How to prune plants

Cornus alba "Elegantissima"
Cornus alba “Elegantissima”

Pruning plants causes a lot of heart-ache amongst gardeners and a great deal is written about how it is done, often with little thought as to why it is done. It must always be remembered that all plants are either originally wild or descended from the wild  and nobody prunes plants in the wild. Before you start to prune a plant first ask yourself do you need to and if so why, what are you hoping to achieve. If in doubt, do nothing, if you do go ahead then be bold.

Reasons to prune:

  • Control size – often indicating the plant is in the wrong place.
  • Improve the flowering/fruiting – most fruit comes into this category, but many ornamental plants also respond to this.
  • Improved foliage – can apply to the shape, size, colouring or a combination of these.
  • Control disease – this can be preventative or to control a problem.

Reasons not to prune:

  • Make it look “tidy”
Hydrangea macrophylla cultivar
Hydrangea macrophylla cultivar

The basic rules.

Some things really apply to all pruning:

  1. Remove any dead or diseased branches – while trees can survive quiet happily with large amounts of dead and even rotted wood in there core; in most cases if the branch is dead or worse still diseased it need to be removed. Any shoot with  Coral Spot needs to be cut hard back as the disease will already have spread well into the living tissue below the characteristic red fruiting bodies.
  2. Remove crossing branches – these will end up rubbing against other ones, damage the bark and provide an entry point for disease. Also they crowd the centre of the plant, creating still air which favours pests and diseases.
  3. Make all cuts clearly and if back to a branching point don’t cut flush to the trunk, leave the swelling where the branch grows out of the main one.
  4. Don’t leave stubs – they look unsightly and are a entry point for disease.
  5. Bear in mind the larger the branch you cut off, the larger the wound and so the longer it will take to heal.
  6. Cut off large branches in stages.  Large branches have a tendency to break off before they are cut though and tear off the bark below the cut. Large branches can also be very difficult to remove from the plant once cut off.
  7. Cut back to an outward facing bud to encourage on open branch structure.

Wound paints.

Years ago it was the norm to treat all pruning cuts with a wound paint. This fell from favour and the accepted wisdom became that all they did was seal the diseases in nice protected environment so their use has stopped. The accepted best practice is now to avoid painting anything on pruning cuts and allow the plants natural healing processes to act.

Tools.

The only tools needed are:

  • Secateurs – pick a well made pair that are comfortable in your hand and keep them clean and sharp. These will do most of you pruning.
  • Loppers – sometimes called parrot bills due to the shape of the cutter on some models. Used for branches too thick for secateurs but too thin for a saw. Looked after a good pair will last many years.
  • Pruning saws – these come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Pick one that feels comfortable and replace it when it becomes blunt. Do not try to cut too thin a branch with a saw, if you can cut it with a pair of loppers use them. If you are doing a lot of pruning the battery powered reciprocating saws with a green wood blade make very good pruning saws.
  • Pole loppers – these are loppers on a long, sometime telescopic pole, and they allow you to cut high branches from the ground. These come into there own when pruning fruit trees.
  • Chainsaws – it will be rare, if at all, that one of these will be needed as they are for cutting large amounts of thick timber. They are expensive to both buy and maintain, as well as being very dangerous pieces of equipment. If you really think you need one make sure you are familiar with there safe operation.

Hedge cutters

These are possibly the most dangerous tool in the garden. They are designed to prune hedges, just hedges, and where there is large area of formal hedging to be kept in shape they save a lot of work. That said some of the most extensive and impressive formal hedging you will see is in formal French gardens and I have never seen a powered hedge cutter used there, just hand shears. Anything else the French view as sacrilegious.  The problem is when people get into their heads that they are a pruning tool. They are not! I have sadly seen some dreadful examples of butchery as the result of a hedge cutter wheeling gardener.

Clematis "Multi Blue"
Clematis “Multi Blue”

Pruning table

As a general rule:

  • Spring and winter flowering trees and shrubs tend to flower on the previous summer’s growth so prune immediately after they finish flowering in spring.
  • Summer flowering trees and shrubs tend to flower on current summers growth so prune them in winter when the plants will not be encouraged to produce soft growth which will be susceptible to frost damage.
  • Be cautious cutting into old wood as not all plants will produce new shoots from it.
  • If you have to remove large branches bare in mind their cuts will take longer to heal.
  • If in doubt phase drastic pruning over time.

Below is a table of some common plants with details of there specific pruning needs.

