Beginner’s Guide To Hedging Plants

company logo

How do beginners create their own hedge in their urban garden?

It’s a fact – the size of the average UK garden is shrinking with around a quarter of people already reporting a garden of ‘terrace’ or ‘patio’ size as long ago as 2006. Space is therefore at a premium but that doesn’t mean you need to compromise on natural features such as lawns, trees and hedges.

This guide is a one-stop-shop on how to make the most of a small garden by choosing the best hedging plants for your situation. Whether you’re a complete beginner, or a green-fingered gardener, this practical guide has all the information you need from what plants are best for hedges, to hedge planting tips.

Our guide will cover the following topics:

  • How important are hedges – particularly for city dwellers?
  • Hedge planting tips for making the most of a small garden
  • What are the best hedging plants for beginners?
  • What plants are best for hedges in small spaces?
  • What are the best hedges for wildlife and biodiversity?

If you live in a flat or apartment and don’t have access to a garden, you can still get your green-fingered groove on in various ways! Read our recent blog where we give you the lowdown on urban gardening.

How important are hedges –  particularly for city dwellers?

If you live in the city, one of the biggest urban garden tips we can offer is to add a hedge because they can play a valuable role in increasing privacy, visuality and comfort. They are aesthetically pleasing, living structures that last far longer than any fence and the best hedging plants provide a home to so many kinds of wildlife.

Not to mention the gentle filtering wind protection, noise suppression or the reduction in particulate matter brought about by an established Beech hedge (up to 56% according to a study by students at Lancaster University in 2017 using Hopes Grove Nurseries’ very own instant Beech and Yew hedges). You can find out all about instant hedging, from what plants are good to use, to instant hedge planting tips, in our guide.

There are a number of reasons why hedges are important, particularly for city dwellers – including:

  • The structure and foliage of hedging plants, shrubs and trees have been demonstrated to help absorb and filter particulates from transport emissions.
  • Thick, well-developed hedges contribute to a significant reduction in road noise, particularly if they are evergreen. Find out more about why evergreen plants are often seen as the best hedging plants.
  • They also take in CO2 and give off oxygen which is, of course, great for us.
  • As hedges grow and develop, a sequestration of carbon occurs taking it from the atmosphere. Sequestration of carbon doesn’t all need to happen via government-funded tree planting, we can all do a little bit too if we have a plot. By planting hedges, you’ll be making the most of a small garden while also protecting the planet.
  • Other benefits of hedges in urban environments is that the areas are visually ‘softened’ and the plants themselves bring about an immediate reduction in temperature by virtue of the shade they provide. As global temperatures rise and increasing numbers of people choose city living, hedging as well as trees and plants will become even more integral when thinking about urban garden ideas.

Hedge planting tips for making the most of a small garden

At Hopes Grove Nurseries, we don’t believe that having a small or urban garden should stop you from unleashing your inner Alan Titchmarsh which is why we have several tips for gardening in small spaces:

Don’t buy plants that are too big – the best hedging plants for an urban garden are often smaller plants as they are easier to look after, cheaper to buy and need less water.

If you are trying to work out what plants are best for hedges in your garden, choose ones that are in proportion to the size of your garden. For example, don’t plant a row of Leylandii down the boundaries of your garden as it’s going to be the bane of your life when it gets big and casts lots of shade over your garden. They also need a lot of maintenance, so if you are reading our hedging for beginners guide and it’s your first time gardening, consider how much time you might have for the upkeep of your beautiful hedges.

One of the most important hedge planting tips is to do some research. Have a think about what you want your hedge to do – are you looking for the best hedges for wildlife? Has it got to be evergreen to prevent neighbours peering into your garden? Do you want to reduce noise and pollution? If you aren’t sure where to start, have a look at our guide on choosing the right hedge.

Finally, have patience and accept it may take a little longer to get to the finished product. Hedges should be pretty low maintenance unless you’re aiming to have a garden with absolutely perfect box hedges to look like a show garden which will be harder to maintain.

What plants are best for hedges in different situations and what is the best time of year to implement your garden hedge ideas?

