Benefits of hedgerow trees and how to plant into hedgerows

Historically, hedgerow trees offered farmers a source of income through the timber and hedgerow trees were carefully pruned and managed but when imports of cheaper timber became the norm and farm vehicles and buildings ceased to be made of timber, these trees lost their value and many were removed with the aid of grants, but today the tables have turned and farmers are again incentivised to plant and maintain new and existing hedgerows including the addition of hedgerow trees.

Benefits of hedgerow trees

Hedgerow trees provide an essential habitat for some wildlife, especially those birds that nest at higher levels than a hedgerow or that use a tree as a perch. They are the home of the natural predators that control crop pests, they sustain pollinators essential for crop pollination, provide shelter, shade and wind protection for farm animals and wildlife, stabilise the soil, store carbon, act as visual and noise barriers. and of course they are a typically British landscape feature.

Where to plant hedgerow trees

  • try to imagine the tree at its mature height and plant it away from anything that it might obstruct like utility poles or cables, buildings that currently exist or might exist in the future, walls, road junctions or field entrances and make sure you are not planting it where maintenance will become difficult in decades to come
  • it is said that hedgerow trees ought to be planted approximately every 30m but try not to make it too regimented (unless that’s the appearance you are going for) – in nature, it would be more random. You can plant more closely (minimum of a tree every 6m) and of course, you can plant less closely if that is appropriate

How to plant hedgerow trees in a new hedge

This is the easiest method and there are only a couple of differences to the planting of hedging plants

  • use an individual mulch mat around each tree to give the tree room to grow faster than the hedging plants.
  • ideally use a tree shelter and stake or plastic guard and cane (even if you are not using them on the hedging plants) to protect from deer and browsing animals and to encourage straight stem growth. The microclimate provided by these will speed up the growth of the tree
  • use a bigger plant than the main batch of hedge plants, but it doesnt need to be a mature tree – in fact a 60/90cm or 90/120cm whip will be suitable if the hedge plants are 40/60cm whips. Mature trees planted into a hedgerow (where there is crowding) often have poor survival rates
  • plant into a bigger hole than those for the hedge and plant to the correct depth (for the root collar) and use some clean, good quality soil or manure around the roots. Recognise that the tree needs some special attention compared with the fast planting of hedging plants
  • clearly label or mark the tree in a bright colour so that it is obvious in later years when the hedge is being trimmed

How to plant hedgerow trees within an existing hedge

  • start by clearing up to 1m of existing hedgerow and roots so that you have space to work and the tree has increased light available and can establish with less competition from the mature plants (there will still be root system competition – that cannot be avoided) or utilise an existing gap of at least 1m in width. You may need to use temporary fencing if the field is used for cattle
  • once you have created a gap in a hedge and let in the light and rainfall, weeds will quickly develop and these must be controlled (by herbicide or black polythene sheeting) for several years to allow the tree to establish so it is best to keep the gap open until the tree is well on its way so that you can continue to treat weeds around the tree/s without harming the hedging plants
  • and then do everything in the list for planting into a new hedge but be particularly careful to clearly mark the position of the new tree so that it is not accidentally trimmed. If possible use a tree shelter that is taller than the height of the hedge so that it is obvious to hedge trimmer operators and to encourage the growth of a straight trunk

Reasons why it generally is not viable to use existing hedge material to grow into hedgerow trees

You might think that you can just allow an existing hedging plant to grow up into a hedgerow tree but in general that isn’t the best approach because flailing, coppicing or hedgelaying creates weaknesses in the stems which, as trees mature, could lead to windsnap. You can use saplings that have grown at the base of the hedgerow if they happen to be the best species and are in the right place but the cost of a fresh, new plant suitable to become a hedgerow tree is minimal so that would be our recommended approach.

Plant species suitable to use as hedgerow trees

All of the following species are suitable

Small trees




Cherry (Wild cherry or Bird cherry)


Wild crab apple

Field maple


Larger trees

Oak (either Sessile Oak or English Oak)


Did you know?

Admiral Lord Collingwood (Nelson’s second in command at the Battle of Trafalgar) born in 1748 used to walk countryside lanes around his house at Morpeth on his periods of leave with a pocket full of acorns, pushing them into the soil in the hedgerows wherever it would be suitable to grow an oak tree “so that the Navy would never want for oaks to build the fighting ships upon which the country’s safety depended”. He died in 1810 but his widow, Sarah, oversaw the planting of 200 oak trees near Hethpool, one for every ship in the Royal Navy. The oak wood was never needed for timber as technology in shipbuilding moved on so the Collingwood Oaks were allowed to mature into magnificent 200 year old trees.

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