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Hedgelaying in the US?

Holly Stockley
2 years ago
last modified: 2 years ago

My Google-Fu is failing me.


I would very much like to begin a long term project of adding some traditional hedges to my 10 acre property. I live in Michigan, and the current parcel is woefully overgrown with invasive species, while also harboring a walnut plantation on part of it.



In searching for info, all I can really find seems to be (very nice) videos of restoring ancient hedges, hedgelaying competitions, or discussions of their use in conservations - all in Britain. While this is well and good, I'd love to have some info, should it exist, on doing something similar in my area. What species should I use, and where can I get them (can you lay a hedge with river birch? I have a lot of that!)? How and what do you plant for a new hedge? How do I time maintenance in this climate? (January is not practical - I'd have to shovel the hedge out from under 2 foot of snow).


Does anyone know of any seminars - without flying to Britain - or classes? Books? Videos? Blogs? Resources for the right tree and shrub starts?


My eventual goal would be to have a hedge that, ideally, can A. keep sheep contained, B. provide coppice fuel for a Swedish Tile stove (they mostly burn small pieces of wood and brush), and C. possibly be a source of fruit and nuts for us while also sheltering wildlife. I'm going to make a lot of birds and critters homeless in the act of rooting out the autumn olives, honeysuckle, and multiflora rose infesting the place.

Thoughts, advice, or suggestions?

Comments (27)

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
    2 years ago

    A hedge is simply a line of trees or shrubs (or a combo) that can define a border or offer privacy. So what plants you use is up to you and that work well in your location. It does not need to be all of the same species and often a variety is far more desirable than a monoculture for both disease and pest issues and to provide greater wildlife attraction.

    You can research varieties suitable for coppicing but they include alder, birch, beech, hornbeam, hazels and willows. I would suggest focusing on native species as they generally very well suited to the local environment as well as being appealing to local wildlife. Often, local Departments of Natural Resources will have early spring plant sales that offer native tree saplings at extremely favorable pricing. But you do not have to limit yourself to only natives :-) And if possibe, I'd try to include some evergreen species as well.

    Have never managed a herd of sheep but have a hard time imagining that a few trees or shrubs would keep them adequately contained :-)

  • Holly Stockley
    Original Author
    2 years ago

    And a LAID hedge has been used for thousands of years to contain livestock. Not just sheep but also cattle. This is what I want to do:




    Some species take better to pleaching (cutting through 80% or so of the trunk in order to lay horizontally) better than others. Some styles of hedge incorporate thorny species or twining vines to further strengthen the structure and discourage animal intrusion.


    You're confusing suburban "hedge":



    with what I'm asking about:




    Although if you are interested in how they're laid, there are lots of good videos on youtube:


    https://youtu.be/iGncS_lojlI

  • PRO
    Yardvaark
    2 years ago

    Since virtually any tree can be grown in the form of a hedge, this problem seem less about hedge and more about selecting the tree that offers characteristics suited to one's liking. Something that branches when cut and burns cleanly seem to be the main requirements. Most trees that provide cover are going to shelter wildlife so it seems that creating habitat is automatically going to happen. Trees that produce fruits and nuts are relatively easy to come by. I can't see that there'd be a reason to be limited to a single species for a large area. I wouldn't personally want a jumble of things mixed up, but would consider hedge runs of various lengths with different species that seemed appropriate to the scale of the property. It seems like the possibilities are open to total creativity. I wouldn't looks at this so much as trying to comply with what others have done in the past so much as I would to fulfilling my own dream ideas. It might also be the case that different parts of the property offer different conditions such that trying to grow a single species everywhere would prove difficult. If that's the case, It would make sense to adapt to the differing conditions by using species best suited to the variation in circumstances.

    Holly Stockley thanked Yardvaark
  • Holly Stockley
    Original Author
    2 years ago

    Brittleness might also be a factor. Trees that snap are not going to be all that helpful. This is apparently the difficulty with British "field maple." Longevity is another factor. A very vigorous tree that dies out in 30 years isn't really what I want, either. A well-maintained hedge should only need re-laying every 50 years or so.


