If good fences make good neighbors, I don’t think it could get much better than a hedgerow planted for birds, bees and butterflies.
Fences mark boundaries, block views, help stop street noise and create a sense of privacy. Hedges or hedgerows can do the same, plus create habitat for wildlife that may be lacking in your neighborhood.
A garden hedge has traditionally been a planting of a single species of tree or shrub to form a boundary. Many are pruned annually for a more formal look.
Privet, boxwood and arborvitaes are typical of the plants that have been used.
A hedgerow tends to be more informal and was frequently used to set boundaries between landowners. They usually consist of a mix of trees and shrubs, although sometimes just one species is planted.
Hedgerows are used for windbreaks, which can also help prevent soil erosion. A hedgerow can provide habitats for wildlife and act as a corridor for animals to safely travel, linking fragmented habitats together.
You can think of a hedgerow as a living fence. It does take some time for the shrubs and trees to become established, but in the long run, you will be providing food, nesting areas and cover for a variety of wildlife and adding beauty to your landscape.
Using a mixture of native trees, shrubs and perennials will provide the best habitat. If you incorporate flowering trees and shrubs, pollinators will benefit, and you’ll be providing fruit for birds.
Native plants are also needed to supply birds with a plentiful source of caterpillars.
You don’t need a large property to incorporate a hedgerow into your landscape. Smaller urban and suburban yards can also offer sanctuary to birds and beneficial insects.
You can look for smaller native shrubs to use and design something that looks more formal and less wild.
Just like anything else you plant, it’s important to get the right plant for your site. Knowing your soil type, pH, moisture, hardiness zone and amount of sunlight available are all key to your success.
You will also need to determine your goals for the hedgerow.
What birds or butterflies or bees are you hoping to attract? Do you need the hedge to screen a view?
In that case, adding some evergreens may be necessary.
Finding smaller evergreens that are native is more challenging, so you may have to go with a non-native species, but they will still provide important cover for birds. Also, determine how tall you would like your plants to be at maturity.
How much room can you devote to a hedgerow? The wider it is, the more habitat it can provide.
If your neighbor is willing to also plant a hedgerow on the other side of yours, you can easily double your impact.
A hedgerow with layers —trees, shrubs, groundcovers and even some wildflowers will attract a wider number of birds and insects.
If you have a small yard, do not use shrubs that spread by suckers or they will grow out of bounds. Use plants that flower and fruit at different times of the year.
A hedge is also a great spot to leave fallen leaves. A layer of fallen leaves is an important overwintering site for many beneficial insects and butterfly cocoons.
Dogwood trees and shrubs provide flowers, fruit, and caterpillars.
Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) is a great small tree and would be lovely as part of a hedge or as a specimen tree.
Growing 15 to 25 feet tall, it prefers a moist well-drained soil, that is somewhat acidic. It does best with some shade in the afternoon.
It has very distinctive, tiered branching, making it look a bit like a wedding cake. The fragrant, white flowers appear in spring and are attractive to pollinators.
The birds will enjoy the dark blue berries that follow.
If you have acidic soils, you can grow a hedge with blueberry, huckleberry, fothergilla and our native hollies, such as winterberry.
Winterberry (Ilex verticillate) is a deciduous shrub, but as the leaves fall off, it puts on a display of bright red berries. The birds love the berries, so you may not get to see them all winter.
The flowers are small, not much to see.
Plants are male and female, so make sure to buy a male plant to pollinate your female plants, otherwise no berries. Mature shrubs are 6 to 8 feet tall.
Smaller gardens can use a dwarf variety called ‘Little Goblin.’
The Amelanchier genus is another great group of plants to choose from. Otherwise known as serviceberry, juneberry, or shadbush this is a genus of about 20 shrubs and small trees.
Low serviceberry (Amelanchier humilis) would normally be found growing at the edge of a wood. It grows 3 or 4 feet tall, but it tends to spread along the ground which would not be good for a small garden.
Serviceberries offer white blooms in early spring, followed by summer fruit that the birds love. They also add nice fall color to the landscape.
Common snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) also called waxberry, is another possible shrub for a hedgerow.
In early summer, clusters of small, bell-shaped flowers bloom. Snow-white berries make an appearance later in the season, remaining on the stems into winter.
The berries are a good source of food for some birds later in the winter. It is adaptable to a variety of soil conditions, including clay soils.
Its shrubby nature provides good cover and nesting sites for birds and bumblebees pollinate the flowers. The flowers might also attract hummingbirds.
If you want to create or increase biodiversity in your yard, adding a hedgerow of native plants is a great place to start.
Have a gardening question? The Master Gardener office is open.
Please wear a mask when visiting the Cornell Cooperative Extension office and check in at the reception window.
Master Gardener volunteers are normally in the office Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. until noon. You can stop in at the CCE office at 420 E. Main St. in Batavia, call (585) 343-3040, ext. 127, or e-mail it at: email@example.com.
Our next Garden Talk will be at noon Thursday via Zoom.
Join us to learn about “No Mow Yards” with Master Gardener Connie B.
Manicured lawns are a staple for most front yards. They require a great deal of money and work to keep lush and provide little to no support of a diverse ecosystem.
This program will explore alternatives to the front lawn that are biodiverse, nature friendly and low maintenance. Registration is required. Visit the events page of our website http://genesee.cce.cornell.edu/events.