Hawthorn hedges have so much more to of­fer wildlife says Val

Amateur Gardening - - News -

Why hawthorn hedges have so much to of­fer

“Many are eaten by mi­grat­ing birds”

GAR­DEN­ERS of­ten ask me how they can have a more wildlife­friendly gar­den. One of the eas­i­est ways is to plant a hedge, but it has to be the right hedge. My vil­lage con­tains lots of Por­tuguese laurel hedg­ing (Prunus lusi­tan­ica), prob­a­bly cho­sen be­cause it forms a dense screen. It needs cut­ting at least three times a year, which would put me off, but more im­por­tantly it of­fers very lit­tle to in­sects al­though vine wee­vil and leaf-min­ing moths en­joy munch­ing through the shiny ev­er­green fo­liage.

Oth­ers are wrestling with Ley­land conifer hedges (Cu­pres­sus x ley­landii) planted for their rapid growth. Finches and some birds like to roost in them ad­mit­tedly, but few in­sects are at­tracted be­cause the Por­tuguese laurel and the North Amer­i­can Ley­land cy­press are both non-na­tive plants and don’t have a re­la­tion­ship with Bri­tish in­sects that’s been built up over mil­len­nia.

You might be think­ing not hav­ing many in­sects is a good thing. How­ever, to achieve a bal­anced eco-sys­tem, you want lots of in­sects to sus­tain preda­tory in­sects and birds. If you plant a com­mon hawthorn hedge (Cratae­gus monog­yna) it could sup­port more than 300 in­sects, ac­cord­ing to The Wood­land Trust. It’s also a par­tic­u­larly good food plant for moths cater­pil­lars in­clud­ing the hawthorn, or­chard er­mine, pear leaf blis­ter, rhom­boid tor­trix, light emer­ald, lackey, vapourer, fruit­let min­ing tor­trix, small eggar and lap­pet moths. The Wood­land Trust also tell us that dormice eat the flow­ers – though not in my gar­den sadly.

The flow­ers have a sweet cake smell and ap­pear in May. They pro­vide nec­tar and pollen for bees and other pol­li­nat­ing in­sects and the re­sult­ing haws are rich in an­tiox­i­dants. Many are eaten by mi­grat­ing birds such as red­wings, field­fares and thrushes, as well as small mam­mals. The dense thorny fo­liage makes fan­tas­tic nest­ing shel­ter for many species of bird. It will need trim­ming once a year and I think late win­ter is best, af­ter most of the haws have gone.

The best way to start a new hedge is to buy bare-root whips, which are sent out be­tween Novem­ber and March. Seek out UK grown hawthorn hedg­ing be­cause whips raised in colder parts of Europe do not flower at the right time and will be out of sync with our wildlife. Plant each whip 12in (30cm) apart and you should get a hedge af­ter six years.

The ul­ti­mate wildlife hedge - com­mon hawthorn - pro­vid­ing lots of haws

The flow­ers pro­vide nec­tar and pollen for bees and other pol­li­nat­ing in­sects

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