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Landscaping 101: How to Plant a Bare Root Hedge

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Landscaping 101: How to Plant a Bare Root Hedge

January 18, 2021

The best time of year to plant a new hedge is when shrubs are dormant—and the most economical way to do it is with bare root plants.

Because bare root shrubs are field grown and can be shipped with no soil or pots, the cost of using them is often significantly lower than using potted or root-balled plants. And, as with bare root trees, hedging plants can be put into the ground at any time during their dormant season (usually from November until April) if the ground isn’t frozen.

Preparing the area for planting a new hedge can be time-consuming (although well worth it), but planting a bare root hedge is a breeze. Here’s a step-by-step look at how I planted a bare root copper beech hedge:

Photography by Clare Coulson except where noted.

How do I choose bare root shrubs for a new hedge?

 Bare Root Beech Plants (Fagus sylvatica) make good hedging plants are available in various sizes for prices from £loading=
Above:  Bare Root Beech Plants (Fagus sylvatica) make good hedging plants are available in various sizes for prices from £1.60 to £14.99 depending on size from Impact Plants.

The size of hedging you order depends a lot on where you will plant it. If you have a smaller area to plant and you want the hedge to have a presence sooner rather than later, then you can buy bare root hedging that has already been growing for several years and may already be 5 or 6 feet tall.

But it’s much cheaper to choose younger plants that are loading=
Above: But it’s much cheaper to choose younger plants that are 1 or 2 feet tall–a new hedge that’s just a couple of feet high might not look imposing at first but will put on growth quickly (beech or hornbeam will grow at least a foot each season).

Calculate how many plants you will need (a nursery will tell you exact planting distances depending on the maturity and variety of hedging) and make sure that your order will arrive after you have prepared the ground.

Bare root hedging can be kept in its packaging in a shady, cool spot for a few days. If you need to keep plants for longer than this you can loosely heel them into a hole or trench to keep them moist until you are ready to properly plant them.

How do I prepare the ground to plant bare root shrubs?

 Very young saplings can be slit planted (slotted into a spade’s depth), but for most hedging it’s worth taking the time to dig a trench. The trench should be a spade’s depth.
Above: Very young saplings can be slit planted (slotted into a spade’s depth), but for most hedging it’s worth taking the time to dig a trench. The trench should be a spade’s depth.

First, clear the area of any vegetation. Grass and weeds will compete with the hedging, so it’s vital to remove anything green and growing from the planting area. Then dig a trench. If your soil is poor you can enrich it before planting with manure.

By loosening the soil, you will also make it easier for your hedge to start spreading its roots.

How do I prepare bare root shrubs for planting?

Keep roots moist until you are ready to put bare root plants into the ground. Perennials and shrubs are available at Al&#8
Above: Keep roots moist until you are ready to put bare root plants into the ground. Perennials and shrubs are available at Al’s Garden Center.

If you’re planting soon after your plants have arrived keep them in their plastic wrapping until you are ready to plant. Then take a bundle and soak the roots in a bucket of water for an hour before planting.

How do I plant bare root shrubs?

 Use a line running the whole length of the trench to ensure you maintain a straight line. (And use a bamboo pole to ensure you are planting at the correct depth.) You also can plant in a staggered double row, in which the plants will be zig-zagged, which will create a fuller effect faster.
Above: Use a line running the whole length of the trench to ensure you maintain a straight line. (And use a bamboo pole to ensure you are planting at the correct depth.) You also can plant in a staggered double row, in which the plants will be zig-zagged, which will create a fuller effect faster.

Make sure that each sapling is planted to the same depth as it was in the nursery (you typically can see a line on the main stem) and try to make sure that the roots are spread out as much as possible. At this stage, you can add mycorrhizal fungi to the roots to promote growth if you want to.

 Place each plant at the correct planting distance, then backfill the trench making sure that there are no air pockets. It’s much easier to do this with two people—one person to space and hold the plants in the correct position and a second person to backfill with soil.
Above: Place each plant at the correct planting distance, then backfill the trench making sure that there are no air pockets. It’s much easier to do this with two people—one person to space and hold the plants in the correct position and a second person to backfill with soil.

How do I care for my bare root shrubs after I finish planting a new hedge?

 After you’ve finished the row go back and make sure each plant is straight (especially important if you’ve planted at speed), and then firm in the area around each plant with your heel.
Above: After you’ve finished the row go back and make sure each plant is straight (especially important if you’ve planted at speed), and then firm in the area around each plant with your heel.

Water the plants in and then mulch a foot on either side of the plants to keep the area weed free. Be sure to keep the hedging weed-free and watered in the first summer after planting.

Are your winter garden chores underway? Here’s more inspiration:

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