Sunday, 4 June 2017

Hedging our bets ...

Our mixed native hedge on the western boundary, planted in early 2013, is maturing very nicely and is now a high, dense barrier.   

There's only one problem - it's deciduous so we only have a full privacy screen from May to the end of October.

So we decided to supplement it with a parallel evergreen screen, by trimming the existing hedge back to half its thickness and then planting another hedge in front of it, i.e. on the eastern side.   The plan is that eventually the existing hedge will be totally hidden by the new evergreen hedge. 

Of course, the best time to have planted an evergreen hedge would have been four years ago, but we didn't and so the next best time is right now ...

We're a little unsure of how well a new hedge will grow in this position, but reckon that early summer is the best time to try - there's still a good five months of growing season ahead this year - and in any event if it fails to take then we've still got the deciduous hedge so we'll be no worse off than we are now.

We chose Cotoneaster Lacteus for this second hedge, which seems to tick all the boxes :- 

  • evergreen
  • fully UK hardy
  • quite fast growing
  • tolerates a windy site (essential where we are !)
  • tolerates partial shade
  • grows in any soil type   
  • rabbits don't seem to like nibbling on the young saplings
  • produces showy white flowers in the summer
  • produces red berries in the autumn and winter

We ordered 150 cell-grown plants and set about preparing the site so we'd be ready to plant them out immediately after delivery.

Firstly, we trimmed the entire length of the existing hedge, by pruning away all growth that projected inwards.   We didn't touch any of the growth that goes out sideways, i.e. in the plane of the hedge trunks, nor that which projects outwards into the adjacent field.  This pruning operation thinned out the hedge considerably, but we still have a decent screen which we expect to improve further since we're still around a month away from 'peak leaf'.

To give the new hedge enough room to grow, we moved the adjacent path inwards by a full paving slab pitch, i.e. created another 450 mm of border, which allows us to set the line of the new hedge back around 750 mm from the existing, and within a fresh independent trench.

paving relocated and hedge trimmed back ...
and the same to the north side ...

It was then a case of digging over a full-width trench, just short of 30 metres long, to loosen the soil for planting.  I'd thought that digging the new trench would mean chopping off a lot of the root growth from the existing hedge, but the main roots must be very deep because there were only a few feeding roots just under the surface, which we trimmed back with secateurs as they were exposed during the process.

However, the trenching itself was a balls-aching job, especially over one eight-metre stretch which we'd also had problems with last time, where someone had dumped a lot of building rubble before covering it with the topsoil.   This particular section was heavy work, and took much longer to prepare than the rest, since it meant digging deeper and then getting on our hands and knees to take out all the stones and bricks. 

We removed over two full wheelbarrow loads of bricks and stones, so we bought ten 25 litre bags of new topsoil to replace the lost volume.  We first raked and levelled the old loosened soil, spread a couple of kilos of bonemeal on top and worked it in with a hoe before trampling the surface to firm it up, then topped the trench off with the fresh topsoil where it was needed to restore the level.

We also bought 750 grammes of micorryzhal fungi, to apply to the roots of the saplings to improve water and nutrient take-up.

The plants arrived and were unpacked and inspected.  They have been cell grown, so the roots are deep but quite narrow, having being constrained in root trainers.    The top growth is around 300-400 mm tall, and most of plants are twin-stemmed with a few triples and singles.

We marked out a piece of timber at 200 mm intervals as a guide, and then planted out at 5 per metre.  Using our bulb planter made a nice deep round hole.  Before each plant was placed, we poured a a teaspoon of micorryzhal fungi into the planting hole so the base of the root ball was in direct contact.

new plants all in ...
not much to see yet !

It took around three hours to set them in the ground and water them in.  We didn't use all 150 plants, because we stopped short at the shed and greenhouse which hadn't been built at the time the original hedge was planted, so we've put the remainder of the saplings in a large compost-filled planter for now.  

I'll pot around ten of them up individually into 8" pots and grow them on as spares for the hedge, and maybe even put one or two in larger pots - they'll make nice specimen trees when left untrimmed.

We still need to turn down and extend the weed membrane all along the length, but after that there'll be nothing more to do this year other than keep the young plants well watered.  They won't any need trimming or pruning until at least next summer, so let's see how well they grow by the end of this season.

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