Plant Frequency Timing How
Berberis - deciduous When too large or congested. Can be thinned after flowering, but best pruned in February. Thin congested branches and shorten them to a where they branch. Will generally come away from old wood.
Berberis - evergreen When too large or congested. Can be thinned after flowering, but best pruned in April. Thin congested branches and shorten them to a where they branch. Will generally come away from old wood.
Buddleja davidii Annually for best flowering. March. Cut back hard.
Clematis – large flowered hybrids which are expected to flower their main flowering before mid-June Annually. February to March when the buds are plump and green. Cut out any dead wood and shorten the remaining vines to the first pair of plump buds.
Clematis – main flowering is after mid-June Annually. February to March. Cut all the shoots to 1 metre or less above ground level.
Clematis – spring flowering Only if space is limited. Immediately after flowering. Cut out all the shoots which have flowered.
Cornus - grown for their coloured winter stems Annually, for best winter stem colour. Early spring. Cut back hard.
Cotinus When too large or congested. Early spring. Cut back to within 2 or 3 buds of old wood.
Cotinus "Royal Purple" - if grown for large foliage Every one or two years Spring Cut hard back to near ground level.
Deutzia Annually for best flowering. Immediately after flowering. Cut out some old wood lose to the ground to encourage new growth.
Escallonia Annually. After flowering in autumn. Cut back old flowering growths. Can be hard pruned at the same time if too large.
Eucalyptus gunnii – grown for its round juvenile foliage Annually Once frost have finished in early spring Cut hard back to near the ground level.
Ficus carica (fig) – fan trained Twice a year End of June and November End of June: Pinch out the growing tips of the young shoots on the frame work of branches. Tie in the resulting shoots. November: prune back half the fruited shoots to 25mm. The remining shoots should be tied in parallel to the wall, spacing them 20 to 30cm apart. Do not allow the framework to become too crowded as the young growth and fruits need plenty sunshine.
Forsythia Annually. Immediately after flowering. Cut back flowered shoots to encourage strong new growth lower down which will provide next spring’s flowers. Aim to remove about 20% of the old wood.
Garrya elliptica When it is becoming too large. Spring Cut back as necessary.
Hydrangea paniculata and H. arborescens Annually. Spring For more prolific flowering prune prune back to a healthy pair of buds 25 cm above the ground level (up to 60 cm if you wish to form a taller bush).
Hydrangea – climbing Annually. After flowering. Cut back over long shoots but try to retain the top grow as this is where most of the flowering occurs. Drastic pruning should be done over three or four years to minimise the reduction in flowering.
Hydrangea – shrubby Annually. Late winter to early spring. Cut one or two of the oldest shoots to the ground to promote new growth. Mopheads are best dead headed in spring to protect the terminal buds but Lacecaps can be dead headed immediately after flowering.
Hypericum calycinum When looking tired. Winter Can be cut down to the ground and top dressed with a general fertilizer.
Hypericum “Hidcote” When it is becoming too large. Winter Shorten outermost shoots back to sides shoots to hide cuts.
Lonicera - climbing and flowering later, on the current seasons growth When it is becoming too large. Spring. Cut back any shoots which are becoming too long.
Lonicera – climbing and flower early on the previous seasons growth Annually. Late summer immediately after flowering. Prune back by a third.
Lonicera – shrubby ones used for hedging Three times a year. Spring to autumn. Trim to maintain shape. Neglected specimens can be cut hard back to 150mm high.
Lonicera – winter flowering When too large or congested. Late spring immediately after flowering. Prune shoots flowered shoots to new growth and remove about a fifth of old wood to promote new shoots.
Mahonia When too large or congested. Once flowering is finish in spring. They flower on the ends of shoots so shorten them to bring the flowers nearer to the ground. Come away from old wood well.
Malus domestica (apple): Bush – spur bearing Annually. November to early March. Shorten last season’s shoots by one third.
Malus domestica (apple): Bush – tip bearing (e.g. 'Blenheim Orange', 'Bramley's Seedling', 'Discovery', 'Lord Lambourne', 'Worcester Pearmain') Annually. November to early March. Cut back a proportion of older fruited branches to a strong younger shoot positioned closer to the to the main trunk or higher up the branch. This will reduce congestion and prevent branches becoming too long.
Malus domestica (apple): Restricted as cordons, espaliers, etc. Annually. Mid to late August, when the bottom of the new shoots are stiff and woody. New shoots are stiff and woody along their bottom third, with dark green leaves and a cluster of leaves at the base. 1. Cut back new shoots (laterals) more than 20 cm (8 in) long growing from the main stem to three leaves above the basal cluster of leaves. Do not prune new shoots that are less than 20 cm (8 in) long as they usually terminate in fruit buds 2. Cut back new shoots growing from existing side-shoots (sub-laterals) to one leaf above the basal cluster 3. Remove any upright, vigorous growth completely 4. If secondary growth occurs after summer pruning, remove this in September. If this is a persistent problem, leave some longer shoots unpruned as these will draw up the sap and grow at the expense of secondary growth elsewhere. Cut these back to one bud in spring, as well as any vigorous growth projecting above the level of the supporting wire.
Osmanthus When it is becoming too large. After flowering in spring Shorten outermost shoots back to sides shoots to hide cuts.
Populus × jackii 'Aurora' Annually. Late winter. Prune hard to promote new shoots with larger variegated foliage.
Potentilla When too large or congested. Spring. Cut back to tidy up, but remove avoid cutting into old wood; apart from the odd shoot to encourage new growth.
Prunus avium (Cherries: sweet) Annually. Early to mid-summer. Fruit on one year and older wood so aim for a balance between existing fruiting shoots and their replacement. Do not winter prune to reduce the risk of silver leaf and bacterial canker.
Prunus cerasus (Cherries: acid) Annually. Late summer. Fruit on previous seasons wood, so aim to balance last year’s fruiting wood with this year’s growth which will be next year’s fruiting wood. Do not winter prune to reduce the risk of silver leaf and bacterial canker.
Prunus domestica (plum) When the crown needs thinning. Spring. Cut back as necessary.
Pyrus communis (pear): Bush – spur bearing Annually. November to early March. Shorten last season’s shoots by one third.
Pyrus communis (pear): Bush – tip bearing Annually. November to early March. Cut back a proportion of older fruited branches to a strong younger shoot positioned closer to the to the main trunk or higher up the branch. This will reduce congestion and prevent branches becoming too long.
Pyrus communis (pear): Restricted as cordons, espaliers, etc. Annually. Mid July, when the bottom of the new shoots are stiff and woody. New shoots are stiff and woody along their bottom third, with dark green leaves and a cluster of leaves at the base. 1. Cut back new shoots (laterals) more than 20 cm (8 in) long growing from the main stem to three leaves above the basal cluster of leaves. Do not prune new shoots that are less than 20 cm (8 in) long as they usually terminate in fruit buds 2. Cut back new shoots growing from existing side-shoots (sub-laterals) to one leaf above the basal cluster 3. Remove any upright, vigorous growth completely 4. If secondary growth occurs after summer pruning, remove this in September. If this is a persistent problem, leave some longer shoots unpruned as these will draw up the sap and grow at the expense of secondary growth elsewhere. Cut these back to one bud in spring, as well as any vigorous growth projecting above the level of the supporting wire.
Ribes - flowering When too large or congested. Immediately after flowering. Remove any weak shoots and prune some shoots hard down to ground level to encourage strong new growth.
Ribes - foliage Annually or biennially. Early spring. Cut hard back.
Ribes uva-crispa (gooseberry) - bushes Annually Winter Remove dead and low branches. Prune side shoots to one to three buds and shorten branches to one third.
Ribes uva-crispa (gooseberry) - cordons Twice a year Early June to mid-July and then Late Autumn or Winter Early June to mid-July: cut the side shoots back to five leaves and tie in the leader to its cane. Once it reaches the top of the cane at 1.7m cut the leader back to five leaves back from the end of last year’s growth. Late Autumn to Winter: after the leaves have fallen cut the side shoots back to one or two buds and cut the leader back by one third until it reaches the end of its cane. Once it does cut the leader back to one to three buds back from the start of last seasons growth.
Rosa: Shrub, standard, climber. Annually. February to March. Reduce by two thirds. see How to prune a rose bush.
Rubus fruticosus agg. (Blackberry) Annually. Winter. Remove the fruited canes and tie in the new ones.
Spiraea - spring flowering e.g. S. ‘Arguta’ When too large or congested. Immediately after flowering. Cut back the shoots that have flowered while retaining as much of the new growth as possible as this bares next spring’s flowers.
Spiraea - summer flowering e.g. S. ‘Anthony Waterers’ and S. ‘Goldflame’ When too large or congested. Early spring. Flower on current seasons growth so cut back to within 2 or 3 buds of the old wood.
Syringa Annually Immediately after flowering Remove old flowering wood. It may be necessary to pinch over vigorous shoots in summer and remove suckers from grafted plants.
Viburnum – grown for their berries. (e.g. davidii) When it is becoming too large. Late winter. Reduce as needed.
Viburnum – spring flowering (e.g. x burkwoodii carlesii, opulus and rhytidophyllum). When too large or congested. Late spring or August, but not so late that new growth will not time to ripen before winter. Remove weak shoots and shorten others back to a manageable size.
Viburnum: winter flowering When it is becoming too large. Spring. Reduce as needed.
Weigela hybrids Annually. Immediately after flowering. Thin crowded bushes and remove a couple of old branches to ground level to encourage new shoots.

For more information on specific plants see:

  • Clematis by Christopher Lloyd
  • The Old Shrub Roses by Graham Stuart Thomas

How to Plant up an area with grown cover shrubs

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Merveille Sanguine'
Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Merveille Sanguine’

The secret to making a low maintenance garden border is to start off with no perennial weeds, after that the maintenance is no worse than a lawn in the first couple of years and far less thereafter. When creating a border most people make the mistake of making it too narrow, a 300mm (1 foot) deep border will just not work. If that’s all you can manage your better off with climbers or wall shrubs. 1.5 to 2 metres (5ft to 6ft 6inches) is the sort of depth you should be aiming for, not all gardens may be able to accommodate this but the closer you can stretch to this the better. In a very small garden you may do better having one deep border at the bottom of the garden and climbers and wall shrubs on the other walls.

