Hedges are a major part of many of our gardens, but we rarely look at them with any discerning eye until they are either suffering from some malaise or have grown rampant and need immediate work.
Over the years I have always been surprised by the lack of interest in such a common garden structure because they are often what we first see. They either skirt the edges denoting a boundary, create privacy where you feel it is needed or are merely left over from a previous owner who must have had a vision but nobody can work out what it was.
The same goes for the treatment of them. Pruned badly, clipped tightly or left to do their own thing until they are difficult to manage. Little care is ever taken to actually work out what the hedge may need to survive and are sometimes expensive to replace.
In fact, hedges are a vital part of our man-made ‘natural’ flora today as many agricultural hedges have been grubbed out or pruned with a flail leaving them weak and thinned , with little value to wildlife.
In law many are protected, especially during the breeding season when hopefully small chicks and perhaps dormice are nesting. In winter the bases of hedges are also vital for hibernating mammals and insects, out of the way of the worst of the winter weather. That is why it is illegal to trim hedges during the spring and early summer and also now during the later months of the year unless you know it does not have any nesting animals ensconced amongst the branches or in the leaf litter.
If you are wanting to cut your hedge, now is the time to do it. However, first be aware of what type of hedge you have. Some hedges will not take a hard prune, (such as with some coniferous trees) – if you cut back to bare branches on some plants, they will not grow back. If you have a holly hedge, it will grow back slowly. A privet hedge on the other hand will continue to grow at a rapid rate once established. If your hedge is very leggy (i.e it has bare stems or trunk and lots of growth at the top), it will only grow leaves on the ‘legs’ if you cut it down closer to the ground and let it start again! However be advised this only works with certain plants, as some plants don’t like being cut back hard at all. Also, if it flowers, is now the time to prune it if you want flowers again next year?
Now you see the nature of that one simple ‘green thing’ that has always been there may not be as simple as you thought. Best get the plant identification book out and think carefully about how you want to proceed.