    I suspect (but cannot confirm, since I haven't seen anything yet on PLANTING for a fresh hedge) that the brambles sort of get incorporated courtesy of the birds, rather than being deliberately planted. It is said that one can date a hedge by the number of different species found in it.


    I may try a test run on some young birch , just to see if it's possible to lay them in the required manner. If not, I suppose I will mostly be falling back on hazels and hawthornes. Any particular varieties I should look for, that will do well in the climate? (Zone 6a, sandy loam but with quite a high water table) I may also plant a willow patch, since my infant hedge won't be able to provide it's own stakes and bindings.

  • Skip1909
    2 years ago

    Try Maclura pomifera, osage orange. Burns hot and broken limbs continue growing uninterrupted. The thorns are formidable.

  • Christopher C Nc
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    Interesting topic. Surely someone in North America is doing this or similar, and in your case Canada may be the best place to look, as mad-gallica suggested.

    I know nothing. Thoughts, advice, suggestions?

    Add Timber Press or Organic Gardening to your search. They may have published something.

    Post your query on other garden media to get more exposure.

    Talk to your local forestry and ag cooperative extension service people about plant species that might suit your needs.

    Why not fly to Britain for a seminar and world class garden tour to boot?

  • PRO
    Yardvaark
    2 years ago

    "... Trees that snap ..." are AKA self-coppicing.

    Maclura pomifera is also one that danced through my head earlier ... and general thoughts about nut trees

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
    2 years ago

    Sorry but your request for "tradtional hedges" impled that was the information you requested. Chopping them down part way or folding them over is somehow not in the same sphere as what most consider traditional hedging......that's more along the line of living fences.

    And I would agree that you may need to expand your search parameters as this is not a common element of landscape design.

  • floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    Laid farm hedges in the U.K. are completely traditional. It's not simply a question of chopping them part way or folding them over. It involves driving in stakes, partly cutting through the stems and bending and weaving the plants. Species which snap are useless. They need to be pliable. There are different regional patterns or styles. The overgrown hedgerow in my wood was laid in the southern style as in the first picture. Such hedges are extremely stock proof, even to sheep. The work is done in the winter and by summer you can barely see the stems. They're covered in new foliage. They're always called hedges, not fences, and some are hundreds of years old. Species used are hawthorn, hazel, holly, blackthorn, ash and a sprinkling of dogwood and guelder rose. But pretty much anything that springs up naturally would get treated the same. The roses, ivy and brambles arrive by themselves. I've never seen birch in a laid hedge but it tends not to be abundant in the lowland farming areas which use hedges. If you're starting from scratch it'll be a few years down the line before the hedge can be laid. I wouldn't use willow for the stakes. It'll take root and grow fast, out topping the other species. It's also not very dense.



    Holly Stockley thanked floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK
  • Holly Stockley
    Original Author
    2 years ago

    Check on the willow! Thank you, floral_uk!! I hadn't thought of that.


    I may test out the birch, just to see how it works. And also get a bit of practice in cutting the pleachers, etc. In an area where I don't need it to actually work. :-) I've also heard beech used occasionally, and while I wouldn't try to make a hedge out of only beech, I do have quite a bit and a lot of it is young. Possibly it could be incorporated.


    There is a British researcher who has come over to Ontario to do some work there. He has a post here. For that hedge, he used American Hazel, Black Chokecherry, Chokeberry, and fragrant Sumac. In another post he also suggests Grey Dogwood, Nannyberry, Canadian Serviceberry, and Arrow wood as possibilities. Now, that's probably at least 2 full hardiness zones North of where I am, so I'd have to adjust a bit. But possibly I'm on the right track.


    I do recognize that just getting the thing planted and laid is probably a 5-10 year task. For the moment, I'm planning to just tackle one boundary. That's really all I CAN do for the moment, until the walnuts mature and come down. Which will be... about 5-10 years.