Urtica dioica (Stinging Nettle)
Urtica dioica (Stinging Nettle)

Once you’ve chosen your area you need to remove any perennial weeds before you start to plant. Removing them once the plants are in and growing is far harder and the reason many peoples’ borders fail to work. Weeds like couch (Elymus repens ), ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria) and stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) have a spreading root which can quickly grows through the root ball of newly planted shrubs making the weeds extremely difficult and sometimes impossible to get rid of. Where the area is an established lawn these weeds will have not been able to become established because of the regular mowing. Here the grass can be stripped off but some weeds will be left behind such as dandelions (Taraxacum species) with their deep tap-root. The most reliable way is to kill off all the vegetation with a glyphosate weed killer (sold as Roundup, Gallup and other brand names). Leave the weeds to die down, this

Elymus repens (Couch grass).
Elymus repens (Couch grass).

can take a week or two and then turn the ground over with a garden fork, removing any roots and large stones. If the border is edged by a lawn, tidy up the edge to form a clean line and spread 25 to 50 mm (1 or 2 inches) of organic matter and use a garden fork to combine it into the soil. If the soil is very sticky with clay, mix some sharp grit (about 1 to 4mm) to open the soil up making it better draining, easier to work and with more air in it.

The source of the organic matter is not important so long as it’s free from contamination and weeds, your choice can be bases on price and availability. Well-rotted garden compost is ideal but few gardens have a large supply of it, peat was the traditional alternative and although it is a good soil improver these days its environmental cost makes it undesirable. Many councils now sell recycled waste as compost and these are normally well made, just don’t pay a premium for an “organic” label it does make the compost any better; just allows the seller to claim a higher price! If you live in a rural area you may be able to get farm yard manure and if rotted down this is very good, but in practice farms don’t want to leave the manure heaped up for a year or two to rot down so if you are going to use it you may have to except you must leave it to rot down before you can use it or the rotting straw can soak up any available nitrogen.

Photinia 'Red Robin'
Photinia ‘Red Robin’

You are now ready to plant the border. Choose shrubs which have a good dense canopy of leaves in summer so they smother any weeds before they can become established. Being evergreen is not important in this context as weeds germinate doing spring and summer, but some will provide some interest during the winter. Try not to focus on what’s in flower at the time as you want as long a period of interest as possible and bear in mind foliage lasts a lot longer than flowers. When walking around the nursery or garden centre make use of the labels and staff, if they’re not helpful go somewhere else! A good supplier will take pride in their stock and gave a good knowledge of it. Deciding how far apart the plants should be is tricky and it can be very difficult to visualise how big a plant will be in a few years’ time. The tendency is to over plant, especially in small areas so have a look at the label and ask if in doubt. Also bear in mind a 1.8 metre (6 foot) high plant is generally going to end up as wide as it is high.

Skimmia japonica 'Bowles's Dwarf'
Skimmia japonica ‘Bowles’s Dwarf’

Once you made your choice and paid for them pack them in your car carefully, DO NOT have them sticking out of sunroofs and windows, they will travel perfectly well laid on their sides; even if some end up gently laid on top of one another. When home get them out of the car as soon as possible, stand them in a sheltered corner and water them well. Like this, so long as they are keep watered they will be fine for up to a week if you run out of time.

Planting can be done on any frost free dry day and start by setting out your plants in their intended positions. Now is the time to make any last-minute adjustments to the arrangement before planting.

Viburnum davidii
Viburnum davidii

To plant use a garden spade to dig a hole larger than the plant pot, remove the pot, place the plant in the hole and firm the soil back around the root ball with your heel, making sure the top of the compost is level with the border soil. To remove the pot grasp the plant where it emerges from the compost and give the rim of the pot a firm tap with the palm of the hand. After all the plants are in rake over the surface to tidy up and water the plants really well, in part to settle the soil in around the root ball.

Give the borders a quick check over once a week for any weeds emerging, and remove them; most weeks there will be nothing to do and the next spring feed them with a general fertilizer.

How to look after a pony paddock

By a pony paddock I am referring to a small field used to keep one or more horses or ponies in usually under a couple of acres.

Equipment:

  • Chain harrow
  • Roller
  • Fertilizer spreader
  • Quad bike or compact tractor
  • Pasture topper

Annual routine:

Once the grass begins to grow in spring, chain harrow the grass and start to feed it, a little at regular intervals over the summer is far more efficient as it reduces the about of fertilizer lost to leaching. As the surface of the grass becomes pitted by the hooves it needs rolling and when the grazing starts to have clumps of course grass and/or weeds go over it with a pasture topper. Any poo picking should be done prior to chain harrowing and pasture topping to prevent it being dispersed over the field.

Rejuvenating a paddock:

Start off by getting a professional soil analysis so you can see what fertilizer and lime the soil needs. While you are waiting for this to come back have a good walk around the paddock and check for drainage problems (often indicated by clumps of course sedge), damaged or missing fencing, the condition of the water supply, check and treat any ragwort and if the grass needs to be cut back with a pasture topper.

How you tackle a drainage problem depends on its course, an isolated area could be a broken or block land-drain which needs to be dug out and repaired, but if on digging down you may find a spring then it needs to be lead away to drain if possible. Excessive damp around a pond could well be caused by the pond overflow being silted up and needing clearing out. Generally, poorly draining land will have to be drained by land-drains which leads the water to somewhere it can be disposed of.

 

Once you have sorted out these problems you can chain harrow the grass and over-seed the paddock; prior to starting the fertilizer regime recommended by the soil analysis. It will take time for the grass to start to come right and if there are a lot of weeds such as dock and nettle you will have to repeatedly cut them back until they weaken and die out or use a selective weed killer if practical.

 

Feeding:

The grass being grazed is constantly losing nutrients by several routes: the most important being the removal of the plants by grazing, exasperated by the necessary practice of poo picking to reduce the parasite load, and leaching, as the rain washes the nutrients down out of reach of the plants. As the quantity of available nutrients in the soil becomes less not only will the growth of the grass, and therefore the available grazing, fall also the grass will become more susceptible to competition from weeds but also it will become more susceptible to pest and diseases. It follows then that if an area is to provide good grazing it will need to have the lost nutrients replaced.

The only way to find out what nutrients a soil is short of and therefore what fertilizer it will need is to chemically test the soil. Most companies that specialise in selling the appropriate fertilizer can arrange to have a sample of your soil tested at a laboratory for a fee and will provide a recommended fertiliser treatment for the field. A great variety of do it DIY kits are also available but none of them will provide the accuracy of one undertaken in a soil science laboratory and you still must work out what fertilizer you need to apply.

The report you will get back will give to the levels of the important soil nutrients, their recommendations for the fertilizer to apply and when, the pH of the soil, their recommendations for any lime needed and possibly also the soils cation exchange capacity. The last of these is a measure of how well the soil can hold nutrients and is for information only as it cannot be altered. The lime requirements are essential as this affects the soil pH which in turns affect if the nutrients in the soil are available to the plants.

The easiest way of applying the fertilizer is by using a spreader towed behind a quad bike or compact tractor. These normally work by allowing the fertilizer to run out of a hopper onto a rotating disc which flings the fertilizer out in an arc behind the machine. The rate of spread is controlled by adjusting the opening at the bottom of the hopper and the speed the machine is traveling at. They normally come with instructions for setting for a range of materials.

Chain harrowing:

Chain harrows
Chain harrows

This is the same process as scarifying a garden lawn and is to clear dead grass from around the base of the grass plants so improving the movement of air and moisture around into the base of the plants and between the air and the soil. It is normally done in spring and autumn by dragging a set of chain harrows over the grass.