The time of year you should turn your hedge planting ideas into a reality depends on whether you are planting hedging that’s already in pots or bare root ones. If you are planting bare root hedging then the season to do that is November as the soil is still warm and the roots start growing straight away, and then when they leaf up in April they are already established. Unsure on the difference between instant and bare root hedging? Read our guide to bare root hedging for beginners to find out all about the differences and to help you decide which is the right type for your urban garden ideas.

What are the best hedging plants for beginners?

Did you know…you don’t need to be an expert gardener to be making the most of a small garden. First time gardeners should be able to plant and care for any of the below species with confidence as they all have low gardening skill requirements and will give good results. Plant them in any type of garden soil in full sun or partial shade, keep them watered if it’s dry and they will establish without fuss and without susceptibility to any significant pests and diseases.

A number of the following species are available from us as traditional bare root plants during the winter season, again they have been chosen for ease of establishment whether they are planted at the beginning of November or the middle of April:

Privet, all varieties. (Ligustrum ovalifolium, L. ovalifolium aureum, L. vulgare) – Available in a huge range of sizes, easy to grow from bare root, potted or root ball stock. Easily maintained and can be trimmed at any time of year.

Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) – A lovely (and similar) alternative to Beech (Fagus) that also retains many leaves in winter when grown as a hedge. Unlike Beech, Hornbeam grows well in poorly drained soil, doesn’t suffer from late frosts and is unaffected by Woolly Beech Aphid (Phyllaphis fagi) which can kill young beech trees in their first season after planting.

Hawthorn (Quickthorn) (Crataegus monogyna) –  A staple of country hedgerows and very easy to grow, a little mildew is the worst hiccup you are likely to see on a new hedge and that’s no big deal. You can use Hawthorn for a rustic look on its own, but one of our top urban garden tips is to mix it up with other native hedging species. Find out more about the native hedge mixes we offer.

Portuguese Laurel (Prunus lusitanica ‘Angustifolia’) – The only evergreen hedging Laurel that truly grows in all soils (including chalk). We love these Laurels because they cover quickly, look great all year and their smaller leaves make for a nicer finish with a hedge trimmer. If you are reading this hedging for beginners guide as someone who hasn’t had much experience with gardening, you’ll be sure to love our Portuguese Laurel hedges.

Leylandii, Green and Gold varieties (x Cupressocyparis Leylandii)  – The Leyland cypress is as popular as ever, if you need easy and fast growing evergreen screening for privacy, wind protection or noise suppression these plants are hard to beat. Want to know our top 2 hedge planting tips for Leylandii? Stake them well when you plant and trim them…at least once a year.

Flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum King Edward VII) – A great alternative and easy to grow spring flowering hedge that is often overlooked. Ribes will never get out of hand, is easy to trim with a simple tidy up after flowering and the easy to care for bare root plants never disappoint! You also get a show of flowers the first spring after planting so you will truly be making the most of a small garden with Flowering Currant hedges.

Lonicera (L. nitida, L.pileata ‘Maigrun’) – These bushy little evergreens are just about indestructible, both bare rooted and potted plants give excellent results. Lonicera pileata ‘Maigrun’ is often used as a ground cover plant but also makes an excellent low hedge under a metre. Lonicera nitida can also be used for taller hedges up to 150cm or more.

Evergreen euonymus (Euonymus japonicus) – The most robust form of evergreen Euonymus, few hedging plants are so versatile and easily pleased. Plant them for a neat evergreen hedge up to 2 metres tall in any soil (including chalk), by the coast or inland and they will thrive, even in a drought.

Forsythia (Forsythia spectabilis) – Another bulletproof spring flowering hedge that establishes willingly from bare root plants that cost little more than coppers. F. spectabilis is a more upright species and if you’re wondering what plants are best for hedging, you should consider this low maintenance plant which needs little more than a trim after flowering to keep it in order.