    I do take it that it's in my best interest to do my level best to get rid of all the autumn olive on the property, or I'll have that popping up in my hedge, courtesy of the birds, yes?


    I did find a facebook group, if any likeminded souls happen across this thread.


    https://www.facebook.com/groups/460355257485931/


    floral_uk, if you have any other words of wisdom or links to useful info, I'm all ears.

  • Vaporvac Z6-OhioRiverValley
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    I wouldn't worry about going up in zone unless those plants don't thrive in your area. I'll see if I can find a blog I used to follow in France where she also did hedge rowing and outlines their traditional method of planting. It's hard to believe in this day and age there was an a YouTube video on this subject! Or an ebook. LOL! :-)

  • beckysharp Reinstate SW Unconditionally
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    I've been in Alberta on a farm for 25 years (and before that in Manhattan and DC), so my personal experience is with shelterbelts, barbed wire fences, and life in Zone 2 : ) .

    But I do know from reading and my long ago history studies that, to echo Skip above, Osage orange trees (Maclura pomifera), also called "hedge apples", were often used by American settlers as fencing, and I believe they grow in Michigan. Some quick Googling led me to this article, from which,

    A single row of hedge trees planted a foot apart would yield a fence that was "horse high, bull-strong, and hog-tight" in 4 years. Some farmers would weave the already twisted and intertwined limbs of the young trees tightly together, a technique known as "plashing," for a more impenetrable barrier. Use of the Osage orange tree as hedge was so common throughout most of its introduced range that "hedge" became the tree's common name.

    Plashing would seem to the American version of pleaching.

    This also came up via Google,

    https://www.conservationhandbooks.com/hedging/

    Over the years we've planted several thousand trees around our land, some of it replanting thanks to drought as well as deer who ate and broke a great many of young seedlings. We have a farmyard shelterbelt (used for passive solar for our new house) as well as field and roadside shelterbelts (plus buffers for our organic crops), dugout shelterbelts, and also riparian and wildlife plantings. All of the trees were free from the late great Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration; farmers placed orders in the winter, and the little trees, which looked like sticks, arrived in boxes at the county office in early May. For years, we spent every Mother's Day planting hundreds of trees.

    For wildlife plantings, this is helpful, and is the modern online version of an old Alberta Agriculture we have,

    http://www.agr.gc.ca/eng/science-and-innovation/agricultural-practices/agroforestry/shelterbelt-planning-and-establishment/design/wildlife-plantings/?id=1344887254019

  • Holly Stockley
    Original Author
    2 years ago

    I've looked at Osage Orange, thank you Becky. It may come to that, although the forester who walked the land with me wasn't really keen on that idea. I gather they can become a bit of a pest around here. And I've already got lots of pests. *sigh*


    I'm trying to avoid a monoculture if possible. In part due to the seeming increase in the spread of diseases. I have all sorts of ash trees - and every one is infested with the Emerald Ash Borer. If I'd built a hedgerow entirely of ash for structure... I'd have a bit problem. Woolly Hemlock disease is apparently the New Big Thing here. I have no Hemlocks, so not a personal issue. However, on the "watch" list is Thousand Eye Canker of walnuts. I'm hoping my walnuts reach maturity before THAT hits.


    At the moment I'm thinking 40% American Hazel, 40% something maybe related to blackthorn or otherwise able to be sturctural, and the remainder some of the gap fillers like holly, chokecherry, etc.


    I know there were some conservation programs that provided free or very inexpensive trees here for a while, but I don't know that it still happens. The local conservation district DOES have some trees that can be preordered soon and picked up in April (planting time, here). Although not much that is a help to me. Most of what I would like to plant (or will tolerate the walnuts) is not on the list, though.

  • Skip1909
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    Search for "directory of michigan seedling nurseries". My state forest nursery sells seedlings in bundles of 50 for around $20, you might find something similar.

    Holly Stockley thanked Skip1909
  • Holly Stockley
    Original Author
    2 years ago

    Aces. Thank you, Skip1909. That did the trick exactly.

