Now’s the time to plant bare-root hedging

  • Need to plant a new hedge?
  • Bare-root hedging is the most cost-effective way to do it
  • Bare-root season runs between November and March
  • I planted 30m of privet hedging this January for under £200
  • Here are my tips for making the most of the bare-root hedging season

Winter is the ideal time to plant a hedge. Not only do most winter hedges get off to a very good start in the spring (and require less watering in the following summer) but they also may end up saving you a tidy sum. Bare-root plants are particularly good value, costing far less than equivalent potted or root-balled varieties. Between November and March, when plants are dormant, many nurseries offer bare-root hedging varieties including Beech, Box, Holly, Privet, Yew, Hawthorne, Hornbeam, Rose, Cornus, Prunus and Honesuckle. Starting from just £1 per plant you might be looking at a new hedge from as little as £5 to £10 per metre.

My Bare-Root Privet Project

Bare root plants have come to my attention over the last month or so, as I am currently working on a new garden I designed in Catford, London. I have just finished planting 30 metres of privet hedge (Ligustrum ovalifolium) to cover an unsightly neighbouring fence. In time it will give the garden a crisp-green backdrop as indicated in this planting mock-up. This photoshopped image shows the garden as I expect it to look in five years (without the builders, I hope):

You can see the important part the hedge at the rear will play in softening the space and making it feel more “gardenesque”. The fence it will be covering is owned by the neighbours, so is not the client’s responsibility. Hedges do not appear to be very popular at the moment, but I feel they give a garden a mature stature and a sense of warmth that is missing from the modern designer-slatted-fence boundary that is all the rage these days.

Another benefit to a hedge is that it requires only straight-forward maintenance: a hedge trimmer. This garden is a communal space serving four flats, so the maintenance will be down to a contractor. Hedges and shrubs that can be maintained with a couple of annual cuts will go a long way to keeping this garden beautiful with minimal gardening skills.

The hedge, which I have just planted, runs along two sides of the garden: across the far, west end (10m – as seen above) and down the long north side (to the right in the photo above) a further 20m. So I was in the market for a total of 30m of privet hedging. At any other time of the year, this would be very expensive, but in bare-root season the whole thing (150 plants) cost less than £200. Outside the bare-root season I would have had to purchase potted plants which would have cost two or three times as much. In the end I only used 110 of the 150 so had some spares to play with (more on that below)

Purchasing bare root Plants

Many nurseries sell bare-root hedging in the winter. I used Best4Hedging, not because they were the cheapest (they were the third cheapest in my search) but because they could deliver between Christmas and the New Year! The lady on their sales line was very helpful and pulled out the stops to ensure my delivery arrived when I needed it.

(Click to view bare-root hedging from best4hedging)

Best4hedging offered different sizes: 30/40cm £1.19, 40/60cm £1.39, 90/140cm £2.69; 120/150cm £3.99

As you can see the price for the older/larger plants goes up quite quickly. It may seem tempting to purchase bigger plants but Privet is pretty fast growing and several smaller plants planted closer together can be more economic and create a denser hedge than fewer lanky plants. Another point against the taller specimens is that they are not necessarily bushier. For a strong hedge you want lots of branching low down so that the hedge is strong and clothed in foliage all the way down. Tall, lanky plants probably need cutting down to 30cm or so to get them to bush out, so chances are little will be gained from buying taller plants. That was my thinking anyway.

Inspecting and Storing

My plants were delivered on December 22nd and came in several tight bundles, well wrapped in black plastic. Because I wasn’t going to plant them for five days I gave them a water (straight into the bags) then put them in a cold shed so the wind didn’t dry out the tops. Plastic bags over the top end reduced transpiration.

(This bundle is made up of half a dozen left-overs plants, the original bundles contained 30)

As you can see, the plants have a good root system which has had most of the soil removed making them relatively clean to handle:

Inspecting the plants

The plants had a well-developed root structure. It’s crown is approximately 20cm (8 inches) tall, with 3 to 5 branches close to the base.

rehydrating before use

Being winter, such bare-root plants are dormant so needed little water to remain alive, however, they can still can still die if they completely dry out as they continue to transpire through their leaves, albeit at a slow rate. They are quite robust, but need a little bit of care to keep them at their best. A bit too much stress (leaving them in the sun, exposed to a drying wind or letting them dry out at the roots) and they will shed their leaves: not a problem as they invariably recover, but let them get too dry for too long and they will partially die back (only sprouting weakly in the spring) or in extremis die completely.

