One of the most glorious autumnal hedgeplants, let’s big up the Beech!
- Genus: Fagus
- Most common variety: Common Beech (fagus sylvatica)
- Other popular varieties: Purple Beech ( fagus sylvatica purpurea), Golden Beech ( fagus sylvatica ‘Zlatia’)
Beech is deciduous, with the green leaves changing colour in the Autumn to coppery orange/brown. The leaves remain on the plant throughout the Winter and fall off in the Spring. The shiny elliptical leaves become brittle and the sound of beech hedges rattling in the wind is a nostalgic autumnal sound.
Beech hedge is quite slow-growing, and although it can reach heights in excess of 12 metres in height, it would take several decades to achieve such extremes. It is a sturdy plant that can be shaped into medium height hedges – 6 to 9 feet – within a few years and is hardy enough to survive moderate climates.
The leaves are shiny and a yellowy-green colour when they first appear. Varieties such as “Dawyck Purple” have leaves that turn towards the purple end of the spectrum in the Autumn.
Beech doesn’t have a flower in the strictest sense, but its seed pods appear in the Autumn.
Beech nuts are covered with a spiky outer shell. Once peeled, a pod usually reveals two three-sided nuts which can be eaten as they come, but should be cooked to remove their toxicity if you plan to use a lot of them.
To get the most enjoyment from your Beech hedge, a careful trim in August will maintain your desired shape while allowing the plant to regrow leaves that will change colour as they die in the Autumn, but remain on the plant until the Spring.
Beech can be propagated by seed – simply collect the seed pods and plant them into the soil in the autumn. You can grow them as seedlings if you wish, and plant them in the Spring – Beech is a fast growing seed and therefore quite a rewarding plant to pot.
How To Plant Beech Hedge
If growing from seed, a solution that is highly recommended, you should allow the seedlings to grow to a height of around 2 feet before planting in a permanent position. According to the Royal Horticultural Society, by lifting and replanting saplings that have been growing for two seasons, the disturbance to the root system will promote a thicker network of roots and therefore a more robust plant.
The biggest threat is Beech Bark Disease, which is caused when the Beech Scale Insect invades a plant and, as a consquence of their feeding, a fungal attack causes cankers and lesions. These can lead to the slow death of the tree canopy over time, while the continued feeding by the invasive insects can cause the wood to become brittle and snap.
Beech Bark Disease can be identified initially by red spots in the dark, an indication that the fungus is taking hold.
Concerted efforts to manage the problem have limited the spread of the disease, however if your beech hedge is beset, you should try to cleanse the affected area with power washing, or consider using an insecticide.
It is worth noting that Beech Bark Disease is more common in forest and woodlands than in suburban hedgerows, where you are more likely to experience the occasional Aphid attack. However, knowledge is power and if you like Beech like we like Beech, you should care for it in all it’s forms.
Fun Facts About Beech
- Weeping Beech (fagus sylvatica pendula) has big drooping branches, and in Hyde Park, London, one has been christened “The Upside Down Tree“.
- Beech nuts can be eaten by humans, although they are slightly toxic if eaten in big quantities, so beech binge carefully!
- Similarly you can add spring beech leaves to salads or use them to infuse gin.
- Beech is an excellent firewood and is a popular choice for smoking meat.
- Beech Nut Chewing Gum doesn’t have beech nuts in it – the Beech Nut Packing Company (the manufacturers) started out producing bacon and ham!
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