Beech Hedges – Compare the different types and choose the right variety
Beech hedges are very popular and a best seller at Hopes Grove Nurseries. There are many good reasons for choosing Beech for your hedge, its main features that give rise to such enduring popularity are that (although it is deciduous) it keeps its leaves during Winter, it is easy to grow and maintain and it is suitable for hedges of a wide variety of sizes and purposes.
There are two types of Beech hedges, Green Beech and Purple Beech
Green Beech hedges (Fagus sylvatica) is also known as Common Beech and is the most popular type of Beech hedge. On this plant the leaves emerge in late spring, they are delicate and gossamer soft at first, mid green in colour with attractive wavy edges. As the new growth ripens during late spring and early summer the green colour becomes deeper and darker and the soft leaves become harder and more robust, staying this colour until mid-Autumn. As the Autumn progresses the leaf colour then changes gradually from green through to a variety of buttery yellow tones before turning to rich coppery brown as the hedge becomes dormant in Winter. By this time the leaves are dry and crisp, and they stay on the hedge all winter (strong winds may dislodge a few) to provide the privacy of an evergreen hedge.
All established hedges make a great home for many forms of wildlife and Beech is no exception, this is a popular hedge for nesting birds as well as insects, small mammals and other species. Beech hedges are particularly valuable due to their protective cover of old leaves during the winter.
Purple Beech hedges (Fagus sylvatica ‘Purpurea’) is also known as Copper Beech or Red Beech, the delicate new leaves emerge greenish-purple at first (the colour can be a little disappointing to begin with!) before quickly turning to a rich deep purple colour. This colourful hedging plant will then keep its colour all summer, right through until mid-Autumn when the purple colour begins to fade back to greenish hues before changing again to buttery yellow tones and then finally to coppery brown in Winter when the hedge is dormant. (In the Winter both types of Beech hedge are the same colour)
You can learn more about each of these types of Beech hedges by clicking on the images below or scroll further down the page to read more about Beech hedges.
If you have any further questions or would like a bespoke quote for a large quantity of Beech hedging plants, please call our experienced sales team on 01580 765600.
Further Information about Beech Hedging
What type of site and soil is suitable for Beech Hedges?
Beech hedges are suitable for all soil types from sand, chalk, peaty, stony or even clay – if it does not become waterlogged during very wet weather. On heavy clay soils it may be necessary to improve the drainage if your mind is set on a Beech hedge, this can be achieved by digging in some sharp sand, installing perforated land drain pipe or by preparing a small mound of good soil along the line of the hedge, almost like a raised bed but for a hedge. If all that sounds like to much work you may like to consider a different species from our Plants For Wet Sites page, the most similar hedging plant is Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) which has similar foliage to Green Beech and also retains some of its brown leaves in the winter, but is better suited to wet soil.
Fagus sylvatica hedge plants will grow in full sun or partial shade although is the site is rather shady the new hedge may be slower to develop and will need extra care with watering while young if it is competing with large and established trees and shrubs nearby.
The new young growths of Beech can be susceptible to late frosts, if your hedge is to be planted in a low lying ‘frost pocket’ you may prefer to plant Hornbeam as this hedging species will not be damaged in these conditions. Hornbeam is also a better choice in shady areas.
How do I plant a new Beech Hedge?
If you are not sure how to plant a new hedge, or how to get the site ready for planting, we have produced a handy guide which you can find on our How To Plant A Hedge page. So you have it to hand we will also send a printed copy in with your plants when they are delivered.
How many Beech hedging plants do i need?
There is no exact answer here, just the general principle that if you plant more closely the hedge will develop more quickly and the hedge will be fuller and bushier in nature. If you plant further apart you will need to be more patient waiting longer and the hedge may be a little emptier at the base because of the larger gaps between the plants, but it will be cheaper and there will be less work planting as there are fewer plants!
