When extolling the virtues of organic farming and gardening, I always feel that it’s important to focus on the positive impacts we’re able to have on our soil and environment, rather than just reciting a list of the things we don’t do. Sure, we don’t use harsh pesticides and other chemicals, we tend not to mono-crop (and favor planting a broad diversity of crops instead of acres of just one). But for most, the true spirit of organics goes far beyond this. Organic agriculture is about focusing on soil health, understanding that plant health will follow. It’s about water conservation, understanding natural systems, leaving the land better than you found it, and promoting biodiversity every way you can.
The process of building a hedgerow is an age-old technique that fosters many of these ideals. A hedgerow is really a simple concept, defined as a line or a border of densely planted shrubs or trees. Let’s dig a little deeper and discuss the major benefits of the hedgerow, as well as some tips and ideas for planting one.
Benefits of Planting A Hedgerow
Hedgerows can attract beneficial insects. On this topic of biodiversity, one method of organic agriculture is to keep ‘bad’ bugs at bay by attracting and retaining ‘good’ bugs. Creatures like native bees, ladybugs, and lacewings – to name just a few – will do wonders. Planting a flowering hedgerow to attract them is a key method.
They provide habitat and act as corridors for all sorts of creatures. Many suburban landscapes are lacking good habitat for creatures big and small, from insects to birds to scurrying critters. By planting a hedgerow you’re not only creating forage and living space for these guys but allowing them to travel through the neighborhood as well.
They provide a windbreak for your garden and can prevent erosion. In the olden days, planting a hedgerow was a great way to not only separate your land from your neighbors, but also to provide space for low-maintenance food crops such as berries. Instead of a bare fence, consider a dense planting of bushes to forage from, catch water that could otherwise runoff into other yards, and provide a wind shelter so that you can plant more fragile crops in the interior garden.
Things To Consider When Planting A Hedgerow
Consider native plants. Some of my favorites for California are Coffeeberry and all types of buckwheats. Bring back the natives!
Go crazy with inter-planting. The great thing about a hedgerow is that you can add to it and amend it over time. Start with some bigger bushes, and as they fill in over time, add smaller plantings of flowers, more bushes, even some simple annual flowers and benches over time.
Think about water. This is not the place to plant your most thirsty, fragile crops. Think instead of drought-tolerant, hardy shrubs that won’t need much water at all after they’re established. While you’re busy carefully watering more tender plants in the garden, the hedgerow is a breath of fresh air that you can all but ignore.
Plan for the whole year. As we learned from my friend Jordan at Heidrun Meadery, there’s some careful planning to be done if we aim to feed native bees and other insects all year long. Check out some of her tips.