Hedges, page 2 - Any Questions?


Q.  We have a Privet Hedge, approx 7 ft by 2-3 ft. Unsure of it's age. Early spring after the spring growth had appeared, 2 plants curled up & died. They had lost most of their leaves the previous autumn, however when they sprouted in the spring we thought all was OK. We had cleared all the ivy from around the base of the plants the year before & thought maybe this had had some effect. Now it seems that part of 2 other hedges are also starting to die. They are not anywhere near the 2 plants that died in the spring. Somebody suggested it was because of a lack of water over the summer, however one of the hedges is situated behind our herb garden and so was watered regularly during the summer. The leaves now are a mix of dark purple / red and yellow / brown. Some of the plants show some new green growth, others don't. They appear to have thinned out quite considerably too as we can now see through to the other side. Some of the old wood has a green soft coating to it, like a thin moss.

Also a few months back I noticed some of the leaves had curled up on themselves and turned black, with further investigation I found a small cream coloured larva (3mm) inside the leaf walls surrounded by what seemed to be digested black remains of the inside of the leaf. I have not been able to find help anywhere on what this might be. It doesn't leave tunnels like a leaf miner, rather it just seems to eat everything in between the 2 walls.

Please I don't know what to do next. I feel we are in danger of losing all the hedge. It was last pruned late spring / early summer and we've been afraid to touch it since then. I have noticed a few other hedges in the district looking somewhat the same, but there are others which look fantastic. Is it worth putting down some Sequestered Iron or spraying with a fungicide?

A.  I think the leaf miners you found are incidental rather than the cause of the problem, they are not uncommon on privet. It sounds like either honey fungus or wilt (a wonderfully vague term), both are fungal diseases that will readily attack privet and cause the symptoms you describe and over the time scale you describe. If it is honey fungus, you should be able to find some of the bracket-like fruiting bodies on the trunks of the plants. Wilt is caused by one of a group of fungi that give no outward signs other than the symptoms of the plant that is suffering.

In either case there is little you can really do directly. Cut out all of the dead wood and stems and burn them, clean pruning tools carefully afterwards so not to spread spores. Clear under the plants of weeds, ivy, dead leaves and any other debris and give the hedge a top-dressing of fish, blood and bone meal lightly forked in to help build up the strength. I have to say though that the outlook is not very positive, particularly as you say other hedges in the area are affected, it seems like the disease is endemic and may re-infect.

Try my suggestions, but be aware that you may eventually have to replace the hedge with something that has resistance to the disease that is affecting it.


Q.  We have a 50ft long beech hedge that looses all it's leaves annually as we live in a very windy location. Can I plant an evergreen climber throughout it's length to provide greenery and cover through the winter whilst not damaging the beech hedge itself? I am presuming a climber is the quickest way to gain this effect. Whether or not the climber flowers is not the issue, it's more to provide a continual cover. The beech hedge is 10 ft high and 4ft deep, so well established, if not in need of a good pruning this year.

A.  You can try, though it's not something I would recommend as you would be setting competition between the hedge and the climber and both would suffer. You could try planting climbers a foot or so from the hedge to avoid some root competition, but there will of course be competition for light amongst the leaves.

You could try ivy - small leaved and vigorous varieties, even wild ivy if it's around. Or you could try evergreen honeysuckles such as "Halliana" or "Henryi" again small leaves will be better than large if the area is exposed.

Realistically though, you should expect casualties, most likely of the climber that you're trying to establish in such unpromising conditions and then if the climber gets going, it will threaten the beech hedging plants. I'd suggest the best alternative to be a 5 or 6ft high wooden fence in addition to the hedge.


Q.   My beech hedge is about 8ft high. The hedge backs onto a wood so it is completely bare on that side. The front of the hedge is 4-5ft wide. I wish to reduce the height by 2ft and the width (at the front) by 2-3ft. If I cut the front by this much, all of the buds will be cut off. If I cut off all of the buds, would new growth sprout next year (as happens with pollarded lime trees for instance). Your advice would be very much appreciated.

A.   Beech responds well to hard pruning and renovation, and your proposed cuts are less drastic than that. If you cut the buds off, it will obviously be a little later than normal, but will recover. In order to make up for the treatment a good mulch and a feed of a slow-release fertiliser such as blood, fish and bone after pruning will help to get it growing away strongly come the spring.