As a general guide for smaller plants up to 100/120cm in size, 3 plants per metre in a single row is adequate if you are patient, 5 plants per metre set in a double row will knit together as a hedge more quickly or for the fastest results you can plant 7 per metre in a double row – like the diagram below.
Beech hedges grown from larger sizes of Beech hedging plants in pots and root balled stock 2-3 plants per metre in a single row will give good results although you could plant a double row for faster results at 4 per metre (2 in each row 50cm apart) or they will just fit in at 5 per metre as in the diagram but it’s a bit of a squeeze!
All instant Beech hedges are supplied in 1 metre sections of hedge so is easy to calculate!
If you still aren’t certain about how many plants are needed then please do give our expert sales team a call on 01580 765600, they will be pleased to help you work out how many plants are needed.
When is the best time to plant a Beech hedge?
We are often asked this question, from a horticultural point of view the very best time to plant almost all hedges and trees (especially bare roots and rootballs) is in late Autumn or early Winter. At this time of year, the plants are becoming dormant for the Winter and so transplant well, and the soil temperature is still comparatively warm meaning that the plants will begin to make new roots long before the new leaves and dry Spring weather arrive giving the new hedge a head start.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t plant Beech hedges at any other time of year, especially if you are using potted plants – here is a quick guide to the seasons for different types of Beech hedging plants:
Bare root plants – are delivered to you straight from the growing fields with all the soil shaken off and ready for planting, they should be planted within a few days of delivery. Bare root plants are available from November until April which is the correct time for planting.
Root Ball plants – are older bushier plants grown in the soil for longer and sent to you with the soil and immediate root system wrapped in hessian mesh (which should be left on when planting). The season for these plants is slightly longer from mid-October until late April.
Pot grown plants – are grown and delivered in their pots, because there is no root disturbance you can plant them anytime, 12 months a year. They may look a little more expensive, but these plants will often catch up larger bare root plants within a season or two.
Instant hedging plants – are also available all year so like the potted plants there is no seasonality and they may be planted at anytime for an instant Beech hedge.
When should I trim a Beech hedge?
The best time for trimming Beech hedges is in late summer, ideally in August. By trimming at this time of year the hedge will respond by retaining its leaves through the Winter giving the effective year-round screen that is often sought from this species.
For a really sharp ‘show garden’ hedge you can trim more frequently and you will be rewarded with a very fine looking dense hedge but it important to check for nesting birds before trimming between the end of March and the end of July.
When trimming a Beech (or any other hedge) we would always recommend tapering the sides a little so that the base of the hedge is slightly wider than the top. This way daylight will always reach the lower parts of the hedge keeping the growth dense and bushy all the way up and avoiding unsightly gaps at the base.
How do you renovate overgrown Beech hedges?
If you have an old and overgrown Beech hedge that has become tall, wide and unsightly, (maybe you have ‘inherited’ it after moving to a new house) it is possible to rejuvenate it, with a little work it may be restored within two or three seasons. Old and overgrown Beech hedges can be reduced in height and width by 50% or even more if it is particularly tall and wide.
The best time to undertake this job is in the early Spring (February or March). We would recommend this is carried out in two stages. (This should not be undertaken in very cold and harsh weather, if it is very frosty then its better to wait for warmer weather). Start by reducing the height (marking it accurately with a taught string line that you can follow as work proceeds) Larger branches will need a sharp pruning saw to deal with them, keeping the cuts ‘clean’ (leaving no ragged ends to the cuts as this can allow disease to enter). If removing very large branches its best to paint the cuts with a wound treatment.
Once the height has been reduced to the chosen level you can then tackle one of the sides, again use a string line to mark the new line of the hedge (which can be tricky with a lot of side growth, it may be necessary to go over the side of the hedge a second time to make minor adjustments and tidy/straighten up).
