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Home Blog Planting Hedges & Hedgerows to Invite Wildlife
May 22nd 2023

Planting Hedges & Hedgerows to Invite Wildlife

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When we first got the new farm, it was nothing more than a large, open field without any trees or shrubs as far as the eye could see. A blank slate really. You can read more about it here

So one of the first things we did was to plant hundreds of trees and a series of hedges and hedgerows throughout the property to help create a sense of place and permanence and encourage more wildlife to make the farm their home.

Hedges and hedgerows are often described as living corridors for wildlife, helping them safely travel from one place to another. 

These plantings have many benefits, but some of the most important are that they help slow down harsh winds, prevent erosion and damage to field crops, provide a nectar source for pollinators, and food and shelter for songbirds.

By definition, a hedgerow is a mixed planting of shrubs and small trees that eventually grows together to become a living wall. Hedgerows have a much more wild, unkempt look, whereas hedges are typically pruned yearly to maintain a tidy and uniform shape.

I prefer to use hedges to mark the boundaries of a garden area or as a backdrop for a decorative planting, and I like using hedgerows in places where they have room to spread out, such as along a roadway or field edge. 

Both hedgerows and hedges have many benefits and choosing which one works in your situation will really depend on your needs and design.

When we started looking for information about designing hedgerows, there weren’t a lot of examples available that used non-native plants. While native hedgerow plantings are amazing, I wanted to experiment with using ornamental shrubs and small trees to see if we could get the same benefits of a traditional hedgerow, with the addition of more beauty.

When selecting plants for the ornamental hedgerows I tried to choose things that were vigorous, disease resistant, put on a beautiful floral show, and either left behind some type of fruit or seeds that could be eaten by songbirds and other wildlife. 

While we used many different types of plants, in order to simplify the design process and test out which ones performed best, we decided to use the same plant spacing for each hedgerow combination so that we could test out which ones performed the best.

Before planting, the ground was prepared by putting down a thick layer of compost, plus some natural fertilizer, which was incorporated into the soil using the rototiller attachment on our tractor.

Each planting bed measured 6 ft wide and 80 ft long and consisted of two rows of plants spaced roughly 3 ft apart, off-center. Individual plants within each of the rows were also spaced 3 ft apart.

The reason we used such close plant spacing was because we wanted the hedgerows to fill in quickly.  

We opted to use smaller plants in 1- and 2- gallon pots along with bare root shrubs and trees because they would encounter less transplant shock and were also more affordable.

After the plants went into the ground we mulched all of the bare dirt with a layer of cardboard and compost to help suppress weeds and feed the plants. Drip irrigation was then installed and run twice weekly from May through September.

The taller trees were staked for the first 2 years to help their roots take hold more quickly and keep them from blowing over in heavy winds. 

Along the back border of the farm, which is the most exposed site, we planted a long L-shaped hedgerow made up of plants that are native to the Pacific Northwest, including swamp crabapple, Western spiraea, roses, dogwood, snowberry, willow, and mock orange.

So far this planting has done remarkably well and in just two growing seasons, large swaths of it are already filled in. 

Flanking the roadways and our field growing blocks are a series of hedgerows that include a mix of ornamental shrubs and small fruiting trees. After trialing numerous varieties in this setting, I have discovered some real standouts in the process.

At the bottom of this post, you can find a printable list of all my favorites!

When it came to the single-species hedges around the garden spaces, we approached things a bit differently. Rather than choosing small plants and waiting for them to grow in we instead opted for larger, partially established hedges to create a more immediate sense of place.

We worked with a wonderful company called Instant Hedge that specializes in this type of hedging and their innovative packaging allows the hedges to be transplanted any time of the year without experiencing transplant shock. I was quite skeptical when we first discovered them, but Becky kept reassuring me that this type of hedging was commonly available in England and I’ve been so impressed with how quickly they’ve established.

We’ve since planted nearly half a mile of their hedges, including European beech, Portuguese laurel, and schip laurel, and all of them have done remarkably well. 

One of the things I love about the beech hedge is that if you keep it trimmed under 6 ft in height, the plants will hold their dead leaves through the winter, which creates the most beautiful brown hedges that sound like running water when the wind blows through them.

The downside to going this route is that it requires the use of a forklift for moving the heavy boxes of hedges and a backhoe for digging the trench, but if you have access to this type of heavy equipment, their hedges truly are “instant.”

Here’s a short video we made with them about our experience working with their company.

Going into this project I knew that not all of the varieties that we planted would thrive. But I wanted to try enough different plants and planting combinations to observe their performance and evaluate which were truly suited for this type of approach.

My hope was that I could identify the best varieties so that home gardeners might be inspired to consider adding a hedgerow to their garden. I also thought this approach would work well for flower farmers who are short on space but want to add more woodies into their operation. 

Additionally, I wanted to see if this type of approach would work in a more traditional farm setting noting the yearly labor requirement and maintenance involved, plus the upfront investment needed for plants. 

To date, we have planted 1.12 miles of hedges and hedgerows throughout the farm and I have plans to add more this autumn. 

Overall, this project has exceeded my expectations and we’re only three growing seasons in. The number of songbirds and new wildlife we’ve seen on the farm since planting these has been incredible and I’m excited to see who shows up next.

In addition to the beauty that the hedgerows offer when in full bloom, they are also humming with life all season long.  

As this project continues, I will be sure to share any new findings. If you would like to download a printable planting plan and plant list for my favorite ornamental hedgerow combination, you can sign up to receive it below.

