How to make a hedge for wildlife

Hedges provide important shelter and protection for wildlife, particularly nesting birds and hibernating insects.

Hedges provide food in the form of leaves, nectar-rich flowers, berries, fruits, seeds and nuts and are also good hunting grounds for predators seeking insects and other invertebrates. They are a better choice of boundary for wildlife than fences or walls, especially if native trees and shrubs are used.

They also make natural windbreaks, creating sheltered areas in the garden, which is particularly important for butterflies as well as creating areas of shade, increasing the range of habitats within the garden. Informal hedges and trees are better than those that are regularly clipped; hawthorn, holly and privet will produce few or no flowers and berries if kept trim. Here's how to make a hedge for wildlife in your garden:

Choose your plants
Native hawthorn, field maple, blackthorn, beech, hornbeam and holly make an ideal mixture of hedging plants and growing rambling plants such as wild rose, bramble and honeysuckle through them provides more shelter and food for wildlife.

Ivy is particularly beneficial for nesting birds and it flowers in the autumn when few other nectar sources are available to insects. Encourage prospective wildlife by growing it up into large trees.

The best time for planting is between November and March, but never plant into waterlogged or frozen ground. Bare rooted plants are cheaper, but take care not to expose the roots for long when planting. Keep the base of plants free from weeds with a thick mulch or matting, until they are established.

For a mixed native hedge try to include three plants of the same species per 1m (3 1/4ft) with one each of two other species.

Maintaining hedges
Hedges should not be pruned until late winter or early spring so that wildlife can take advantage of the insects and fruits provided during the winter months.

In the first spring, cut back shrubs to 45-60cm (18-25in) above the ground. This encourages bushy growth.

Planting hedges instead of using fences and walls allows wildlife to travel, find food and shelter more easily, and means a bigger range of habitats in your garden!


Top tips

  • To protect birds, wildlife hedges should not be trimmed in the nesting season from March to August. Try to cut sections of hedge at different times, so there is always an undisturbed place for wildlife.
  • Angling your plants at around 45 degrees as you plant them will help you to establish a hedge which is not too thin at the bottom

Suggested plants

  • Rosa rubiginosa (Eglantine rose, sweet briar)
  • Rosa canina (Dog rose)
  • Prunus laurocerasus (Laurel, cherry laurel)
  • Clematis vitalba (Traveller’s joy, old man's beard)
  • Crataegus monogyna (Hawthorn, may, quickthorn)
  • Viburnum lantana (Wayfaring tree)