How To Revive A Dying Hedge


When I started caring for my hedges, I was concerned that some of my plants were dying or in terrible shape. Thankfully, with occasional bursts of hard love over a couple of years I was able to restore them to their former glory.

By pruning out dead or diseased growth, regular watering and feeding and with a thick layer of mulch and compost, it is possible to nurture your hedge plants back to good health. And that is a wonderful thing to achieve.

A dying hedge can be brought back to life with care and attention

What Causes A Dying Hedge?

In many ways this is a broad question about the all encompassing mortality of life itself, but if we drill down a bit, there are a few reasons why your hedges might be dying:

  • Disease
  • Insects
  • pH Soil Balance
  • Water Levels
  • Lack of Nutrients

Disease

Plants are living things and are as prone to disease as the rest of us. Many species of plant have diseases that are specific to them and if you know what your hedges are, it doesn’t take much research to discover the best medicines to counter the effects. If you start to see leaf discolouration that spreads through the plant, that’s often a clear sign that something is taking hold. For example, privet hedges are particularly susceptible to honey fungus that attacks the roots of the plant.

Older plants and weaker plants will be more likely to be affected by disease; if you’ve gotten to grips with existing issues, your continued care should be sufficient preventative medicine from thereon.

How To Treat Disease

Depending on the extent of the disease you may need to take dramatic steps to halt the damage. Be prepared to do hard pruning to cut back diseased areas, but make sure to do this during Spring or Autumn to give your plant time to recover in harmony with the seasons.

If the disease is deeply ingrained you may need to consider removing the plant and replacing it with something new – a hard decision to make, but the best long term solution to prevent a recurring problem.

Insect Infestation on a boxwood hedge

Insects

There is nothing that an insect likes more than a dark, dense plant environment where it can eat and breed to it’s heart’s content. Infestations are common and can often be seasonal; over time you will come to understand when the insects are most prevalent so you can take steps to deal with them.

  • Weevils are tiny beetles that can be particularly problematic if they make it into your home.
  • Spider Mites can be identified by their “webs” that are spun to protect their eggs.
  • Scale Insects can be identified by the waxy covering that protects their bodies, which looks much like a fish-scale, hence their name!
  • Mealy bugs prefer warmer environments such as greenhouses and indoor plants.

How To Treat Insect Infestations

There are a few common methods for tackling insect issues:

  • Insecticides – not the coolest option these days for the general damage that they can cause to the surrounding ecosystem.
  • Soapy Water – you’d be surprised how effective a bit of soapy water and then some water pressure can be in removing unwanted tenants from your topiary!
  • Nematodes – the biological solution involves using microscopic worms to kill off the insects, and there are many types of nematode to suit all enemies. Not the cheapest solution but arguably the most natural.

pH Soil Balance

If you’re starting out with hedges, it is important to understand the pH balance of your soil (acid or alkaline) to ensure that your plant has the ability to get the nutrients it needs. The ideal neutral balance is a pH level of 7.0, and by using a simple testing kit you can assess your levels and apply the relevant adjustments.

How To Treat pH imbalances

  • If you have acidic soil, with a pH level of 0-6, you can use lime (the stone, not the fruit) or wood ash to raise the levels. Working these materials into the soil and then wait for three months before testing again.
  • If you have alkaline soil, with a pH level of 8-14 there are more solutions available, including sulphur and peat, but the simplest approach is to use good mulches or composts.
A hedge being restored at Canons Ashby
A hedge being restored at Canons Ashby – National Trust

Water Levels

The underground water levels in your gardens may be hard to gauge, but your plants can be affected by drainage, for better or worse. Insufficient drainage and they can drown and if the water drains too quickly they can starve.

How To Treat Drainage Issues

  • If your ground is waterlogged, you can add sandy soil to the immediate area, digging close to the plant with care, to improve the water flow.
  • If your ground is draining too quickly, the same approach but with compost can increase the water retention in the immediate area.

Occasional Effort Gets Results

The key to reviving a dying hedge is regular attention over a long time span. Your initial attempts to address the issues might require some hard work, particularly if you have to prune a lot of the plant, or even replace them, and making changes to the soil structure to deal with drainage will get you sweating.

But once the emergency surgery has happened, the long term rehab of your plants just requires the occasional bit of care and attention and plenty of time. Plants want to grow and if you’ve tackled the problem, they will respond well. A dying hedge can soon turn into a hedge full of new shoots and growth, and if these are protected from the elements, over time they will bloom into robust branches and leaves. The timing of your work is important and you should refer to plant specific guidance as required.

As with most gardening projects, you should be prepared to take time with the recovery process, but within a year or two, your plants should recover and the depressing sight of a dying hedge will be replaced by the deep satisfaction of a well kept, healthy plant that will be a companion in your garden for many years to come.

It will be a journey for both you and the plant, but the emotional benefit of helping your garden to thrive will nurture your soul while it smartens your surroundings, and that, my friends, is a goal worth fighting for.

Mr T

Just a guy trying to keep his hedges in good shape.

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