Hedgerows in New Zealand

Traditionally throughout Europe, hedgerows were used to separate the fields from the lanes or adjoining fields and often incorporated prickly plants such as Hawthorn, Blackthorn or Barberry on a low sod wall to keep the livestock in the fields. But their use did not stop there as they often were also a source of animal fodder/forage, shelter, food, medicinal plants, crafting materials, firewood and a wildlife corridor.  Many of these hedgerows have been removed as farming systems change, but it is our belief that it is time they made a comeback. As more and more people move towards sustainable living and knowing how and where their food is produced it makes sense that they should also choose to maximize the use of their land, be it a small urban section, a couple of acres or hundreds of acres.

Creating a New Zealand hedgerow.

A hedgerow generally consists of a mixture of plants from low growing herbs to trees, all of which usually have a reason, or multiple reasons for being there. So therefore, it is important when creating your hedgerow to know why you are planting it. Reasons could include privacy, shelter, fodder/forage, food, firewood, birds and insects or even appearance etc.

Rugosa Rose and Fennel add an edible element to the front of a hedgerow

Here at Fodder Farm our focus is on growing and using plants which are multi use, be that soil enhancing, medicinal, shelter and fuel providing, or edible for both people and animals. As we are also a small farm with assorted livestock all our plants destined for the hedgerows must be edible, this counteracts the fact that in planting hedgerows we lose grazing land, a valuable resource. But in choosing the right plants we can create a diverse nutritional and medicinal multi use hedgerow which will be far superior to the limited pasture which was there before.

Hedgerows usually consist of plants indigenous to the region, this works well in regions such as England but can be limiting in New Zealand if you wish to incorporate a diverse range of multi-use and edible plants. That said there is quite a number of New Zealand  native plants which are suitable for a forageable, shelter, bird/bee and privacy hedgerow.

Alders are a fodder tree which also fixes nitrogen and can be coppiced

But plants are only part of the equation. Soil, dryness or wetness, wind, location, Sun direction and temperature must all be considered, these will all impact on your choice of plant and also the placement of the type of hedgerows. Paying attention to your conditions can allow you to create micro climates, which could support frost tender plants, shade or cool climate plants or simply extend your growing season. The placement of hedgerows on your landscape can also have quite dramatic results in reducing the lands vulnerability to extreme weather such as drought or heavy rainfall. On exposed or flat open areas hedgerows can provide relief from winds, which can prevent wind erosion of the soils and moisture evaporation. While on sloping sites planting on contour (following the lands natural curves across the slope) can mitigate erosion and runoff, therefore maximizing the absorption of rain and nutrients which would normally be lost. This water will be caught and stored in the hedgerow root systems and released at a slower rate, though this process works best on soils which are rich in clay or organic matter.

In conjunction with riparian planting, hedgerows reduce the flow rate of water into waterways. This lessens the amount of flooding downstream and also has a valuable role in reducing the amount of pollutants and sediment that reach the waterways, through acting as a physical barrier, increasing infiltration into the ground and absorption  through the plants.  So, you can see by observing your landscape and choosing plants which suit your climate and desired outcomes you can create a highly beneficial and productive addition to your property.

Designing Your Hedgerow

The important factors here are whether or not livestock will have access to your hedgerow and if it will boarder a neighbour’s property. In regards to neighbours there may be height and overhang regulations in an urban environment, so you should probably check with your council prior to planting. For rural properties, it would pay to talk with neighbours about your plans and possibly run a hot-wire on their side of the fence if they have larger livestock such as cattle or horses. But be aware if livestock can access any overhang that you do not plant any toxic plants. For any hedgerow on land with livestock, some form of fencing will be needed until the plants reach a size and density which can cope with being browsed. This fence could be temporary electric or be a permanent post/standard and wire which will allow browsing with an element of protection remaining, the latter is probably preferable for smaller properties which have a shorter grazing rotation and therefore a shorter recovery time for the hedgerow. I would recommend that at least 1.5m be allowed for the hedgerow between fence lines, and a hot-wire for larger livestock.