Q.  We have a very old hawthorn hedge over 8ft high which is smothered in ivy. I want to restore it. Most is either dead or too old to layer successfully, but I have taken cuttings from it to replant next season. I have pulled out as much ivy as I can. Is there any way to kill the ivy without poisoning the salvageable hedge or the ground, or will I have to dig the whole hedge out to get at the ivy roots? If I only dig it out on my side it will probably encroach again from my neighbour's side.

A.  Not an easy one, but with perseverance and patience, you should get there. It's a question of removing the ivy regularly causing it to use it's energy in producing new shoots and leaves and then keep removing those too before they get a chance to build up any kind of reserve strength.

First of all dig out as much of the root as you can. If you can't easily pull the growing ivy from the hedge, cut it off just above ground level, once the leaves have gone brown, they will be easier to remove as they won't cling anywhere near as tightly.

Once you've dug out as much as you can and have cut the rest off, stand back and let the plant produce a rush of tender green growth. Then you get really nasty with it and paint the ivy leaves with a systemic weed killer that is taken up through the leaves and taken to the roots. Make sure you wear rubber gloves when you do this. It will take a couple of weeks depending on the temperature (better in spring and summer) for this growth to die down - remove it and wait for the ivy to repeat its process when you then again repeat yours with the weedkiller.

If you keep on top of it you'll succeed. What you want to avoid is letting it grow too much again and start to regain its strength.


Q.  We have an established Privet Hedge of about 25ft in length. In the spring we noticed bare patches appearing and thought it may be spring scorch. How ever the bare patches have increased and now nearly the whole hedge has mauve/blackened leaves. We have checked for Honey Fungus and can find no sign of it. Some of the leaves show sign of a bug attack but we believe this is not connected. Any ideas on what is causing the bare patches?

A.   Sounds very much like a fungus of some kind, though difficult to tell without seeing it. Honey fungus has sort of black "bootlaces" under the soil and maybe under the bark too. The bugs sound like opportunists on a struggling plant, privet have various insects that attack them at the best of times.

What to do depends on how far gone it is, I'd strip the dead regions for signs of disease and if they're dead, cut them right back to a healthy region. Privet is good at recovering and responds well to severe pruning. If it's able to be saved, take care with hygiene, remove all prunings from the garden, burn them or take them down to the tip. Sweep up leaves from the base of the plants and remove these also. Give the hedge a boost with blood, fish and bonemeal or gromore and a good mulch of garden compost or well rotted farmyard manure.

If it's really too late or it is honey fungus and you have to remove the hedge, then replace with something else instead and try to get rid of all roots too.


Q.  I've let my established holly hedge grow both outwards and upwards too much. Have had complaints about it obstructing the adjoining footpath and requests that I cut it back. But to bring it back in line with the boundary wall behind which it grows I'd lose all the leaves and expose the leafless core of the hedge. What can I do (and when?) to maintain the hedge but satisfy the complainants?

A.   Holly does respond to drastic pruning, but as it's slow growing and evergreen such pruning is usually carried out over 2 or 3 years. The best time to do it is late summer, though, you may have little choice in this.

Generally the younger and smaller the plant is, the better and quicker it will respond. Make sure you leave a reasonable amount of foliage on the plant , i.e. remove no more than about 1/3rd in any one go. If most of the plants is on your land and facing the "other way" from the wall with plenty of leaf on that side, it shouldn't matter about cutting back to the brown leafless core. The 1/3rd applies to the whole plant, whole branches can be removed. It should recover in time, but it will be slow before the brown side is green and leafy again - 2 to 3 years maybe, you'll see some growth in the first year, but it will take time to recover properly.


Q. I have a narrow strip of land running up the edge of my front garden (~50ft long) between my drive and a low fence (my neighbours.) I'd like to plant a hedge in this strip, between the fence and the drive. The strip of land is just that - about 6 inches wide. To plant a hedge I think I would need to widen this by shifting the paving slabs inbound somewhat, which I can do with some effort.

My question is basically what is the minimum planting width I could get away with for (i) planting the hedge and then (ii) the minimum depth a hedge can be pruned to/maintained at?

I am thinking a Hornbeam type hedge rather than the Leyland Cypress type here. Maybe there no minimum strip depth as long as the actual roots can spread? (the drive has no deep foundations.) Would another type of hedge be better off for making narrow but still private hedge? Ideally I'd like a tall year round screen hedge that has a depth (thickness) of around 15 inches and 7ft high.

