Native hedgerows: a DIY guide for wildlife gardeners

Native hedgerows: a DIY guide for wildlife gardeners

Why plant a native hedgerow?

Hedgerows have grown throughout Britain and much of Europe for centuries, so it is not surprising that when the first Europeans arrived in Australia, they brought the humble hedgerow with them. The Europeans used Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) and some hardy native plants to grow vast green fences to keep their livestock from wandering.

Over the years their popularity waned and now many of these once-vast hedgerows have become patchy and dilapidated. Today, however, in Australia, as in Britain, enthusiasm for native hedgerows is sprouting again amongst conservationists, farmers and gardeners.

So why care about hedgerows? Well, to begin with hedgerows provide ideal habitat for a wide range of animals, plants, and fungi. Their dense growth provides ideal nesting for birds like the New Holland Honeyeater and Eastern Spinebill, and can be a great way to get these smaller species to take up residence in your garden.

New Holland Honeyeater. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The flowers and fruits of many native plants used in hedges are also a brilliant way to invite lizards and insects, including native bees and butterflies, into your garden. The branches of older hedgerows often become sheathed in lush carpets of colourful lichens and the decaying branches and leaves which fall to the ground provide a rich habitat for mushrooms. The dense branches of hedgerows also provide a natural trellis upon which native climbers like Small-leaved Clematis (Clematis microphylla) and Purple Coral Pea (Hardenbergia violacea) can grow.

Tree Violet fruit. Image: Wikimedia Commons

As well as creating a haven for wildlife, hedgerows can have a suite of other beneficial effects on the garden and the planet. They’re excellent screens to keep out road noise and certainly capture much more carbon than a barbed wire fence. They also act as barriers to desiccating summer winds and help to keep humidity in your garden, reducing the need to water frequently.

What to plant?

Maybe now you are convinced of the utility of a hedgerow for your little backyard, or perhaps your slightly larger paddock, but how do you go about putting one in?

The first thing is to pick your plants. While European Hawthorn is tried and tested in Australia, it’s not native and it is actually considered a weed in several states. A much better option is to pick from our broad range of native plants adapted to the local soils and climate around Melbourne. On top of that, tube stock seedlings sold at indigenous plant nurseries are often dirt cheap, generally priced at only a couple dollars per plant.

Although hedgerows can be composed of only a single plant species, to increase the diversity of wildlife you attract, try planting a few different species. Some of the best for the local conditions around Melbourne are the Prickly Moses (Acacia verticillata), Bushy Needlewood (Hakea decurrens) and Tree Violet (Melicytus dentatus), all of which stand up against the hot summers, and won’t require watering once established.

Bushy Needlewood. Image: Wikimedia Commons

To get a dense hedgerow, try planting each seedling about 40 cm apart and give them a bit of water for their first year to help them establish. The best time to plant is late winter. Once your hedgerow is few years old you can even add some native climbers, or understorey plants like Austral Stork’s-bill (Pelargonium australe).

Pruning your hedgerow

The last thing to keep in mind is pruning. Unlike the hedgerows of the northern hemisphere, Australian natives don’t respond well when they are hacked down to the base. Instead, give the top and sides of your native hedge a prune in late autumn, just before the winter growing season, to encourage bushy, compact growth.

Eastern Spinebill. Image: Wikimedia Commons

So why not plant a native hedgerow? You’ll be welcoming wildlife into your garden, lowering your watering bills, and at the end of the day, it’s a fun little project.

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