I would love to know if you have any experience growing hedgerows or if you have a favorite tree or shrub when it comes to attracting wildlife to your garden. 

Please note: If your comment doesn’t show up right away, sit tight; we have a spam filter that requires us to approve comments before they are published.


  1. Tammy on

    I’ve started a hedgerow alongside the north side of my flower farm that is 160’ x 8’. I have started with multiple groupings of 5 red twig dogwood interspersed with Pacific Ninebark, three small existing Nordmann firs, and nine Floralberry hypericum. Next I plan to add some native roses, mock orange, and if space allows, additional shrubs that can be used in arrangements. My goal is to create some useable products, habitat and a windbreak.

  2. Jean Lynch on

    If you put up 2 posts and a string for birds to perch on, they will rest there and plant a linear hedge for you by pooping! Or you can toe a string between 2 shrubs or trees.

  3. Sonja on

    A great “Thank you” for sharing your work with us! We are located in Northern Germany and in our area it is very common to divide the fields with hedgerows; they are called “Knicks”. Parts are taken down every seven years to provide the farms with wood for heating, fencing….

  4. Angela Daly on

    Hi from southern Australia. So much inspiration for us as we start our journey with a 2ha plot that was previously used for cows (barren of trees and shrubs, and very uneven!). Huge task ahead but we’ll be planting along the boundaries soon with a mix of indigenous and non-native species. Your website is fantastic! Thank you!

  5. Ines on

    Hi! Ines from Argentina, first at all thank you for sharing your experience. Here we try to use mix hedge, but last years we had summers very hot with no rains.. so, we use olea texanum, a very resistant plant for hedge and we make mix border with many natives plants and some exotics, both for pollinators and birds

  6. Catie Rowe on

    Hi from New Zealand we have planted huge amount of native trees to form hedge rows and we have also planted Portuguese Laurel near our house. The bird song is wonderful and visitors really notice when they visit
    Like you we are still a work in progress . Two ponds and always more planning and planting .
    Māori say we are Kaitiaki ( keepers of the land ) . It’s all about enjoying treasuring and looking out for the next generation . We adore following you over here you’re a Legend .

  7. Jennifer Gray on

    Lilac trees are the best here in the Okanagan (BC) as the first pollinators and when trimmed make for beautiful hedges. Use them as a barometer for when to plant dahlia tubers in the ground. Thank you Erin for sharing all of your knowledge with those of us in Canada. Wish we could see the Growing Floret series. One day it will come to Canada.

  8. Georgia Gibbs on

    Thank you so much for this information. I will be using it as starting place and looking for local Northern California Natives that share characteristics with your list to replace some of the selections. I have been wanting to do this on the bottom of my sloped lot as a habitat and also to help control erosion. I am a simple garndener. I guess I would not describe myself as a habitat gardener. I think both can co-exist beautifully. Also, so glad your new season is on! Warm regards.

  9. Caroline Gerardo on

    Portuguese laurel is deer resistant, white flowers and pretty red structure stems. If you like I can send you some meadow rose and wood rose to try (no charge), thinking you can even sell the hips in the fall. Bridalwreath spirea Spiraea prunifolia also deer resistant is spectacular in the spring and hardy for your climate. Thank you for the magical sharing!

  10. Liset on

    Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge and love of plants

  11. Jean Lynch on

    I work in plant and wildlife conservation on the East Coast. The loss of hedge rows from farms in the 20th century is widely acknowledged as a major loss in habitat for birds, pollinators, and other wildlife, so adding hedgerows can be a tremendous benefit. However, planting invasive species into your hedgerows will do more harm than good. Those abundant berries and seeds will be spread by wildlife into their native ecosystems and will outcompete the native plants in truly natural areas. invasive species are considered the second biggest threat to biodiversity, right behind habitat removal for development. Each non-native species is different in invasive potential, but information and guidance are abundant. Floret and like-minded spirits are so thoughtful about the work they are doing to beautify the world. Just a little more attention to the long-term impacts of plant choices will add a measure of safety that will be truly beneficial to nature and wildlife for the long term.

  12. Karla Ramirez on

    Love this, very inspirational. Would be helpful if you could indicate which plants are deer resistant.
    Thank you.

  13. Shay Edney on

    What a great resource ! So excited to see how the hedgerows and all associated with them progress on the farm. Hoping to recreate something similar in Georgia, and this was a great head start. Thank you!

  14. Rachel H on

    Thank you for this post and list! What is your soil like at the new farm and for the hedgerow? Is it the sandy soil you write about in other posts? And, how much do you water now ?

  15. Julianne on

    I love Blueberry Ash (Elaeocarpus reticulartus) grown in Australia as a native where I live (SE Queensland) for its pretty frothy pink flowers and purple blueberries that the birds love. The rest of the year its bronze/pink leaves turn to green as they age.

  16. naomi on

    One interesting thing about birds loving to perch and nest in the hedgerows is that they bring seeds in their poop and you get all kinds of other things growing up in there, which you can carefully select for and weed out or not. Yes, lots of invasives if they are growing nearby but also little trees from squirrels stashing acorns in the soft mulch and sunflowers from nearby bird feeders. It can be unexpectedly full of new life if you are careful and have good weed ID when going through and edging, etc. I have hawthorne trees and thimbleberries, dogwood shrubs and viburnum coming up where I didn’t plant them but love how I can let them remain or dig out the seedlings and move them to fill out a new hedge area.


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