A.   Hedges are generally not planted next to hard surfaces such as driveways without a good gap (several feet). The roots of almost any hedge can affect a nearby paved surface, but it depends on the age of the hedge and the individual plants.

If you do see where plant roots have affected the paved surface, then it tends only to be one or two plants that are affecting it, the others have roots that go in different directions.

OK, so I can't say, "yes as long as..." or "no don't unless..", but, if it were me, I'd go ahead:

1/ Hornbeam is a good choice, not known for having particularly shallow roots.

2/ Any effect will be many years down the line, so for a good while you don't need to move the slabs at all, if fact I'd probably make do planting them in your 6" gap until I needed to do anything.

3/ If the drive has substantial foundations, then the roots may well be directed downwards when the hedge is young and it won't matter.

4/ Eventually some roots probably will start to affect the driveway, keeping the size of the plants down will help, but the roots do get bigger and stronger regardless, how long? probably 10 years or more (maybe never), how affected? probably nothing you can't live with.


Q.  I want to make a hedge maze approx, 100 feet x 100 feet. I am getting mixed info on the best type of hedge to plant. I live in northwest Indiana by lake Michigan.

A.   There are a number of hedging plants that will grow in your hardiness zone as you're obviously aware. The most important aspect is of plants that will suit being used for a maze, when you come up against the eternal hedging "problem" which is that you want something to grow quickly to the desired height, but then not to carry on beyond that or you'll be spending too much of your time or money keeping the thing in trim.

Also a shaggy hedge for a maze will not be so good as people will want to walk along the paths unimpeded.

I suggest these, all are evergreen:

    Yew - Taxus baccata - THE classic hedging and maze plant, but more expensive and slower growing. Japanese yew - Taxus cuspidata could be used, take care with the cultivars offered (different height, speed) and make sure you get all the same if you go for this! Poisonous to livestock - and people too if you chew on them.

    Buxus - Box - Another classic, but very slow growing, it'll be years before the hedge has knitted together and is "finished" however it will potentially last for at least decades or even hundreds of years.

    Arborvitae - quicker growing, more maintenance.

    "Cypress" - Available in a great number of forms and varieties, quicker growing and more maintenance.

Don't go for flowering hedges - too messy for a maze, and don't go for anything with spikes.


Q.  I have an established hedge of English yew... on a few there is some dieback. It seems to affect the entire branch from the ground. my nursery said if I cut back the damaged/dead wood it would in time fill in, it has been three years and they still do not show any new growth anywhere near the hole I created. Should I have cut back the stem all the way to the ground? As it was I cut back only the branches coming from the main stem that were affected but now I seem to be slowly loosing other branches off that same stem. Any insight would be appreciated.

A.  Yews usually respond well if slowly (being slow growing) to such cutting back into brown wood as long as the plant is healthy. It sounds sadly that yours is not and that whatever it was that caused the branches to die in the first place is still there causing damage. Yews are susceptible to foot-rot caused by fungus and are particularly vulnerable after wet winters, they don't like their roots sitting in the wet when it's cold.

You could continue to cut the dead branches off, but it sounds like your Yew has a slow and probably terminal illness. If I were you I'd probably try drenching the soil around the affected plants with a proprietary fungicide, but it doesn't sound too hopeful I'm afraid.


Q.  When we moved into our house we had a lovely Lleylandii hedge along the front of the property and between us and our semi-detached neighbours. It's approx 6 ft high and shaped to a point at the top from 4 ft up. Despite initial reservations we've managed to keep it up ourselves, with one/two trims a year but the other night some stupid idiots thought it would be fun to set fire to the hedge. Luckily our neighbours noticed and called the fire brigade but we now have a burnt out patch from 4 ft up and it's about 3 ft wide. Any advice on the best way to get the hedge back to it's former glory would be most appreciated. Basically all the green has gone, but the main branches in the centre of the hedge remain - albeit some are pretty charred.

A.  Lleylandii very rarely grow again from brown wood, I have seen them do it, but it takes 2-3 years and that was when half of the plant was cut back leaving green leaves on the other. The chances are that they will die I'm afraid, your best bet is probably replacement with a new plant/s if the burnt parts are down to ground level.

If there's a good healthy portion below the burnt part, then cut out the burnt/brown region and train a new leader when one emerges from the lower portion, it shouldn't take too long to fill the gap with a bit of judicious training and pruning.


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