Plants for Hedges in Ireland

Laurus nobilis hedge, Dublin Hawthorn hedge, Northern Ireland Carpinus hedge, West Cork

You don't want to go to the trouble and expense of planting a new hedge, only to find that it doesn't survive more than a year or two. The last couple of years have been rough on plants in Ireland. Cold winters, wet springs and dry summer winds have left their toll. Plants that have been considered very tough have been killed or knocked back hard. Many gardens the length and breadth of Ireland have lost hedges, including traditional favourites such as Escallonia, Grisellinia and Olearia. What plants should people choose when it comes to hedges or shelter belts?

Know your site. Is it exposed or sheltered, coastal or inland? Is the soil damp and heavy or dry and free-draining? Knowing these things will allow you to make an informed decision. Plants have different requirements and preferences, and there is a plant for every location. Bear in mind that the edges of your site are often more exposed than the inner parts and that hedges create shelter in which you can grow more delicate plants. Choosing carefully will ensure that plants don't just survive but flourish. Read full article...

Difficult areas - choose native plants. In general, if you want the toughest plants with the best chance of survival, the wisest thing is to choose native plants. Native plants have grown in Ireland not just for hundreds of years but for thousands. They provide wonderful shelter and food to native wildlife species, are generally the cheapest to buy and they fit well into our beautiful landscape. Hedgerows are generally mixed and include plants such as Holly, Hawthorn, Dog rose and Blackthorn. Most are quite adaptable, and there are many species with ornamental berries or flowers. Elder, Spindle and Holly all fit into this category.

Milder sites - consider exotic. If you are in a milder part of the country there are many non-native plants to choose from. Think of Fuchsia flourishing in West Cork to know how well these plants can grow here. Excellent non-native plants for hedges include Fuchsia, Elaeagnus, Bay laurel (Laurus nobilis) and Cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus). Some of these were hit hard by the recent cold weather, so they are only recommended for areas where they have survived the previous two years. Plants from colder parts of China, Japan or North America can also grow very well in this climate: Hydrangea, Lilac (Syringa) and Bridal wreath (Spiraea) being examples of plants which can make excellent hedges. Browse our full list of plants for hedges...

Plant bare-root. Far and away the cheapest and fastest way to plant a hedge is with bare root plants. These are plants that have been grown in the ground in a nursery and dug in winter when dormant. They are easy to plant (you just dig a T-shaped slip in the ground and firm them in) and they are fast to establish. Real care needs to be taken that they don't dry out before planting, and they should be cut back lightly after planting to help stabilise them. They can be easily shipped and, when correctly packed, can be stored for several weeks. Not all plants are available bare-rooted, but many are.

Some top plants for hedges:

  • HornbeamCarpinus betulus. This plant is similar to Beech but has greater adaptability to difficult soil types. Especially suited for damp (not water-logged) soil. It makes an excellent clipped hedge that holds its leaves well into the winter when established. Very good autumn colour.
  • Holly - Ilex aquifolium. A classic native shrub, Holly makes a fine hedge either clipped, or informally as part of a hedgerow. The berries provide food for birds and the interior of the plant makes for fine nesting. Good in exposed sites and tolerant of drier soil.
  • Sea buckthorn - Hippophae rhamnoides. A really tough plant and one with very attractive berries and foliage. It is excellent as a 'first line of defence' against the sea, and is particularly successful in sandy or even salty soil. It is also a plant with many valuable medicinal properties.
  • Shrub rose - Rosa rugosa. Another excellent plant for the seaside. The Rugosa rose is incredibly hardy and vigorous and is particularly suited to seaside conditions or sandy soil. Suitable for a low to medium height hedge. The flowers are scented and the hips can be used in jams and jellies.
  • Hawthorn - Crataegus monogyna: Our native Hawthorn is perhaps one of the toughest and hardiest of all for the Irish climate. Able to grow in the most exposed of sites, it can also withstand grazing from animals - making it a natural barrier. The red berries and creamy white flowers are an added bonus.
  • Beech - Fagus sylvatica. Beech makes an excellent hedge, either in the countryside, suburbs or city. Tough, hardy and attractive, it does well in most situations, including by the sea. However, beech does not like overly moist, heavy or damp soils, where Hornbeam, which looks somewhat similar, makes a better alternative.
  • Privet - Ligustrum ovalifolium and Ligustrum vulgare. Privet makes a very tough hedge for almost all situations. It is extremely popular for smaller gardens and is adaptable to almost every situation. It can be kept clipped to make a tidy, formal hedge, or allowed to grow into a larger windbreak or garden boundary.
  • Field maple - Acer campestre: field maple is a small to medium-sized tree which has attractive leaves which turn a nice shade of yellow in autumn. It can be kept clipped or be part of an informal mixed hedge.Good tolerance to shade and damp or heavy soil.

Some unusual hedges:

  • Pittosporum: can make an elegant and attractive hedge. Suited for milder areas with some shelter.
  • Camellia: very cold hardy but with a preference for shelter from wind. Camellias can make very glossy, floriferous hedges in the right place.
  • Spiraea 'Arguta':  a very elegant smaller hedge which is clothed in masses of white flowers in early summer.
  • Myrtus communis subsp. tarantina: similar to box but with smaller, fragrant foliage. Only for milder areas.
  • Sarcococca confusa (Sweet box): a low to medium height hedge which is very cold hardy. It grows well in shade and once established is good in drier sites. Glossy evergreen leaves, scented white flowers in winter.
  • Syringa: Lilac makes a lovely, informal flowering hedge, and it is exceptionally hardy. Nothing beats the scent of its flowers in late spring / early summer.