Culbhac Farm in Ireland. This is a traditional hedgerow with a large range of indigenous species from herbs and brambles, to large trees. This photo was taken in springtime and the Hawthorn are blossoming

For a highly productive hedgerow it should contain a mixture of plants from low growing beneficial annuals and perennials to shrubs and trees. Among this, nitrogen  fixing and mineral accumulating plants should be spread to help maintain and improve the soil. It is also beneficial to mulch the area to be planted for at least the first couple of years, this not only reduces the need for weeding and retains moisture in the ground, but also removes the negative effects of grass which can suppress the growth of other plants. While hedgerows can be as wide as you choose it is suggested that 1.5m be the minimum  width and that they are not lower than 1m in height.

Below are some excerpts from the Mersey Forest Hedgerow guide…

“When to plant your hedgerow

It is best to plant between November and March (May to September for Southern hemisphere, bare rooted plants are usually available July to August) while the tree is dormant (before it starts to bud) and avoiding periods of heavy frost.

Spacing of hedgerow plants

Hedgerows should be planted at a density of approximately four plants per metre if planted in a single row. To create a wider hedge, a second row can be planted at staggered intervals. These double hedgerows should be planted at 5 plants per metre, with 30-40cm between the rows.

A plan view of a hedgerow planting
Diagram shows the diverse planting that can be achieved in a hedgerow.

Weed Control

Weed control is recommended to increase the success of a planting scheme. Grasses and weeds compete with trees for moisture and will dramatically reduce the survival rate of new planting. This is less of an issue in well managed areas such as school grounds.

Try to maintain a 1m wide weed-free strip in line with the hedgerow (50cm either side of hedge) for the first three to five years of growth or until plants are successfully established. The following methods of weed control can be used: Organic mulch such as well rotted woodchip, bark, coconut fibre, grass cuttings, horse manure or farmyard manure can be layed around the base of the hedge to a 10cm depth. This should be applied in early summer and will need topping up in subsequent years. Hessian backed carpet squares flipped over with a slit cut in to place it around the tree can also be used.”

Fodder Farm Hedgerow Types

The Fodder/Forage Hedgerow.

Fodder is feed that is harvested and taken to the animal, forage is browsed on by the animal while still on the land.

Tree Lucerne – Tagasaste, Japanese Fodder willow, Mulberries, Rugosa – Apple rose, Hazel, Feijoa, Holm Oak, Copper Beech – hedged, Wattle- Coppiced, Sweet Chestnut – coppiced, Alder – Black or Italian – coppiced, Jerusalem artichoke. For many more examples of plants which can be used we have a book ‘Fodder and Forage – Creating Diverse Animal Feed System in New Zealand’.

Tree Lucerne, an excellent fodder species
New Zealand Native Forageable Hedgerow

Flax, Toe Toe, Cabbage Tree, Five Finger, Seven Finger, Karo, Kohuhu, Lemonwood, Griselinia, Hebe, Ake Ake, Manuka, Mahoe

For Nitrogen Fixing, Kaka beak and Kowhai could be used but Kowhai is considered toxic as is Tutu, which also fixes nitrogen. A possible under-planting of soil improving plants could be considered instead, such as comfrey or other deep-rooted herbs. 

Edible/food-forest Hedgerow

Fruit trees – Apple, Pear, Peach, Plum etc.  Apricot can be used but wilted leaves can be toxic to horses.  Mulberries, Rugosa – Apple rose, Hazel, Feijoa, Currants, Blueberries, Gooseberries, Berry brambles – Raspberry,  Thorn-less Blackberry etc. Grape, Kiwifruit, Globe artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes, Rhubarb – toxic to animals, Fennel, Herbs – Rosemary, lavender, Thyme, Tansy, Alexanders, Parsley, Chives, Comfrey. Climbing beans, Perennial vegetables etc…