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What could we plant in place of a box hedge we had to dig up?

Sent in by Celia Chasey, North Oxfordshire

There are countless varieties of shrubs which can be used to enhance or create a good wildlife friendly hedgerow. Although there are a number of species which are relatively fast growing, a new hedgerow is likely to be vulnerable to damage by the elements for the first two-three years.

When planting native species, make sure they come from British grown stock. Many hedgerow species, especially hawthorn, are imported from Eastern Europe and may have been taken from the wild. Non-native varieties flower at different times and are more susceptible to mildew than our native strains. A few good plant species for fast growing evergreen hedges include:

  • Privet is an under-rated evergreen shrub, which produces a good screen for privacy. The flowers are very good for butterflies. Use only the native privet, Ligustrum vulgare. The species commonly used for hedging is L. ovalifolium, which is very fast growing, may require pruning several times a season to keep it in trim, and does not produce berries.
  • Beech Fagus sylvatica can easily be trained as a hedge, despite being a large tree when mature. As a hedge it retains its leaves all winter, providing a useful windbreak. A beech hedge does not produce seeds. It prefers chalk soils, but is tolerant of other conditions.
  • Lime Tilia cordata can grow into a large tree, but can easily be trained as a hedge. Being insect pollinated, it is a useful food plant for many birds.
  • Barberries All species of these thorny (but non-native) shrubs are suitable for a wildlife hedge, providing flowers, berries and secure nesting sites. They grow to 2-3m (6-10ft), but can easily be kept lower. There are both evergreen and deciduous varieties. Berberis vulgaris, B. darwinii, B. stenophylla and B. thunbergii are particularly good. They grow on all soil types, and provide thick cover and weed-free ground underneath.

Prepare and loosen the soil thoroughly before planting anything. Hedging plants are available both as bare-rooted whips and as container-grown plants. Ensure that the plants have an extensive root system so they take quickly. Whips are much hardier and cheaper although if planting whips keep them under a moist clothe or in a bucket before planting as exposure to wind and sunlight can kill them within minutes. Whips should be planted between October and March and container plants at any time.

Once the hedge becomes established, to improve the security and fruit bounty of the hedge it may be worth planting a climber. Honeysuckle  Lonicera periclymenum is a great example and can be encouraged to thicken out with hard pruning in the winter. In addition, Ivy  Hedera helix is a very hardy fast growing climber and provides excellent nesting and roosting cover. The flowers will attract insects in September and October and the berries will ripen in late winter when most other fruiting species will have lost their yield.

You can find out more about planting and maintaining a hedge here

Your home and garden can become a great haven for wildlife. For free comprehensive tailored advice to enhance the wildlife value of your home and garden, including factsheets and surveys, you can take part in Homes for Wildlife.

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