Grit Blogs > Going Native

The New Hedgerows

A profile pic of MaryHedgerows have traditionally been a line of trees and shrubs that define property boundaries, control livestock, and protect crops and livestock from wind.  Today, hedgerows of native plants provide shelter and food for beneficial insects; reduce road noise; provide privacy screens; conserve water; and reduce erosion. 

By using native plants in a hedgerow, you are adding plants to your property that are able to survive heat, drought, and wind—the characteristics of a successful hedgerow.  Native plants have very deep roots that allow them to access water deep in the soil; hold the soil in place, thus reducing erosion from water and wind; and stay upright after heavy snow or rainstorms.  Native plants also attract beneficial insects, like ladybugs, bees, and green lacewings.  By growing a variety of native plants that bloom throughout the year, you are providing food for bees all season—before and after your crops have flowered.

Native plant hedgerows take about three years to get established, and thirty years to reach maturity, so you will need to do some weeding, watering, and replanting (as some young plants will get eaten by local wildlife) for the first few years.  Mulching the area with straw for the first few years cuts down on weeds and holds in moisture.  Once the hedgerow is established, there is not need to water or mulch. 

Plant at least four rows of plants in a hedgerow to provide the best windbreak and wildlife habitat and effectively conserve water and soil.  Plant the tallest plants in the center of the row and include a wide a variety of plants that can thrive in soil, water, and sunlight conditions of your area.  And remember that a hedgerow is longer than it is wide, so plan accordingly.

If you have large fields and want a windbreak, include tall trees, like oaks, in your hedgerow.  For home gardens, stick with shrubs and native perennial plants to save on space and reduce the amount of shade hitting your garden.  Plant hedgerows perpendicular to prevailing winds, which usually means planting the rows in a north-south direction.

To be successful, plants small areas at a time and densely plant the area.  This means planting an area that you can easily manage so you do not get frustrated by a weedy mess.

To create the a large hedgerow planting area, till the area in the spring, plant an early cover crop, like clover.  In late summer, till in the cover crop and add an over wintering cover crop, such as vetch.  In the following spring, till in the cover crop and plant your hedgerow plants.  For smaller areas, in the autumn, mow the area and cover with a weed barrier, such as newspaper, cardboard, or leaf bags then cover with mulch, such as straw.  In the spring, plant the hedgerow plants through the mulch and weed barrier.