Chain harrows are a very old piece of agricultural machinery and normally come in sections which hook into a bar which is pulled by a machine. The sections are made from steel rod folded and worked to form a mesh, not unlike chain-link fencing, with regularly shaped spikes pointing down from this mesh. These spikes slope slightly back from the vertical when the harrows are pulled forward.

They are simply pulled over the grass at about 2.5 to 5 mph (4 to 8 kph) but care should be taken and you need to plan ahead before you start. First of all, you cannot reverse with them, a few models come mounted on a frame which can be lifted on a tractor’s 3-point hitch – but they are the exception not the rule! Therefore, make sure you can always drive forwards out of where ever you drive into. Next, they turn tighter than the vehicle pulling them so when you turn at the end of a pass you cannot immediately follow the edge of the previous pass. This tendency also means if you turn too tightly the bar at the top of the harrows will catch on the back wheels and can end up joining on the machine! Finally, like rollers they tend to be wider than the towing machine so they can catch on trees and posts.

Rolling:

This is done with a roller pulled behind a tractor or quad bike at about 2.5 to 5 mph (4 to 8 kph). The rollers are normally a hollow cylinder with a screw in plug to fill them. Move the roller until the plug is at its highest and fill with water using garden hose before refitting the plug. The manufactures often recommend water or sand, but how you are supposed to fill one with sand is beyond me!

When using a roller, the moisture of the soil is critical; too damp and the roller will leave ruts at its edges and can even become bogged down, too dry and the hoof marks will be left. The ideal level of moisture will vary widely depending on the soil type and needs to be found by trial and error.

When pulling a roller pay careful attention to the sides of the roller as they are wider than the machine pulling them and will have a tighter turning circle. This is particularly important when working between trees as the roller can catch tree trunks and even suddenly yank the machine pulling it to one side. Also, if you cut the corner too close going around a tree, or similar, you can end up with the obstruction between the pulling machine and the roller. A situation which it can be very difficult to get back out of.

Pasture topping:

Horses are notoriously picky eaters only taking what they view are the best from the grass and leaving others. This leads to the courser grasses getting left and being allowed to outgrow the better ones. To counter this, it is necessary to cut down these courses grasses at regular intervals with a pasture topper. In practice, these are either rotatory or flail mowers powered by a tractors PTO shaft or a motor mounted on the machine, though for small areas a small flail mower can be hired in. There is considerable debate over the relative merits of flail verses rotary but in practice there is probably little real difference except that if you are likely to hit stones, tree stumps, bits of wood and the like a flail mower is a lot less likely to be damaged.

Over-seeding:

The range of plants that make up the grass in an area of grazing can deteriorate with time and neglect. To reverse this the area can be over-seeded by spreading a new seed over the existing grass where it will germinate amongst the existing grass and fill in any gaps. This is cheaper and quicker than replacing the grazing and starting again. It is important to choose a suitable grass seed mixture from a firm which provides specialist agricultural grass seed mixture as they have become very sophisticated over the last 30 years or so. The grass seed should be sown when there is no risk of frost and ideally when rain is imminent.

Selective weed killers:

These are chemicals designed to kill weeds growing in grass and rely on the board leaved weeds being more susceptible to the chemical than the grasses. This means the rate the chemical is applied is critical as too little and nothing will be killed but too much and the grass will be damaged and even killed. Most of these chemicals are designed for professional use and must be applied by a sprayer. A further problem, and possibly the greatest, is that it is often preferable to have broad leaves plants in the mixture of plants that make up the grazing and any selective weed killer will kill these as well as any weeds.

 

 

How to build a sleeper raised bed

As well as retaining walls timber sleepers can be used to create raised beds. A great variety of shapes can be created using these, but the shape of the sleepers only really work well with shapes based on right-angles. This though still provides great scope by interlocking  the basic squares and rectangles,  and varying the height of different sections.

Materials:

  • New railway sleepers
  • 200mm/8 inch Timberloc screws or similar
  • Granular sub-base
  • Battery drill/driver
  • Circular saw with at least a 65mm/2½ inches max. depth of cut
  • Sledge hammer
  • Topsoil

Method:

 

  1. Mark out the outside edge of the raised bed
  2. Dig out the strip of ground the sleepers are going to sit on, making it 50mm/2 inches wider than the sleepers.

    The base dug out for the sleepers.
    The base dug out for the sleepers.
  3. Level the base of the trench with a minimum of 50mm/2 inches of granular sub-base and tamp it down with the head of the sledge hammer.

    The sub-base foundation for the base of the planter.
    The sub-base foundation for the base of the planter.
  4. Lay the bottom course of sleepers in place, leaving a 25mm/1 inch drainage gap between the ends.

    The first whole sleepers laid to form the bottom course.
    The first whole sleepers laid to form the bottom course.
  5. Level this course by adjusting the sub-base under them and knocking them down with the sledge hammer.

    The first course of the planter with the cut sleepers fitted in.
    The first course of the planter with the cut sleepers fitted in.
  6. Lay the next course on top of first making sure to overlap the joints and butting the ends up close together.

    The second course of sleepers.
    The second course of sleepers.
  7. Secure the two courses together with the Timberloc screws, making sure all the pieces are screwed together.
  8. Lay the next course on top, screw down and repeat until the desired height is reached.

    The first four courses of sleepers.
    The first four courses of sleepers.
  9. Fill with topsoil.

    The completed raised bed filled with topsoil.
    The completed raised bed filled with topsoil.

How to fix trellis to a wall

Fixing trellis onto a wall.
Fixing trellis onto a wall.

Trellis is a very effective way of training climbers against a wall and can either be bought or made from scratch. Fixing it to the wall though can present problems but with a little care result can be both durable and effective.

Equipment:

  • Drill driver
  • Heavy duty SDS masonry drill and bit
  • Plastic wall plugs
  • Wood-screws
  • Spirit level
  • Claw hammer

Method:

  1. Choose a wood-screw about 50 mm thicker than the trellis, more if the wall is rendered, and some plastic wall plugs recommended for the size of the wood-screws.
  2. Fit the masonry drill with a bit the recommended size for the wall plugs, you may want to hire a drill in (a 4 Kg drill which takes SDS drill bits will be sufficiently large).
  3. Position the trellis where you plan to have it and drill through the trellis into the wall. Chose a place half way across the trellis and near the top. Always aim for the centre of a brick or stone, avoid mortar joints.
  4. Move the trellis and tap a wall plug into the drilled hole. Put the trellis back and thread a wood-screw through the hole you drilled in the trellis and into the wall plug. Tap the screw head to start it off and drive it almost home with the drill driver. Check the trellis is level and vertical, the first screw will support it, and tighten the screw until it is flush with the trellis surface.
  5. Drill a second hole through the trellis vertically below the first and near the bottom; checking the trellis is still level and vertical. Push a plug into the hole, there is no need to move the trellis, and use a wood-screw and hammer to drive the plug into the wall until you feel the screw bite into the plug. Tighten the screw with the drill driver.
  6. Carry on repeating the process in part 5 above so that the trellis is screwed to the wall every 600 to 900 mm, checking the trellis is firmly attached to the wall.

How to make trellis

All of the pieces of the trellis in place and showing some of the screws which hold it together.
All of the pieces of the trellis in place and showing some of the screws which hold it together.

Trellis can be purchased ready made from garden centres and DIY stores but it is in a limited range of sizes, you only have one spacing for the lathes and it is often quite light weight. A far better way is to make it yourself from pressure treated timber and you can chose any sizes and the spacing of the lathes. Closer together for more screening or to provide a wind break they can be spaced to give you the 50% optimal permeability.

