Have you had a new hedge planted recently, in the past year? This is the time to set your hedge straight with proper care. In this article we will cover hedge trimming, watering, fertilization and common mistakes homeowners make after a hedge has been planted. If your goal is to have a neatly pruned, thick hedge on your property, then read on.
Common mistakes in the care of a new hedge
All too often, a homeowner will make an investment in their property by installing a hedge. Usually, hedges are planted to surround the perimeter of the property, to create privacy or to define property lines. It can be a costly project, depending on the plant material used and the height of the plants put in. The biggest mistake is to leave the hedging plants to grow on their own for more than one year. We see hedges left to grow for several years without being shaped or controlled. The result is that you can have a hedge that ends up being too wide, too tall or with holes and gaps without being able to correct the shape of the hedge. For example, cedar plants only hold 3-4 years of needles on their branches. If you cut back into old wood that does not have needles, the plant will stay bare. Nothing new will grow there! The hedge will have to be trimmed only where there are leaves and needles, which may not be the way you intended your hedge to end up looking.
What is the best practice for new hedge care?
In the first year of the hedge’s growth, be sure to have the plants hedge trimmed at least twice. New plantings tend to grow quickly. By cutting the plants in the first year, you will see a dividend on your investment for years to come. Hedge trimming in the first year allows to you set the lines of the hedge and encourages the plants to fill in any gaps between the branches. A quick look at the botany of the plant helps to explain this. Plants tend to grow mostly from their tips – outer branches on shrubs and top tips on trees – because of a growth hormone that is programmed to generate what is called “apical growth”, a.k.a. the tips. If you prune into the apical growth, then the growth hormones get redirected to lateral branches, or side branches. By cutting off the tops of the hedge, you are in effect encouraging the plant to grow all over, not just in an upward direction. This is how a hedge fills out to look full and flush.
How much should I water my hedge in the first year after planting?
Adequate watering takes longer than you think.
Get results by leaving the sprinkler on. Roll out your hoses and set up an oscillating sprinkler to cover your new hedge areas. Turn on the sprinkler for an hour to an hour and a half. The earlier in the day this is done, the less water evaporation there will be. Leaving the sprinkler on allows water to percolate through your soil so roots will grow deeply as they seek out water. You will see the results if do this once or twice a week.
For hand watering, using a wand or watering can, the best technique I can advise is to wet the soil until water begins to pool on the surface of your garden bed. Once this occurs, move on to the next section. After you notice the water has seeped into the ground, return to the first garden bed and repeat a second time, allowing water to pool before moving on. This technique will need to be used three to four times a week.
Established plants need less water than new plantings. Beginning in year two of your new hedge, you can adjust your watering during rainy months. But keep up the deep watering during hot, dry summer months only.
Do I need to fertilize my new hedge?
Typically, new plants come with granular fertilizer already on them. This is why you see a flush of new growth as soon as they are planted. Fertilizing depends on the quality of the soil you have. If the soil is poor, it may lack nutrients. You can have the soil tested for nutrients, micronutrients and pH. This will give you a good indication of what is missing, if anything, from your soil.
Applying a layer of 3-4” deep partially decomposed bark mulch is a great solution for soils that are depleted of their nutrients. Bark mulch breaks down gradually and provides the soil with fresh nutrients throughout the year. I believe bark mulch is the best money you can spend in your garden. Not only is it made up of composted organic waste that turns into nutrients (natural fertilizer), it also retains moisture in the soil during hot months (less watering) and acts as a carpet to reduce weeds (less work).
An evergreen fertilizer blend can be useful for greening-up a nutrient deficient plant quickly. Look for it in powder or granular form at your local garden centre. Plants lacking nutrients are usually a pale version of their normal leaf colour or outright yellow. Be warned that leaves can turn yellow also from over-watering or under-watering. Try to rule this out as the cause first, before applying fertilizer. Follow the instructions carefully to avoid fertilizer burn on your plants, and to prevent excess fertilizer from going into our waterways.