Hedges add year-round beauty to your landscaping and they can provide natural privacy fencing, wind buffering, and a safe haven for wildlife. Planting and maintaining hedges properly takes some preparation and know-how, but with the following instructions, you can get your hedge-planting project completed in a weekend.
Step 1: Plan Your Hedge Before Planting
Whether you're planting one hedge or many, planning is key. Decide where you want to plant. Will your hedges mark a property boundary? Border a front walkway or driveway? Frame a flower garden? You need to visualize the design and know exactly how much space you have to work with so you can space plants appropriately for well-designed, interlocking growth.
If you're not sure what kind of hedges you want to plant, do some research on the Internet or consult gardening publications to find out which type will work best in your soil, in your region, and meet the intended application. For our purposes here, there are two basic categories of hedge plants: evergreen and deciduous. Of these, evergreens are the most common, and the type that usually comes to mind when one thinks of hedges. When buying hedge plants, be sure you know how they grow and how much they grow, especially if you'll be intermixing different types of shrubs for your hedgerow.
Deciduous plants lose their leaves in winter. If you want year-round hedges, plant evergreen hedge plants.
Visit your local nursery to buy plants and to get help if you are unsure which plants best suit your needs. Nurseries will have the plants prepared with their root balls snuggly wrapped in a layer of burlap to keep them safe and ready for when you take them home to plant. To estimate how many plants to buy and the appropriate spacing between each one, measure the length of your hedge site. Generally, for common boxwood hedge plants, 2' to 3' between each plant is adequate. Ask a nursery employee for help with deciding how many plants to purchase and how much space should be between each plant. Larger, taller plants for a privacy hedge can require 6' or more between each plant.
Try to choose plants that are at or close to the height that you want your hedge to be. Keep in mind though, that larger plants may require some additional hands to help you move them around. Ask a family member, a friend or a neighbor to be your assistant.
To avoid damage, always pick up your shrubs by the root ball and not the trunk.
Step 2: Prepare the Planting Site
Use a tape measure to determine the dimensions of your planting site. The length will vary; width is what you want to pay special attention to. The width can vary also, due to the size of plants. A good rule of thumb is that the site should be about 1' wider than the root ball. So, measure out a width of 2' to 3' for a standard-sized hedge. Using a hammer, drive wooden stakes into the ground to mark this measurement. Continue hammering stakes at this width in intervals along the required length of the site. Attach a length of gardening twine to one stake by tying it and then run the twine along the rest of the stakes in the same way to mark your hedge site.
Add a 2" layer of compost or organic fertilizer (according to directions) to the planting site and then use a tiller to break up the soil and mix it and compost/fertilizer together. Lightly water the site using a garden hose.
Step 3: Dig a Trench for the Hedge
Use a shovel to dig a trench inside your staked-off site, along the length of the site. Trench depth will vary, but make sure the hole is slightly less deep than the root ball is high. It should be deep enough so that root balls are below ground level with about 1" of the plant left above ground. Measure one of the plants' root balls before digging. Generally, depth probably will be around 1'.
It's a good idea to check with your local utility companies about the location of gas, water, telephone or other utility lines and if there are any digging restrictions or requirements for those areas.
Save yourself considerable cleanup time by piling the soil that was removed for the trench onto a plastic sheet or tarp. This also prevents the piled dirt from damaging the grass around the trench.
Step 4: Place the Root Ball in the Ground
Stamp down the soil in the bottom of the trench with your foot so it is firm and won't sink after your hedge plants have been planted. Place each plant into the trench. Check to see that the top of the root balls are at — or a little higher — than ground level. Use a utility knife to cut any twine wrapped around trunks and fold down the burlap around the sides of each root ball. Don't remove the burlap completely as this can damage the root balls. The plants' roots will grow through the burlap into the surrounding soil and the burlap will eventually deteriorate.
Fill in the trench around the sides of each root ball and pat it around the ball firmly. Form a mound of soil around the bottom of the tree that will allow water to pool there like a basin. This will help keep the roots well-watered until the shrubs are established. Add 2" to 3" of mulch to combat weeds, retain moisture and insulate your hedge from temperature extremes. Be careful not to cover the trunk; keep a 1" to 2" "no-mulch" ring around it.
It's a good idea to mix some peat moss and a small amount of plant food into the soil you replace around your new hedge.
After planting, use pruning shears to cut off any dead or damaged growth and remove any wayward branches that don't conform to the shape of your hedge. Water the planting site thoroughly so that the roots can become established.
Step 5: Prune and Water the Hedge Regularly
Prune hedges regularly to promote health, growth and density. Once per month during growing season should be adequate. This will keep the plant at peak growth and shape your hedge so that it looks its best. Cut just a couple of inches off at a time so you're cutting into newest growth. Remove dead or diseased branches. Wrap up pruning about a month before it gets cold in your region, as new growth will be exposed to cold temperatures which can harm the plant.
Keep the hedge shape uniform. If the top of the hedge becomes wider than the bottom, it will shade the bottom of the plant and weaken it.
Water the hedge regularly to keep it healthy and productive. Add fertilizer to the soil at least once a year during the growing season.
Great job! You're done!
Project Shopping List
Here’s what you’ll need to complete this project successfully.