Materials:

  • 50 mm x 25 mm Tannalised softwood (tile lathe)
  • Wood saw
  • Battery drill/driver
  • 40mm x 3.5 mm countersunk woodscrews
  • Tape measure
  • Set square or combination square

Method:

  1. Decide on the overall height and width of the trellis panel.
  2. Enter the dimensions into the table below.
  3. Adjust the the spacing of the lathes to get the spacing you would like. For a wind break a trellis density of about 50% is idea.
  4. Cut the length shown at the bottom of the table.
  5. If you plan to stain the trellis do it now before you assemble it.
  6. First vertical pieces of the trellis.
    First vertical pieces of the trellis.

    Take two of the pieces which are to be the vertical parts of the trellis on a level surface the width of the trellis apart.

  7. First horizontal pieces added to the trellis.
    First horizontal pieces added to the trellis.

    Connect the ends with two of the horizontal, fixing them with width a wood screw.

  8. Trellis showing the first intermediate verticals being added.
    Trellis showing the first intermediate verticals being added.
    Trellis with all the vertical pieces in place.
    Trellis with all the vertical pieces in place.

    Arrange the remaining vertical pieces under the horizontal pieces attached in part 7 above.

  9. The spacer piece used to set the gap between the pieces of wood.
    The spacer piece used to set the gap between the pieces of wood.

    Cut a piece of wood the length of the distance between the vertical pieces and use it to space them. Adjust if necessary and secure to the top and bottom pieces by screwing through them into the ends of the vertical pieces.

  10. The trellis showing the first horizontal pieces in place with screws.
    The trellis showing the first horizontal pieces in place with screws.
    All of the pieces of the trellis in place and showing some of the screws which hold it together.
    All of the pieces of the trellis in place and showing some of the screws which hold it together.

    Arrange the horizontal pieces between the top and bottom pieces, spacing them with a piece of wood as in part 8 above and secure them at ever intersection.

The different parts of the trellis which relate to the form for working out the spacing and quantities.
The different parts of the trellis which relate to the form for working out the spacing and quantities.

Vertical Lathe Spacing

Overall width of the trellis (a): mm

Width of vertical lathes (b): mm

Number of vertical lathes (c):

Gap between the vertical lathe (d):
mm

Horizontal Lathe Spacing

Overall Height of the trellis (e): mm

Width of horizontal lathes (f): mm

Number of horizontal lathes (g):

Gap between the horizontal lathe (h):
mm

Trellis density:
% (The higher the density the less you will see though the trellis.)

Cutting list:

  • vertical lathes
    mm long
  • horizontal lathes
    mm long

 

How to make compost

Plastic compost bin
Plastic compost bin

All gardens produce some waste be it weeds, grass cuttings or dead flower heads and virtually all have soil which benefits from some additional organic matter. The local authority will take it away, often for a charge, or you can recycle your garden waste as compost and reduce the amount you have to buy. The problem is there is a little more to it than just making a heap of garden rubbish and hoping for the best. People complain that that they end up with a foul smelling mound and this is always the result of believing that just heaping up all the grass cutting will make compost. It doesn’t! To be a success a compost heap needs a varied diet.

The way to start is to create an area for the compost and decide how you are to contain it. The easiest way in a small garden is to buy one of the plastic compost bins, they come in various sizes and can be place in a discreet corner out of sight. They need no base to sit on, if anything they are better placed straight on to the bare earth. Larger gardens may need something a little more ambitious but here it need not be very fancy. Some cheap fence post with strong netting stapled to them will do, the kind sold for pig netting should do. Now the important part filling it.

Home made compost bin
Home made compost bin

A lot of research has been done on composting and it has been found that a successful compost heap starts with 30 times as much carbon in it as nitrogen but a lot of things you want to compost do not have that golden mix of carbon and nitrogen. Some things like grass cuttings have a lot more nitrogen than this and some like cardboard have a lot less. Now in addition 3 more things are important the temperature, the amount of water and the amount of air.

In the UK the outside temperature is going to be beyond your control and in practice is of little importance. How moist the heap is also usually not an issue unless you add a lot of dry material or we have a long dry spell. In practice as long as the heap is moist, not sodden, you should be alright.

This only leaves the carbon to nitrogen ratio. In practice though this can be simplified by dividing material into high nitrogen, generally green, waste and low nitrogen, generally brown, waste and mixing them in the ratio of 2 green waste to 1 brown waste.

Green waste is things such as grass cuttings, weeds, plant clippings, manures and vegetable scraps.

Brown waste tends to be leaves, hay and straw, sawdust, wood chippings, shredded paper, old compost.

Note:

Some brown waste, such as dry leaves, can be very bulky so try to imagine them pressed tight together when gauging how much your adding.

Try to mix the different materials to stop dense layers forming, grass cuttings are particularly bad for this. If you have a lot  of grass cuttings you may be better taking it to the council recycling centre and letting them compost it.

Don’t get too hung up on the proportions; the natural course is for things to breakdown, you’re just encouraging things along. Just make sure the heap gets a varied diet.

If the heap starts to look dense and slimy with a smell you need to mix in some brown waste like shredded paper, compost heaps shouldn’t smell!

If the heap looks dead and dry it needs some green waste, compost heaps hardly ever need to have water added to them.

How to choose paving materials for your garden

Block paving detail at Blois France
Block paving detail at Blois France

With the vast range of possible paving materials, it can feel a bit daunting when you first start looking at paving materials. To try to reduce the selection down to a more manageable size, it is well to consider the practicalities imposed on you by what you are planning to use the paving for. You can then check how much of each type you are hoping to use, compare the costs of using different materials and if need adjust your plans.

Though there is considerable overlap; the uses for paving in a garden can be divided into four main categories: drives, patios, paths and utility areas.

Drives

When choosing a material for a drive the first consideration must be what will
happily withstand having a car regularly driven over it and parked on it. The second consideration, is that for many people it will be the first thing visitors see of their home though quiet a lot of the time most of it may be hidden under a car. How suitable a paving material for a drive will also be effected by how it is laid. No material if the base under it is too soft will support a car but materials like domestic 35mm paving flags, which would not normally support a car, may if laid onto concrete. Once you have eliminated the impractical options the choice comes down to cost and personal preference. Please note if you paving an area of your front garden planning permission may be needed.

Patios

Flags and cobble path at Robin Hoods Bay
Flags and cobble path at Robin Hoods Bay

Whereas a drive is something you park a car on, a patio can be a major feature of a garden and so your budget should try to reflect that. The important thing is that it forms an attractive feature and not a slab of paving. So break up the area by mixing different sizes of flags and/or using a mix of materials. You often see paving broken up with planting pockets; this is rarely successful with the plants getting stood on and heels and chair legs dropping down the planting pockets.

Paths

The idea of a garden path is as old as the garden itself, but a path has to have a purpose. And that will influence the materials used. If the path for instance, is going to be in a vegetable garden, where you are stepping on and off the path onto the bare soil you are going to have problems if you use gravel. Every time to step from one to the other soil and gravel will be transferred from one to the other; ending up with a muddy path you can’t clean. On the other hand, an informal path winding along the edge a border it is going to be difficult to achieve with square and rectangular flags and runs the risk of looking messy if its full of cut bits of flags.

Utility areas

Most gardens have some area dedicated to the necessary but unattractive bits of a garden where things such as the shed live. Here the importance has to be the functionality of the material. Something that is cheap, durable and easy to clean. A smooth flag is a lot easier to sweep clean than a riven one and a plain concrete slab, though unattractive, leaves few gaps for weeds to grow through.

