How to Make a Wildlife-Friendly Hedgerow

A hedgerow offers food and shelter to animals of types, including humans.

woman pruning a hedge

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Hedgerows are nothing like the neat, clipped hedges often seen in gardens. A common feature of rural regions in some countries, hedgerows bring biodiversity and a range of rewards to home gardens. In my design work, I often recommend the creation of a wildlife-friendly hedgerow of some kind. Today, I would like to share my tips to help you create one of these features for your own space.

Choose Where to Place a Wildlife-Friendly Hedgerow

Hedgerows are often implemented along the edges of a property in place of non-living walls or fences. But before you decide where to place a hedgerow, you should consider what exactly you hope to gain from this feature. Planting a hedgerow can be wonderful for wildlife, wherever it is placed. It can feed, shelter, and house a huge range of different creatures. As they combine different trees and shrubs, they also help sequester carbon in a garden. 

Beyond this, however, hedgerows can also serve a number of other functions. They might, for example:

  • Provide shelter from wind.
  • Increase privacy or screen unsightly views.
  • Reduce traffic noise, air or noise pollution. 
  • Provide food sources and other yields for human inhabitants, as well as wildlife. 

Wind-break hedgerows require particularly careful thought when it comes to positioning. Many hedgerows can reduce windiness to a degree. But hedgerows need to be placed at the correct angle when it comes to the prevailing wind direction, and create a barrier which effectively slows and filters wind without blocking it entirely. 

When placing a hedgerow for privacy, be sure to think about sight lines from your home or from areas of the garden where you like to sit. Remember, a hedgerow does not need to be all the same height. You might have some taller species in amongst lower growing or more pruned planting. A wildlife-friendly hedgerow created between your property and the road edge might bring a sense of peace and quiet to your property. 

If you plan on harvesting from a hedgerow, there are plenty of species you can choose to provide a yield. In terms of positioning, it is important to think about access and proximity to other harvesting areas and to your home. In permaculture zoning, garden areas harvested most frequently are often placed closest to the center of operations, while less managed and less harvested areas are placed further away. Depending on the species, hedgerows can fit into different garden zones.

Choosing Species for a Wildlife-Friendly Hedgerow

The species that should be chosen for a wildlife-friendly hedgerow very much depend on where you live. It is important to think about climate, microclimate, and soil, and to consider all the characteristics of the location. It is only when you understand your site that you can choose the right plants for the right places. 

It is a good idea to choose a good proportion of native plants, since these have evolved alongside the wildlife in your area and can be better for the creatures with whom you share your space. 

gardens outside a beautiful old home

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Diversity is key. The more beneficial interactions you can generate between the plants themselves, and between plants and animal life, the more resilient and friendly to wildlife your hedgerow will be. For year-round function and appeal, for both you and wildlife, it can be a good idea to choose to include both deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs in the scheme.

The species you choose for your hedge will depend very much on your goals for the design. Be sure to think about what you want to achieve, and what each of the species you are considering can provide. Including plants with edible fruits, berries, or leaves for a wildlife-friendly hedge is a great idea—feeding you with plenty left over for the birds and other wildlife in your garden. 

Maintaining a Wildlife-Friendly Hedgerow

Wildlife-friendly hedgerows can be managed to keep their size in check, but it is important to understand that a hedgerow is not a neatly pruned hedge. Even neatly pruned hedges may aid wildlife to a degree, but a wilder hedgerow confers many more benefits. Lush and dense, with varied woody planting, hedgerows also have herbaceous plants along the base, which combine with other species to create a more holistic ecosystem. 

When it comes to maintaining a hedgerow, less is often more. Leaving the hedgerow be, or managing it only lightly and letting nature reign, will allow plant and animal biodiversity to increase over time.