  • Lyndee Lee
    2 years ago
    Looks like a perfect excuse for a study trip...Center for Alternative Technologies in Wales has some interesting courses
  • nancyjwb
    2 years ago

    This is such an informative thread, Holly! I love what you’re planning to do. I’ve long been intrigued with english and European hedges. I would love it if you returned to this thread and updated as you develop your land.


    Im so fascinated by the information on “hedge“, or Osage orange, trees. My dad got hundreds from our state conservation district program and planted them on a hillside in the 80‘s as part of a conservation plan, so I’m familiar with the trees, but I never thought about why they are called hedge trees or that they can be used for a living fence. Around here (western KS) they’re cut down and the trunks are used for fence posts, since they’re very hard. They also make excellent firewood. I just may have to try a hedge of ”hedge“ trees on my place now!

    Holly Stockley thanked nancyjwb
  • Vaporvac Z6-OhioRiverValley
    2 years ago

    NH will sell their natives very cheap and includes hazelwood. I wouldn't limit yourself to just Michigan sources. I love the hedgerows in England although the enclosure always makes me carsick when whizzing by them at high speed and curvy lanes.

  • Vaporvac Z6-OhioRiverValley
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    Although this isn't what you mean, if you look up willow enclosure under Potager gardening you will find it being used to make living fences in France and England. It's quite pretty, but I'm not sure how much it would spread.

    Holly Stockley thanked Vaporvac Z6-OhioRiverValley
  • floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK
    2 years ago

    Holly, have you checked out these people? https://www.hedgelaying.org.uk/pg/info/styles.aspx

    Btw your name is a terrific example of nominative determinism. I think you are definitely fated to be a natural at hedge laying!

    Holly Stockley thanked floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK
  • Holly Stockley
    Original Author
    2 years ago

    *lol* Floral, thank you. I married into it. Though his family came from the York Riding, and lost a title after Culloden Field. I've teased him that I should, therefore, plan hedges in the York style. But I'm not really planning to use them that way, so it probably wouldn't be a sensible plan.

  • floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    Which Riding of Yorkshire? There are, or were, three. West, North or East? (There isn't a South, strangely, other than in fiction.) You'll find more stone walls in much of Yorkshire than hedges. And that's a whole other craft.

  • chantellehoffmann89
    11 months ago

    I'm so grateful to have found this thread. We lived in England for several years and are now building on some acreage here in the States (WA). I am so eager to plant a hedgerow on our border but my husband only rolls his eyes knowing how much work I'd be committing myself to. I've been gathering bits of info for several years now, but that Facebook group you shared is a wonderful help! Thank you. Now that our home construction and dirt work is about done, it's time to get planting....and then the long wait for things to grow to a suitable pleaching stage. :) Thanks again for starting the thread. Hope you are having the best of luck with you own hedge!

  • wingtrip
    9 months ago

    Chantelle - I live in Washington and have started to dream about this sort of this - right now I look out at the laurel sheared hedge the previous owner planted and dream of something that offers habitat and beauty. (I used to work as an arborist, so I have distaste for laurels that I had to shear for hours on end). Anyway, I would love to hear what species you are thinking about. I have a long list of potential plants but I have no experience doing this sort of thing so having someone regional to talk to about it would be awesome! Cheers!

  • chantellehoffmann89
    9 months ago

    Haha - yes exactly what you said about laurels! My parents had them as I was growing up and aside from hating being on the trim clean-up crew, I just find them a bit more formal and manicured than what I’m hoping for. I don’t yet have a compiled list, but I’m paying attention to what grows wild around here that would work well (like hazelnut and maybe plum). I also plan to make use of the yearly King Conservation District bare root sale that has a ton of native plants at very affordable rates.

  • floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK
    9 months ago

    I should think plum would work well. Prunus spinosa, Blackthorn or Sloe, is a hedging staple over here. I've also seen wild plums and damsons in some laid hedges.