Paving materials

Brick path detail
Brick path detail

The trick when designing your paving is to make it blend into the surrounds while adding to them. To do this you are free to use every trick in the book. You can use materials which contrast with their surrounding or complement them but care should be taken when trying to match materials as a bad match will be the worst scenario. Nor should you restrict yourself to just one material as mixing in an additional material is a very good way to break up areas of paving and differentiation between different areas. Just don’t overdo it!

Below I’ve put together a table of most of the paving/drive materials currently available, the list though is not exhaustive. The cost column is really only to give a very broad indication of the relative expense involved in using different ones The exact cost would depend on many factors including site conditions and how much if any of the work was undertaken on a DIY basis.

Paving Materials 

MATERIAL COST ADVANTAGES DISADVANTAGES
Bark Low Low cost
Flexible
Soft
Water permeable
Can look very effective in informal areas
Tends to spread about
Needs edging
Gravel Low Low cost
Flexible
Comes in a very wide variety of colours and shapes
Water permeable
Tends to move about
Needs edging
If too soft it will quickly disintegrate
Only suitable for level areas
Plain concrete flags Low to medium Low cost
Readily available
Provides a smooth surface
Does not need pointing
Good under sheds and for utility areas
Visually unattractive

Very heavy

Coloured concrete flags Low to medium Low Cost
Readily available
Provides a smooth surface
Do not need pointing
Visually unattractive
Very heavy
Colours fade – particularly reds
Budget riven flags Low to medium Low cost
More attractive than plain flags
Do not need pointing
Not as attractive as the more expense flags
Limited range of colours and sizes
Poor finish
Limited range of patterns
Premium riven flags Medium Very wide range to choose from
Large range of flags shapes and sizes
Can be as expensive as imported flags
Care needed to ensure they are laid with the correct fall
Limited life
Imported stone flags Medium Almost limitless life
Very hard wearing
Cost is equivalent to/or less than premium man-made flags
Needs a diamond blade to cut them
Brittle so hard to work
Block paving Medium to high Very wide range of colours and patterns
Very hard wearing
Small size makes them very flexible
Must be securely edged
Red ones fade
Large areas can look like a car park even if it’s not
Cannot be cleaned by pressure washing
The surface must be 600mm above the water table
Stone setts High Hard to very hard wearing
Small size makes them very flexible
Difficult to lay
Need a very solid base
Expensive
Need to be pointed
New sandstone flags High Almost limitless life
Natural product
Very attractive
Heavy
Expensive
Requires skill to be laid well
Reclaimed sandstone flags Very high Almost limitless life
Laid well are very attractive
Particularly prone to becoming slippery
Very heavy
Very expensive
Require skill to lay them well
Mosaics High to very high Can look very attractive
Unusual
Requires a lot of skill
Sandstone crazy paving Medium Flexible
A cost effective alternative to sandstone flags
Needs skill to lay it well
Can be hard to source
Tarmac High Makes an excellent hard-wearing surface
Smooth
Flexible
Comes in a range of colours
Requires specialist skills to lay
Only practical if sufficiently large area
Must have a secure edging
Limited range of colours
Not very attractive
Cobble paving High Can look very good in the correct setting Hard to source good worn cobbles
Very uneven surface
Prone to being slippery
Requires a lot of skill to lay it well
Decking Medium Can be laid in a range of patterns
Comes in a range of finishes
Very good for levelling sloping sites
Flexible
Prone to being slippery
Limited life
Requires more maintenance
Needs to be lifted off the ground
Any decking surface over 300mm above the ground level requires permission from your local authority
Concrete slab Medium Smooth
Can be textured
Laid well it is very durable
Capable of supporting heavy loads
Very good for utility areas
Requires skill to lay
Large areas require good access
Difficult to make good if it is damaged
Large areas will crack if movement joints are built in
Pattern impressed concrete Medium Visually much better than plain concrete
Can be laid in a range of patterns and colours
It is only a surface treatment so prone to surface damage
Very difficult to make good if damaged
The colour will wear away where car wheels repeatedly run over it
Large areas will crack if movement joints are built in
Brick High Small units allow flexible designs
Small their small sizes make them good for small areas
Bricks must be carefully chosen because of the risk of frost damage
Skill required to lay
Reinforced grass Medium Provides a visually “soft” appearance
Water permeable
Only really suitable for car parking or intensely used footpaths

How to take over an established garden

Over grown garden near Scotch Corner
Over grown garden near Scotch Corner

Most people when they buy a new house find they are taking over an existing garden and this will present certain challenges; you have, after all, bought their house not their tastes. It is therefore inevitable not everything in the garden you are going to like and/or want. It is reasonable to assume on first moving in that the garden will not be your most pressing concern, so we need to start by prioritising. The first thing to consider is what is the time of year, mid-winter little is happening in the garden but in the height of summer any lawn will be growing fast so you are going to need to cut it once a week and if there is a pond it needs to be kept topped up and any filter maintained. The rest of the garden should survive all right with the exception of any plants in a greenhouse. If its summer and you’re pushed for time the easiest thing to do is to take them out of the greenhouse, up them with any other plants in pots and keep them watered.

The next stage is to have a really good look around your new garden; you should have plenty of opportunities to do this while escaping the paint fumes. What do you like, dislike or simply don’t understand. Look where gets the sun and when, are you over looked and to what extent; most gardens will be overlooked by some bedroom windows but in practice people spend little time looking out of their bedroom windows – so they are not as much of a problem as a kitchen or sitting room window. While you’re at it consider which plants you like and how much space large plants are occupying, but don’t be too quick to condemn; that large bush could be there to hide an eyesore.

One of the problems with plants is that you are not really aware of them growing; they kind of do it sneakily behind you back, so you just don’t notice how big they are getting. This is where the new home owner’s fresh pair of eyes comes as a big advantage. Have a good dig, metaphorically speaking, in the back of borders; you could be surprised what you find. If nothing else, you may well find a lot of underused space. While you’re at it take a good look at the trees in the garden because if these need attention now is the time to do it.

Are the trees appropriate for the garden? Are they going to, or have they got, too big for the garden? If you have large mature trees in the garden do they need a professional to look them over to check they are safe? If the trees need any major work it will both create a lot of upheaval and dramatically change the garden so it’s best to get it done as soon as is practical. Beware there are many very good professional arboriculturist (tree surgeons) but sadly there are also a lot of butchers out there. So check they have a proper formal training, carry appropriate insurance, get more than one written quotation and remember if a price sounds too cheap, and tree work isn’t, be suspicious! One common tree problem is people buy Christmas trees with the roots on and then come the New Year can’t bring them to throw away a living tree they’ve spent the holidays keeping alive. Then comes the problem of what to do with it, so it gets planted in a corner of the garden. This all sounds nice and remarkably quite a few of these Christmas leftovers survive, looking quite nice tucked in the border. The problem is the type of trees sold as Christmas trees are the type that grow quickly into big trees, which makes sense if you’re trying to produce trees that are sellable at the best price. You can probably see where this is going, they sit quietly at the back of the border growing! These are not a good choice for a domestic garden. People get attached to trees. So you soon end up with what is in effect a large and growing arboreal pet in the garden. I’m afraid the only realistic solution is to remove it before it gets any more of a problem, or more expensive to remove.