The day before planting I unwrapped the bundles and placed their roots in a bucket of water for 24 hours to re-hydrate them.

Bare-root plants need a good soaking to rehydrate them prior to planting (2 hours minimum, but 24 hours if you can)

Before planting, I pruned the roots and shoots back by one third. This should encourage branching above and below ground level. Another benefit of pruning the roots is that they are less likely to end up tangled when they are planted reducing the risk of self-strangulation.

Planting

I laid out the hedge as a staggered-row, spacing plants four per metre i.e roughly 30cm apart in a zig-zag.

Planting through woven weed-fabric, I used a cook’s blow-torch (the sort used for creme brûlées) to melt a spade-width slot. This prevents the fabric from fraying, melting the edges of the slot together.

Using a spade I then dug a vertical slot in the soil and levered it open with a back and forth motion.

After applying RootGrow (mycorrhizal fungi) to its roots, the plant was then pushed into the slot, ensuring its roots were spread as wide as possible in the slot, then heeled-in by treading the gash closed on the roots.

I planted each privet so an inch or two of the stem was buried. This will hopefully encourage additional rooting: another benefit of younger plants which more readily form new roots than older plants will (you can see one such root in the photo above coming out a couple of inches above the main roots). Planting them a bit deeper also helps them stay upright: again, another benefit of younger/shorter plants which are less likely to flop or blow over. No staking needed with these short plants.

Even though the ground was moist from recent rain I watered the new plants in thoroughly. Although privet is very hardy I will water them once per week unless there is heavy rain. Even though they will appear inanimate for the next few months, they will hopefully be growing new roots out of sight. By May, when new buds break and the top growth gets going, they will probably be well established and almost drought-proof. That said, I will continue to water them in dry spells to ensure they get a good first year’s growth.

Using the spares

1) Back-up plants for your hedge

Having some left-overs is a good insurance policy. These can be potted up and looked after somewhere safe. Should any of the plants in the hedge fail these can be used to replant the gaps. Here are some of mine:

2) Grow your own “Instant Hedging”

Many nurseries now stock “instant hedging” which is brilliant stuff but very expensive. Here are some examples from best4hedging

I once sourced 11 meters of Lonicera nitida instant hedging (nearly 3ft tall) at the knock down price of £35 per metre! It worked brilliantly, creating two key stands of hedge in our garden which had instant impact and grew very quickly. Unfortunately, I have been put off using instant hedging again because of the price — hence the bare root plants in my Catford project.

After planting the Catford hedge, however, I decided to use some of the left-over privet to grow my own instant hedging. Yes, I recognise the irony there — it might take several years to grow this “instant hedge”, but when in the future I find a need for it it will then be “instant”! In the meantime I am putting my excess bare-root privet to good use.

Fortunately, after planting the Lonicera instant hedging six or seven years ago I kept four of the window box-like planters they came in. Initially I used them to grow some excess dwarf box plants and after a few years these “instant box hedges” went around my rose bed:

I previously grew four troughs of dwarf box hedging which served as “instant hedging” when I constructed this raised bed (see post here)

The troughs from the dwarf box hedging had been stored behind my workshop but were in perfect condition, so I used them to plant up four metres of privet hedging:

I planted five privet plants per 100 cm trough (as in the best4hedging examples above)

Here they are along the edge of my driveway. I’ll look after them until a project comes up when I need a short run of hedging and — hey presto! — they will then be instant hedging.

updates coming later in the year

I will add to this post as the hedges in the Catford garden grow so you can see their progress over time


3 thoughts on “Now’s the time to plant bare-root hedging”

    • It’s not something I do regularly now: I keep my garden design to just a few select projects per year. However, if you want to email me with some more details I’ll be happy to give you my thoughts.

      Reply

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