The second side of the hedge is then best left until the following Spring to allow the hedge to photosynthesise via the untrimmed side and recover during the growing season. To speed up re growth from what can look like quite unpromising older wood it’s a good idea to give the hedge a feed with a balanced fertiliser like Growmore, try to loosen the top couple of inches of soil with a garden fork after application. Water well afterwards and to finish the job apply a good thick mulch of bark chippings or well-rotted compost 40-60cm wide and about 10cm deep. Further watering can be applied during the Summer if it is particularly dry to encourage as much new growth as possible.
The other side of the hedge may then be cut back the following spring with the same treatment of feeding and mulching being given although if only a small amount of new growth has been made the previous Summer you may prefer to delay this work for another year to give the hedge more time to recover.
Problems with Beech Hedges.
Established Fagus sylvatica hedges don’t generally suffer from problems, but they can occasionally arise, we have dealt with the most common disorders here.
The new tender Spring growths of Beech hedges can be severely damaged by late Spring frosts that occur after the leaves have emerged. As Beech is quite late to come into leaf this may not be a common occurrence and a frost of this nature is likely to damage other susceptible trees and shrubs as well.
The affected growth will turn brown and shrivel very quickly after, secondary growth will then be produced a few weeks later and the hedge should recover without any lasting damage done.
Beech Woolly Aphid (Phyllaphis fagi)
This is an aphid pest specific to Beech hedges and trees, it is easy to spot as patches of white fluff on the undersides of the leaves that looks a little like cotton wool. Under this waxy covering are small pale-yellow sap feeding aphids that exude sticky, sugary honeydew that can result in a secondary infection of sooty mould growing on the sap.
Woolly aphids are usually active from leaf emergence (late April/early May) until mid summer. The eggs then lay dormant until the following Spring.
Woolly Beech aphid is not a problem on well established Beech hedges, it causes no real distress to the hedge. Furthermore, it can be very difficult to treat as the only way of controlling is with chemicals and getting full coverage is virtually impossible on a dense fully grown hedge.
On young and newly planted hedges this can however be a real problem, especially with bare root hedging plants trying to get established, it can indeed kill new plants if they are struggling. A close eye should be kept for the first couple of seasons and treated if discovered with a recommended insecticide.
Honey Fungus (usually caused by Armillaria mellea)
Honey fungus is the common name for a notorious group of Armillaria fungi that attack the roots of established trees and shrubs by spreading through the soil and is one of the most destructive fungi in the UK. With Honey Fungus the normal symbiosis between plant and fungus (that occurs to the benefit of both organisms throughout nature) is out of balance, the fungus takes far more from the affected plant and gives little or nothing back causing affected plants to progressively weaken and become pale, making little or no new growth. The affected trees or shrubs often die in during dry hot spells or other spells of weather causing stress.
The fungus spreads through the soil by means of characteristic black ‘Bootlaces’ or rhizomorphs that can be hard to find in the soil, during the latter, more advanced stages of infection they may be found underneath the bark of infected trees and shrubs.
Affected Beech hedges will have an obvious layer of white mycelium in between the bark and inner wood of the stems (that smells strongly of mushrooms) often with obvious cracking and bleeding close to the base of the stems. Infected plant material will often produce a transient bloom of honey coloured toadstools in Autumn.
Honey fungus is a relentless killer with no methods of chemical control available at present leaving these options to deal with it
- Creating a physical barrier in the soil to halt progress of the fungus, by using a strong and impenetrable material such as butyl pond liner installed vertically in the soil to a depth of at least 50cm with 10cm of the material proud of the soil surface.
- Removing the topsoil and all infected plant material including roots and stumps to a depth of at least 50cm
- Using a programme of regular and deep cultivation to disturb and break up the rhizomorphs to halt their progress.
- While no trees or shrubs can be considered completely immune to Honey Fungus, some hedging species are very rarely affected and so these should be considered first in gardens known to harbour the fungus. These species include Alder, Box, Griselinia, Sea Buckthorn, Hypericum, Daisy Bush, Potentilla, Cotton Lavender and Snowberry.