Having got a rough idea of what you’ve inherited sit down with a pencil and plenty of paper, draw on the boundaries and the house, and anything you want to keep. Don’t worry about being too accurate, just get your thoughts down on and try different ideas out. There may well be a number of things you decide you would like to keep, some of them it may turn out are not practical to keep, and others you just don’t like. Don’t be afraid to change your mind; paper’s cheap, so try out different ideas.

While trying out ideas a few things to consider are:

  • Do you need space for parking?
  • What storage are you going to need?
  • Do you want to grow fruit or vegetables?
    • They need space and a sunny position.
    • They take time.
  • Are you going to sit out?
    • Ideally a patio should be a minimum of 5 metres by 4 metres if you are going to put a table and chairs on it.
    • It needs a sunny position.
    • If not near the house it needs good access between the two.
  • People rarely allow sufficient depth for borders – if space is limited wall shrubs and climbers may be a better option.
  • Many large shrubs will come away if cut hard back.
  • Have you the space and time for lawn?
  • Do you want a greenhouse?

 

Start with the things you feel are most important and place them, letting the other things fall in around them. You will undoubtedly have to compromise so it’s better to do so about the less important things.

Don’ be afraid to play about with ideas and take your time to decide what you want to keep, what has to go and what just need cutting back. Once you feel happy with your ideas be bold and start taking out what you don’t want. Once you start you will most likely make new discoveries and your plans will have to be adapted, but you will end up with YOUR garden.

How to make a garden hedge

Hedging at Les Jardin du Manoir d'Eyrignac
Hedging at Les Jardin du Manoir d’Eyrignac

Hedges have been an integral part of gardens since the earliest times and encompass a vast range of ideas. Their main purpose though is to divide up space; be it marking the boundaries of a garden or dividing up the area within them. Many people shy away from hedges on the grounds that they take too much work to maintain or will take to long to establish. While it is true a formal hedge needs cutting at least once a year and you have to allow time for the plants to grow nothing provides the same sense of structure to a garden, just look at Hidcote Manor!

Choosing a hedge plant

When deciding on a hedge it has to be remembered that you are going to need a lot of the same plant and its going to be there for a long time. Cost and availability are clearly going to be important, particularly if a long hedge is planned. It also has to be suitable to its location: is the soil limy, shallow, free draining, water-logged? Also is the site exposed or sheltered, in open sun or shade? A good hedging plant needs to be hardy and suited to its location, the last thing you want is to lose chunks of you hedge the first hard winter, but also has to be amenable to being treated as a hedge. Most hedges are keep clipped and a good hedging plant needs to be a mass of dense smart leaves; as an open habit will never look good. The size of the leaves also matters as large leaves that look tatty when cut with shears; meaning they are best suited to informal hedges and screens, unless you have he time and patience to trim them carefully with secateurs.

Mixed hedges

Hedging at Chateau de Losse
Hedging at Chateau de Losse

Nobody said a hedge has to be only one type of plant, in fact most hedges usually end up with some lodgers in them over time. The red flowered climber Tropaeolum speciosum is often seen scrambling through yew hedges to great effect and wild clematis and ivy are seen doing the same thing in field hedges. So long as the hedge is sufficiently established and the climber not too vigorous a great range of combinations will add to a hedge. But you do not need to restrict yourself to mixing in climbers; the plain green of a hedge can be broken up but the inclusion of variegated plants in the mix. Care has to be taken to ensure one doesn’t swamp the other but say a plain green hedge with variegated buttress can lift an otherwise ordinary hedge. Mixed hedges are also sometimes used to recreate a more natural hedge for wildlife. For example 75% Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), 10% Field Maple (Viburnum opulus), 5% Beech (Fagus sylvatica), 5% Field Maple (Acer campestre) and 5% Holly (Ilex aquifolium) spaced 300mm apart, or 500mm apart in a pair of staggered double row 400mm apart, will produce a pleasing effect. Better still have a good look at the near by hedges and copy those, being careful not to be tempted by elder (Sambucus racemosa) as it’s short lived and tends to swap its neighbours and you will probably end up with self seeding themselves anyway!

Formal or Informal

Does a hedge have to be cut? The traditional image is of carefully trimmed walls of green, but where a more gentle appearance is called for a natural unkempt look can be more fitting. In a larger garden a screen of bushes can serve to define areas. For example a wild flower area could be separated from the remainder of the garden by an uncut screen of hawthorn and if needs be the side facing a more formal area could be keep cut. Even smaller gardens could benefit from an edging of lavender left to grow over the edge of a path to soften it.

Wildlife and hedges

There is no doubt that wildlife benefits from gardens, it is a two way street, and shrubs provide valuable cover and nesting sites so a hedge will benefit the wildlife in the garden which in turn adds to the garden. To this end any hedge cutting must be avoided if it could disturbed nesting birds, which in the UK, at least, is a criminal offence. In the UK the RSPB recommend that hedge are not cut from early March until the end of August for this reason, but these are guidelines and some years bird nesting could extend beyond this time frame.

Establishing hedges

A hedge is a long term investment in a garden so prior to planting the area needs to be well prepared. The ground needs to be clear of any perennial weeds which will be very difficult to eradicate once the hedge is growing. Any drainage problems have to be sorted out and with plants which will not tolerate water-logging, like Yew, it is prudent to install effective land-drains in all but the most free draining soils. As hedges are made up of closely packed large shrubs they tend to be greedy neighbours as their roots spread out looking for food and moisture and in some instances setting a barrier between them and any adjoining planting may be a sound investment, corrugated sheeting, builders damp proof membrane or cheap pond liner would suffice.

Maintaining a hedge

Topiary at Les Jardins Suspendus de Marqueyssac
Topiary at Les Jardins Suspendus de Marqueyssac

Hedge cutting became much easier once the powered hedge cutter became widely available but still most hedges will need cutting at least once a year; so it is best to plan ahead to make the task as easy as possible. First off make sure you not only leave room for the hedge to grow when you first plant it, but leave plenty of room to get in to cut it. Most plants will only create leaves where there is sun so cutting the hedge so it slopes slightly in toward the top will help get light all the way down to the base, this is less of an issue with plants like Yew which seem un-bothered by shade but most will tend to develop an unsightly sparse bottom! While on the topic of hedge cutting you should consider how high you actually need your hedge, yes a 6 metre high hedge will no doubt afford you great privacy but is also going to create an awful lot of shade, and in the UK you are also in danger of falling fowl of the high hedges act! This aside you have to consider the practicalities of cutting the monster, a 1.8 metre high hedge will still block the line of sight but the top can still be cut from the ground or a small step. Steps always present plenty of opportunity for accidents without powered hedge cutter being thrown into the equation.

Clearing up after the cutting is also a time consuming exercise and specially so if the clipping land in a herbaceous border, so throw a dust sheet over the plants and the sheet can then be gathered up with the clippings contained. Once you’ve cleared up remember you removed a lot of nutrients with all your cutting and so the hedge will benefit with a feed of a slow acting fertiliser in spring.

