How to lay a hedge
Hedge laying is a technique for the rejuvenation of hedges. The ideal hedge for rejuvenation is one that has grown up, has got thin at the base but there is still at least one multi-stem every half metre. Catherine Keena Teagasc and Eoin Donnelly, Hedge Laying Association of Ireland give information
Main picture Eoin Donnelly Hedge Laying Association of Ireland
The most important thing when thinking of rejvenation is to choose a hedge that is suitable. The ideal hedge for rejuvenation is one that has grown up and has got thin at the base but there is still at least one multi-stem every half metre. When the hedge is brought back to the base by laying in this case, there are no gaps and the rejuvenated hedge will grow a dense base hedge.
Basic principles for hedge laying
There are a few basic principles when laying a hedge. Stems (pleachers) are cut at the base, 70-80% of the way through, keeping the cuts as low as possible to the ground. Stems (pleachers) are laid at an angle of 45 degrees running up the slope, producing a hedge approximately 1.2m in height. Always lay a hedge uphill if the ground slopes to get better transpiration of moisture so the sap rises and the hedge remains living. Stems (pleachers) are left attached to the cut stump by a long living hinge.
When laying, try to keep the angle even. This is not always possible because the stems (pleachers) are multiple shapes. As stems are woven in, you have to work out the shape as you lay the hedge down. Each piece has got to fit in to the piece below. So when looking at a standing stem you’ve got to work out the shape and where it’s going to fall into the hedge. It’s all got to knit together. When you lay it down sometime you get pieces that stick up. You can make cuts on the stems higher up to flex the hedge into the shape you want. These also act as points from which the hedge grows. Those cuts will send up shoots, thickening the hedge at the same time.
Don’t lay the hedge directly down on the line of the cut base. Roll the hedge back slightly from the ground cuts. This is to allow light to get into the hedge and for the hedge to rejuvenate and re-shoot up along the cut face. If the hedge is too far forward on top of the cuts, shading supresses new growth. Exposure of the cuts to sunlight maximises regeneration.
The hinges are fairly strong but if they get enough wind or enough movement, they will start to tear. You don’t want it rocking around, so especially on a windy site, in order to hold the laid hedge in place, a gawlog or hooked pin cut from the hedge, can be used. It hooks over a stem in the hedge and is hammered down to pin the hedge in place. Alternatively stakes can be used every half metre woven in with hazel rods (binders) to hold in place. Don’t tie stems down with bailer twine because it doesn’t rot down and it will strangle the stems, resulting in losses.
Laying versus coppicing
The great difference between laying and coppicing is you are retaining the hedge, it is a living entity. You get a rejuvenated hedge from the base but retain a living platform for birds to nest in and the habitat to remain. You are not removing or suspending the habitat, it continues to provide the benefits of a hedge. Because the stems (pleachers) are still attached to the hinge they will still flower and bear fruit for birds and mammals.
It is good practice to leave some mature trees or straight stems (pleachers) uncut within the hedge. The structure of the laid hedge is ideal for nesting thrushes, blackbirds and robins. Dunnocks or hedge sparrows like to nest at the base on the bank when grass grows up from the verge. Retaining a mature tree provides a song perch and if you leave a flowering tree also good for pollinators. Fieldfares flock together on open ground and will send a few birds into the tree as a lookout, checking for predators before they fly back down. Retaining individual trees are important for aesthetical reasons in the countryside, but preferably smaller trees like whitethorn, cherry. Large broadleaved trees such as beech oak and sycamore cause shading
As Eoin Donnelly says ‘It’s a skill and an art to do, but it’s the best thing you can do to a suitable hedge’.
Further information: Hedge Laying Association of Ireland