Within all the fruit hedges we supply there are fruiting shrubs like bullace, sloe, mirabelle and hawthorn. The tradition in the countryside has been to trim hedges composed of these shrubs in autumn and winter. However this is also the time that any fruit that has been left unpicked on the hedge is of most use to wildlife.
The first question should therefore be – do we need to trim the hedge?
Reasons why a fruit hedge may be trimmed are:
- To manage the size and shape of the hedge
- To get fruit to a height where it can be picked
- To manage a health and safety risk.
Many of the fruit shrubs in the hedge can reach 7-8 metres high and 7-8 metres wide if they are left with no pruning or trimming.
- Little management cost in the first 30 years
- Good fruit production
- Provide wildlife corridors.
- Only possible if the site chosen has plenty of space
- Fruit may get out of the reach of foragers
- At 30 years the shrubs will almost certainly need to have a heavy prune to restore their vigour, which will result in a few years without fruit as the hedge regrows
- Vigorous shrubs are likely to have shaded out less vigorous fruit bushes, canes and climbers.
- Fruit will always be available to foragers
- Fruit can be grown in a smaller space
- A wider variety of fruiting plants can be included in the hedge.
- More intensive management is needed to keep the hedge to a certain height
- Poor trimming will lead to a reduction in fruit production.
How often to cut for maximum fruit production
As most of the shrubs in a fruit hedges only produce flowers, nuts and berries on twigs that are at least a year-old, cutting these shrubs every year would mean that they will provide little food.
So if a fruit hedge does needs to be trimmed, then it should be allowed to increase in height gradually over a number of years, to ensure that fruit is produced. Then every three or four years it will need a heavier trim to start the process over again.Hedge trimming may be achieved through household hedge trimmers on a small fruit hedge, or larger flails mounted behind a tractor for longer hedges. Which ever method is used, here are some top tips for keeping the hedge healthy and fruit producing.
Top tips for a healthy fruit hedge
- No annual cutting Do not cut the hedge every year except where necessary for safety and security: eg roadsides, railways, footpaths and boundaries. As most trees and shrubs in hedges only produce flowers, nuts and berries (such as haws and sloes) on twigs that are at least one year old, cutting hedges every year means that they will provide little food.
- Cut at the right time Leave trimming your hedge until late autumn/ winter if you can. The earlier you cut, the less food will be available, and never cut during the bird breeding season (1 March to 31 August) unless you have to, for safety reasons.
- Don’t cut too often or too tight Although trimming may be necessary, if the hedge is cut back to the same point every year, it will produce few flowers or berries. So try and cut just once every two or three years, or each time let the hedge grow out and up a little.
- Alternate the cut Another alternative is to cut just one side or the top each year. If you have to cut your hedge frequently, then leave the fruit trees to grow to maturity. Also leave some of the fruit bearing bushes to reach their full height if possible. Research has shown that one mature hawthorn can produce as many berries as 200 metres of hedge cut every year. Although we don’t have the data, it would be wise to consider the same applies to sloes, plums and mirabelles.
- Look after the fruit trees When cutting the hedge, ensure that the fruit trees have suitable protection. Tags applied to the fruit trees will ensure that they are noticed and do not get cut by accident, with the rest of the hedge.
- Rejuvenating your hedge Hedges can be kept bushy for many years by cutting them occasionally, but eventually they will become open at the base. If this happens they need to be coppiced close to ground level so they can send up a crop of new stems and begin a fresh cycle of healthy growth.