines will be necessary. Trees smaller than this can also be bought and planted in a similar way but sometimes they can also be dug up and moved using tree spades where suitable specimens are available locally. Moving trees can work out far cheaper than buying new, purpose grown specimens.
At the other end of the spectrum trees can easily and cheaply be bought as bare-rooted plants.
As the name suggests these are smaller trees, usually up to around 3m (10ft) high, which have been dug up during late autumn and winter when their leaves have fallen off and they are dormant, and are sold with no soil attached to their roots. They can be a very cheap way to buy trees and they usually establish well but, despite the fact that they come into leaf in the following spring and appear healthy, they may sit still in your soil for several years without making much growth. They are building up their reserves and growing roots during this time. It may be very frustrating to wait for them to start back into serious growth after several years.
More expensive, though often very reasonably priced, are rootballed trees. These are grown in open ground and are prepared for movement in advance of digging them up. When they are lifted their roots are surrounded by some of the soil which they have grown in and are then wrapped in hessian. They are transported like this and the tree, complete with rootball and hessian bag, is planted into the new ground. Over time the bag rots and the trees strart back into growth with less of the disturbance which bare-rooted trees have suffered. They generally establish and grow more effectively than bare-rooted specimens.
The final option is to plant more expensive trees grown in containers. The art of growing trees in pots and bags has advanced greatly in recent years as our understanding of the needs of trees, and especially their roots, has moved on. Container-grown trees up to a considerable size can now be bought though it becomes difficult, and a little dangerous, to plant by hand trees in containers larger than around 70-90litres. Back injuries can easily result. Plants larger than these sizes need to be moved and planted by machine. Having spent more on these container-grown plants, whose chances of survival and speed of growth are likely to be greater, it is well worth getting professionals to plant them and look after them. If however you wish to plant them yourself you can usually buy container grown trees around 3-4m high for around £75-£100. They can be delivered to you and can sit happily in their pots for a time, as long as you look after their needs for water and support, whilst you wait for a suitable time to plant them.
With all of these trees aftercare and planting will matter even more than choosing the right varieties. A dry period in the years before a tree has settled in can kill off any tree and poor planting can produce all sorts of problems.