Hedge Plant Selector

Plant Common Name Formal Hedges Informal Hedges Evergreen Shade Foliage Colour Flower Colour Single Row Spacing Double Row Spacing Comments
Acer campestre Field maple Yes No Green Pale green 450 A native plant that makes a good hedge, though more commonly used mixed with other plants. Very tolerant of soil and aspect it turns a very attractive pale gold in autumn.
Berberis darwinii Darwin’s barberry Yes Yes Yes Partial Green Orange 600 Makes a good impenetrable evergreen hedge 0.9m to 1.2m high. If left unclipped you get yellow spring flowers and blue berries in autumn. If clipped do so after flowering.
Buxus sempervirens Box Yes Yes Yes Green 450 to 600 The classic for dwarf compact hedges for edging and dividing up areas. The more vigorous forms will make 3.6 to 4.5 m high if wanted. The plant seems to attract snails!
Carpinus betulus Hornbeam Yes Partial Green 450 Like beech but more tolerant of heavy soils. A native plant it makes an excellent hedge in exposed locations.
Chamaecyparis lawsoniana Lawson’s cypress Yes Yes Green 450 to 600 Makes a good densse hedge but likes adequate moisture and good drainage. C. ‘Fletcheri’ makes a good dense hedge and being slower growing than the type takes longer to form a hedge but is less demanding of clipping there after.
Corylus avellana Hazel. Hazelnut Yes Partial Green 600 A native plant that is very tolerant of soil and aspect. Makes a good hedge on its own or mixed with other natives.
Crataegus monogyna Hawthorn, May Yes Partial Green White 300 The native Hawthorn is the commonest hedging plant in England forming many miles of hedgerow. It is very tolerant of dry and wet soils of all types in any situation. It makes a tough impenetrable hedge, often mixed with other native species. Very tolerant of being cut hard back.
X Cupressocyparis leylandii Leyland cypress Yes Yes Green 600 900 with 450 between the rows The rapid growth of this plant has lead to its over use and abuse by people looking for fast hedge. If keep regularly trimmed it make a good dense hedge but if left to grow it soon becomes a problem. Like most conifers it will not grow back from old wood and has a reputation for being poorly rooted.
Escallonia cultivars Yes Yes Yes Partial Green White through pink to red 450 As a formal hedge its smallish leaves repond well to clipping to form a neat hedge. As an infromal one it makes very attractive one and which will form hedges in a range of sizes depending which of the many cultivars are grown. Trim after flowering if necessary.
Fagus sylvatica Common Beech Yes Partial Green 450 This ever popular hedging plant is a hardy evergreen, happy in any soil but heavy waterlogged ones. When cut as a hedge it retains it leaves until they are replaced by the new leaves in spring. If grown as a pleached hedge you get the smooth silver trunks.
Fagus sylvatica Atropurpurea Group Copper Beech, Purple Beech Yes Partial Dark purple 450 As the plain green form but with dark purple leaves in summer.
Hedera helix Ivy Yes Yes Yes Green Green 450 Though not an obvious choice Ivy can make a very good hedge; it is easy to grow being happy in any reasonable garden soil, hardy and very tolerant of shade. To start it off some form of cheap fence is need for it to grow up, chestnut palling or cheap trellis will suffice, and once it gets going it can be clipped with shears once or twice a year. The fence will rot with time but by them the plants should be self-supporting. A vast range of cultivars are available to chose from.
Ilex x altaclerensis ‘Golden King’ Yes Yes Yes Yes Variegated green and gold 450 Makes an attrctive verigated hedge like the native holly and has it strengths and weaknesses but is if anything a little slower growing.
Ilex aquifolium Common Holly Yes Yes Yes Yes Green 450 A popular and native which makes a good intruder resistant hedge. It doesn’t transplant very well so it is normally sold in pots and its relative slow growth makes it expensive. It will make a hedge any where from 1.5 to 6.0 m high. It has two draw backs, apart from possibly its slow growth, its very sharp dead leaves it scatters across neighbouring borders and its attractiveness to rabbits which love its green bark.
Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’ Lavender Yes Yes Yes Grey Violet 300 This aromatic herb has long been used to create low hedges and will grow on most soils, though it prefers a free draining one, where it gets plenty of sunlight. It never makes a very dense hedge and resents being cut back into dead wood. Probably at its best when allowed to grow as an informal border edging and just clipped over once the flowers fade to keep it tidy.
Ligustrum ‘Aureum’ Golden Privet Yes Yes Partial Variegated green and gold White 300 400 to 450 with 200 between rows The gold verigated form of privet makes a good bright hedge. Semi-evergreen, only lossing its leaves in the coldest areas, it is tolerant of most soils and aspects. It will come back from being quiet hard pruned and will make a hedge anywhere from 1.2 to 1.8 m high. Buy plants 300 to 600 mm high and cut them back to 225 to 300 mm on planting
Ligustrum ovalifolium Common Privet Yes Yes Yes Variegated green and gold White 300 400 to 450 with 200 between rows Once a byword for suburbia privet has fallen out of fashion these days but is still makes a good hedge. Semi-evergreen, only lossing its leaves in the coldest areas, it is tolerant of most soils and aspects. It will come back from being quiet hard pruned and will make a hedge anywhere from 0.6 to 3.0 m high. Buy plants 300 to 600 mm high and cut them back to 225 to 300 mm on planting
Lonicera “Baggesen’s Gold” Yes Yes Gold 300 A gold form of Lonicers nitida. It can be used with the plain green form to create some interesting effects.
Lonicera nitida Yes Yes Yes Green 300 A very popular fast evergreen plant which can make a very dense hedge 1.2 to 1.35 m high. Its fast growth does means it needs regularly clipping, up to four times a year, but it is very tolerant of being cut hard back. It’s not terribly hardy and can damaged by cold winters so it is best where there is some shelter.
Photinia ‘Red Robin’ Yes Yes Partial Green with red shoots White 450 to 600 This evergreen New Zeland shrubs has started to become popular for hedging and makes a good hedge from 900 upto 1500 mm high. It is adaptable happy in most soils and situations it is best cut back once the red foliage starts to turn bronze, so getting the bright red shoots in spring.
Prunus lusitanica Portuguese laurel Yes Yes Yes Partial Green White 450 to 600 Can make a neat and close evergreen hedge with glossy dark green leaves. Its relatively large leaves mean it is best trimmed with secateurs though shears cut ones can still look very smart if you lack the time and/or patience.
Rosmarinus officinalis Rosemary Yes Yes Yes Grey green Blue 300 to 380 Its open habit make it better as an informal hedge but makes a sented hedge up to about 900mm. Though tolerant of most soils it does best in a warm sandy soil and can bea bit tender. Avoid cutting into old wood and ide3ally plant in spring.
Taxus baccata Yew Yes Yes Yes Green 450 to 600 The classic dense evergreen hedge and probably the best. Oftern over looked on the grounds of its much exaggerated slow growth it is reconed a Yew hedge can out last a brick wall. They tolerate most soils and situations including heavy shade and will make a hedge in 10 years if clipped regularly to encourage dense growth. A native plant is is very toxic to both humans and other animals. Its achilles heels is it will not tolerate waterlogging and so when planting it drainage should be installed in all but the most free draining soils.
Taxus baccata Aurea Group Golden Yew Yes Yes Yes Variegated green and gold 450 to 600 A gold variegated form of the classic hedge material. They tolerate most soils and situations including heavy shade and will make a hedge in 10 years if clipped regularly to encourage dense growth. A native plant is is very toxic to both humans and other animals. Its achilles heels is it will not tolerate waterlogging and so when planting it drainage should be installed in all but the most free draining soils.
Viburnum tinus Yes Yes Yes Yes Green White 600 Makes a good hardy evergreen hedge, V. ‘Eve Price’ is a particularly good dense form. Grows well on both chalk and non-chalk soils and tolerates both shade and maritime exposure.

 

Note: All measurements are in mm

Spacings are for guidance only, wider spacing will use fewer plants but will take longer establish. Normally use 450 mm to 600 mm tall plants, larger plants can be spaced further apart.

All the plants in this list will tolerate lime and grow in any reasonable garden soil.