Thuja (Thuja plicata ‘Atrovirens, Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’) – Another conifer hedge that will help turn your garden hedge ideas into reality, plant ‘Atrovirens’ for a slower growing alternative to Leylandii. If this is still too vigorous then plant ‘Smaragd’ for a hedge that is very easy to maintain. These hedging conifers grow in all garden soils and one of our top hedging tips for Thuja plants is if they get out of hand, you can regenerate them by cutting them back hard.

Field maple (Acer campestre) – A great choice for native hedging if you don’t want thorns. Easy to grow from our bare root plants, which are one of the cheapest species we sell! Combine with other thorn free native species to make an attractive mixed rustic hedge suitable for gardens with children. Find out more about the thornless hedge mixes we offer at Hopes Grove Nurseries.

Berberis – We stock a variety of Berberis types including the evergreens (B. darwinii, B x stenophylla) and the deciduous types that often have decorative foliage (B. thunbergii, B. ottawensis ‘Superba’). If you’re wondering what plants are good for hedges, look no further than our Berberis plants. They all make great hedging plants for any situation whether in sun or shade, coastal or urban, and any type of garden soil.

Hedging for beginners doesn’t need to be a daunting experience, in fact you should be able to enjoy watching your garden transform. Along with this guide, we also have an easy to follow manual on how to plant a hedge that you can find online or included as a hard copy with our plants when we deliver to you. Find out more about why you should buy from us.

What plants are best for hedges in small spaces?

At Hopes Grove Nurseries, we nurture over 150 different varieties of plant hedging. While all of them are worthy hedges that will grow to give eye level privacy if needed, you might be wondering what plants are best for hedges in urban gardens:

Laurel Caucasia – (Prunus laurocerasus ‘Caucasica’)  – A dark green Cherry Laurel having longer and narrower leaves and more upright growth, easier to keep narrow than the usual type where space is limited but a hedge giving eye level privacy is needed.

Hicksii Yew – (Taxus x media ‘Hicksii’) – Another more upright version of a favourite hedge species, Hicksii Yews grow reasonably quickly (for a Yew!) when young and the upright habit makes it easier to keep narrow.

Smaragd Thuja – (Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’) – We love these plucky conifers, always keen to please and easy to grow, they deserve to be far more popular. They make a great alternative conifer hedge, upright habit and moderate growth, great for making the most of a small garden.

Cotoneaster Lacteus – Of all the ‘Hedging Cotoneasters’ we choose this one as it’s more reliably evergreen when the weather turns cold in your small but perfectly formed garden, moderate growth rate and a cheery show of flowers and berries which makes it one of the best hedging plants for implementing your urban garden ideas with.

Green and Purple Beech – (Fagus sylvatica/atropunicea) – No introduction needed here, Beech hedges look great all year thanks to their leaf retention, keep them as small as 60cm tall and 30cm wide. A staple of gardens large and small everywhere.

Griselinia Littoralis – A true rising star of the hedging plants, every year we see more and more of the apple green leaved beauties leaving the nursery. Upright stems are held on a hedge that looks immaculate in all seasons and will take up little space, perfect when thinking about how to make the most of a small garden.

Etna Laurel – (Prunus laurocerasus ‘Etna’) – A Cherry Laurel with attractively red young growths in spring that turns a lovely deep green when mature. Significantly slower growing than the type and well suited to smaller gardens.

Euonymus japonicus – The larger leaved ‘Spindles’ are very versatile indeed, another low maintenance evergreen option that always looks good and fits the bill for both small ornamental hedges and taller ones where privacy is needed. We grow the plain dark green species together with ‘Marieke’ and ‘Bravo’ for a splash of colour.

Hornbeam – (Carpinus betulus) – Another one of our favourites, who can be fail to bemcheered by the fresh new emerging foliage each Spring! Like the Beech some leaves are retained in Winter, but this one is more likely to thrive if the builders have left the topsoil of your town plot in a state – easy to grow and tough.

Privet – (Ligustrum ovalifolium) – Another reliable old favourite that adorns many suburban gardens, and for good reasons. Tough, easy to grow, moderate growth and so easy to look after and keep in check. They are one of the best hedging plants for urban gardens as the milder climate in town means it’s more likely to keep its leaves all Winter.

