Hedges are vitally important. They are an important habitat and provide food, shelter and breeding sites for a wide range of wildlife including nationally scarce species such as the Dormouse and the brown hairstreak butterfly. They also provide corridors which link different habitats, along which wildlife can travel. However, hedges need looking after: hedge-laying is the traditional method of stopping hedges from becoming a row of trees and providing a stock-proof barrier around fields. Hdege-laying involves cutting through the base of the stem, until only the cambium layer remains attached. At this point the stem is ‘laid’ (lent over). The effect of this is that the plant stays alive, but according to the rules of gravity, starts putting shoots out from the now nearly horizontal main stem.
So, when is the best time to undertake hedge-laying? When you need to, is the answer, but there are a couple of provisos. If a hedge has been layed, it will probably need re-doing in about 5-7 years depending on the weather, and the species. If you’re under a grant scheme, hedge laying can only be carried out between the 1st of September and the end of February. If you don’t claim these payments you can undertake hedge work 365 days a year so long as you don’t disturb nesting birds which is against the law.
In the interest of biodiversity, only cut back any bramble, or other climbing growth where this impedes laying operations. Hedges should be left for 2/3 yrs so fr its are produced as they are seasonal and don’t necessarily fruit every year. Tools normally used for laying hedges are the chainsaw, a billhook, axe, hatchet, and saw.
Sometimes, hedges are too big or too gappy to consider laying, so you’ll need to look at some other options. Coppicing is an ancient system of tree management that makes use of the ability of many broad-leaved trees and shrubs to produce new shoots from a cut stem or trunk. Coppicing is often done when the stems are too big to lay. This involves cutting the stem off cleanly, 6/8 inches off floor. This will produce a large amount of new growth, and at the same time, the hedge can be replanted to improve its growtth. Certain species such as blackthorn can produce suckers that will naturally fill these areas. In such circumstances, it may be worth waiting for the results of any re-growth before planting up gaps between coppice stools. Where gaps require re-planting they should be thoroughly cleared of vegetation. This will allow the new plants sufficient light to establish. Holly is a suitable species for gapping up below hedgerow trees where light levels may be low. Gapping up and new planting can be carried out in the winter months from November to March.
Where a new hedge is to be planted it is advisable to cultivate the soil the previous summer and in poorer soils, some well-rotted manure may be incorporated. Local common trees and shrubs should be used in a mix of at least five hedging species, with no one component of mix comprising more than 75% of the local native species that reflect the character of your area. New hedge plants can be grown from seed or cuttings (these are specialist techniques) or purchased as transplants from a nursery. Plants should be 45-60 cms high with a well-developed root system and a strong leader shoot. Planting stock derived from locally collected seed or cuttings is preferable as this is likely to survive better and support more species of native wildlife. During planting, it is essential that all roots are kept damp. Gaps and new hedgerows should be planted at a density of 5-8 plants per metre in a staggered double row with 45cm between each row. To encourage new growth the transplants should be trimmed back. Subsequent management should ensure that the plants are kept clear of weeds and watered liberally in dry spells until established. Any dead plants must be replaced. Mulching retains soil moisture, reduces weed growth and reduces competition for water and nutrients. Grant funding is unfortunately short term and doesn’t continue for the life of things done, so can be more detrimental than helpful.
The Tywi Centre provides education/training courses and these will run up to March 2014.
By Liz Phillips.