Once a common farming practice in Britain, the hedgerow is making a comeback in the U.S. as the classic hedgerow is being adapted for urban and suburban gardens. An exciting and positive direction in modern landscaping, the use of native shrubs and perennials in hedgerows is unsurpassed for increasing diversity and supporting life in the landscape.
Even a privet hedge offers shelter, nesting sites for birds, and some nectar for pollinators – but a hedgerow comprised of native shrubs will be alive with birds and pollinators. Native shrubs are host plants for a wide variety of butterfly and moth (lepidoptera) caterpillars. The caterpillars are a critical food source for birds when they are raising their young.
How to Increase Biodiversity with Hedges
• Link your hedge to existing trees, water sources, woodland habitat or neighboring hedges or
• Merge the hedge into a planting of native perennial plants.
• Include flowering native shrubs that provide nectar and fruit.
• Include a variety of shrubs that flower and fruit throughout the growing season.
• Avoid the use of pesticides, including herbicides that target dandelions (an important early season nectar source).
• Choose plants that are appropriate for your area and growing conditions.
• Avoid unnecessary pruning or trimming, especially during spring through mid-summer when you are likely to disturb nesting birds.
• Avoid unnecessary raking especially in spring and fall. Many species of Lepidoptera roll up in leaves and over-winter in leaf litter which provides additional insulation. The environment created by leaf litter and dead plant material is critical habitat for insects, toads and salamanders.
An existing tree (in this example a large deciduous tree) offers a starting point from which to anchor a hedge. Layers that include trees, shrubs, and perennials will create excellent bird habitat.
More Hedgerow Benefits
Hedgerows come in many shapes and sizes to serve a variety of needs. A well-planned hedgerow is a multi-tasking feature in gardens where every square inch counts. Hedgerow width and plant selection will depend upon your landscape size, your needs, the soil and location.
• Privacy and Noise Reduction. Maybe the most common use of hedgerow in modern urban and suburban landscapes. If you have the luxury of space, include deciduous and evergreen trees, shrubs and native perennials. You can build-out a hedgerow around an existing row of trees. Or, a low hedge of shrubs and perennials may be the right solution for the strip of land between houses on a city lot.
• Food & Cover for wildlife. Whether an unplowed patch between agricultural fields or something small in the backyard.
• Reduce Your Mowing Area. Always a good idea to save time, conserve resources, and increase habitat at the same time.
• Windbreaks. A traditional windbreak hedge is around 20 feet wide, but you can still reap some benefits with a 10 – 12 foot wide hedgerow. An effective windbreak include trees (evergreens work well) and shrubs, all planted (spaced) so that they will overlap when mature.
• Hedgerows are Beautiful. The plants in your hedgerow will offer a beautiful mixture of colors, textures and shapes that change with every season.