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How to maintain your hedgerow -

Of Hedges, Hawthorns and how to fill Gaps

Max Cashback

Are you lucky enough to have one of Godmanchester's typical old hawthorn hedges round your garden? We are and it's getting rather wild but it's protected in the deeds to our house so we asked Bridget Halford of Huntingdonshire District Council what we should do to maintain it.

The first thing we learnt was that our hedge is technically a row of trees, not a hedge because of its height. Nonetheless it serves the same purpose - namely keeping out next door's four kids and extremely large dog ! Bridget explained that instant screening and privacy were two of the reasons why the Council insisted that the old hedges were kept. Others were to give continuity with the farm hedges that edge all the roads into the town, helping to blend the town with the surrounding countryside. The hedges are also one of the only wildlife habitats left providing food and shelter to numerous birds, butterflies and small mammals.

According to Bridget the first thing to do is decide whether you want a low dense hedge with lots of privacy or are happy with a row of trees which may have some gaps at the bottom but can provide a beautiful boundary feature and then manage the plants accordingly.

If you're aiming for a low dense hedge then it may need some fairly drastic treatment if it hasn't been well managed up till now. Traditionally hedges in this area were "laid" by cutting part way through the stems and then tying the plants down to create a very solid bushy hedge. If you're feeling brave you can try this on any stems of less than 3" diameter. Another really drastic method is to coppice your hedge. In other words cut it virtually to ground level and wait for lots of flexible young shoots to come up from the base. These, of course, can then be laid easily. Beware though, it's going to look pretty horrendous when first cut.

Bridget advised that it would be wise to consult the Tree and Landscape Officers at Huntingdonshire District Council before carrying out either laying or coppicing as this is fairly specialised work and they will be able to give you some useful tips. They can be contacted by phone on (01480) 388388, or at Pathfinder House, St Mary's Street, Huntingdon.

Far less drastic is to clip the top at a height that suits you. Bridget suggested aiming for an "A" shape so that the top is narrower than the base to let some light get to the bottom of the plants to keep them healthier. This is best done between October and December once the leaves have gone but before the birds start nesting. After all, we wouldn't want a homeless birds crisis in Godmanchester ! If as we do, you like the height resulting from having a row of trees but don't want lots of gaps at the base don't despair. Competition will be strong but some plants are tough enough to grow even under the most established hedge with a bit of help. Digging in new top soil and some compost to give the young plants some food is the best way to start.

This might be the ideal opportunity to introduce a bit of variety into your hedge. Bridget recommended holly bushes to us as a good way of getting some evergreen colour in amongst the hawthorns. Depending on the size of the gaps field maple, hazel or dogrose should all survive. Blackthorn is typical of the area and very hardy but the thorns are particularly vicious. Anglian Water may never forgive us for this but the other essential is water, and plenty of it until the young roots have had time to get in amongst the competition - hedges are very thirsty things apparently.

Of course, the final issue to be aware of is - just whose hedge is it anyway? Many hedges in Godmanchester are likely to be in joint ownership as they form the boundary of two properties. Before you start chopping it's probably a good idea to check and consult with your neighbour. After all laying just the front half of your hedge would make it look pretty silly. Besides, with any luck your neighbour might think it's a good idea and even help out!

If this all sounds a bit too much like hard work just think of this little gem. An unmanaged hawthorn hedge will have a life expectancy of around 80 years, but a well managed one can last for 400 years, and that's a lot less dead trees to dig out !

Clare Bond

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