Pittosporum tenuifolium – We have the species and several cultivars like ‘Abbotsbury Gold’ and ‘Elizabeth’. These are all perfect for town gardens where they appreciate the sheltered conditions, with just a little trimming they make the most immaculate and well-mannered evergreen hedges!

If you want to learn more about what plants are best for hedges or have any questions about a specific plant, you can call us on 01580765600 and talk to our friendly team who will be more than happy to give you hedge planting tips and share their gardening expertise with you! If you have questions about maintenance, you can also read our blog which gives you hedging tips such as, how much water does a new hedge need?

What are the best hedges for wildlife and biodiversity?

Hedges of just about any species will make a haven for wildlife whether it’s a home for nesting birds, flowers for pollinating insects or fruits nuts and berries – any established hedgerow will be home to a fascinating variety of life.

Any native hedging species will be a great choice to create a wildlife haven, especially if there is the rich variety of a mixed native hedge. We can supply all the individual species for you to create your own mix of plants or we can select the species if you order from one of our hedgerow mixes.

Many other non-native garden hedging plants can also have great wildlife value, evergreens such as Cherry Laurel, Pyracantha and Escallonia are great if hedge trimming does not remove the flowers, other flowering hedges can be a real magnet for pollinating insects, particularly if you can choose some early flowering species to provide pollen and nectar when it can be in short supply.

Here are some of the best hedges for wildlife that you should consider for making the most of a small garden:

Escallonia – When these plants are in flower, they are great for moths, butterflies and also bees. Read our blog on bee friendly plants to learn more about the best hedging plants for attracting and protecting bees.

Privet (Ligustrum) – The nectar rich flowers of Privet can attract more than a dozen butterfly species. Also, later in the season the fruits are popular with a wide variety of birds, making Privet one of the best hedges for wildlife.

Berberis (Berberis darwinii and B.thunbergii varieties) – These are first class bee plants and a nectar source for moths and butterflies, while also providing shelter for many caterpillars. The Barberries are popular with thrushes, waxwings and blackbirds.

Gorse (Ulex europaeus) – This spikey native can be in flower almost all year making it particularly valuable to Bees coming out of hibernation when little else is available. It is also the primary food source for the Green Hairstreak and Silver Studded Blue butterflies. This is an important nesting plant too for Warblers, Stonechats, Linnets and Yellowhammers.

Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea, C. alba varieties) – These shrubby dogwoods are at their most valuable to wildlife when they are allowed to flower. The flat heads of white flowers are nectar rich bringing in Bees and Butterflies, later on the berries and seeds will be a magnet for birds.

Hawthorn/Quickthorn (Crataegus monogyna) – The foundation of many rural hedges, Hawthorn is a great nectar plant for Bees and Butterflies, a caterpillar food plant and is very popular with a wealth of birds and small mammals.

Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) – The Blackthorn or Sloe is one of our earliest flowering native shrubs providing important early season nectar and pollen especially for bees and the Black Hairstreak butterflies that also lay their eggs in blackthorn thickets, a popular nesting spot for many birds too which makes it one of the best hedges for wildlife.

Spindle (Euonymus europaeus) – This native shrub stands out in native hedgerows when the bright pink fruits start to colour, a good nectar and pollen source, the leaves are popular with caterpillars. Established spindle trees are very popular with a variety of birds.

Birch (Betula) – The foliage of the Silver birch (Betula pendula) is a food source for very many butterfly caterpillar species, the Downy birch (Betula pubescens) is also important albeit it to a lesser degree.

Species Roses (Rosa canina, R. pimpinellifolia, R. rubiginosa, R. rugosa) – Species roses are great for bringing wildlife into your plot, their nectar and pollen rich flowers are far better for pollinating insects than more modern double flowered varieties and the hips will be popular with birds.

Cherry Laurels (Prunus laurocerasus varieties) – If you can allow the plants to flower they will be very attractive to bees, the cherry fruits will make a welcome meal for hungry birds later in the year.

See All Blogs