In spring the focus of maintenance should be to ensure that the young trees and shrubs are not being outcompeted by weeds. Over the last few years spring has been a very dry season, and careful attention should be paid to the water requirements of the young trees.
If the area has been mulched correctly, there should be few weeds to deal with. If weeds do occur, hand weeding can be the simplest method but it can be time-consuming. However it can be a good way of involving local communities in caring for the hedge they have recently planted. Pull out grasses, woody plants and herbaceous perennials so that they are uprooted. They should not be cut back or mown, as this encourages growth. Hoeing runs the risk of damaging the roots. Once the area has been weeded, cover with another layer of mulch.
It is very important to fill in any gaps in the soil around the roots and use a foot to firm the new soil.
Grasses and other fast-growing, herbaceous perennials will compete with young hedge plants for moisture, nutrients, space and light. To help the hedge to establish it is important to keep the base of the hedge largely free of weeds for at least five years. Mulching is the most efficient method of keeping weeds under control.
Mulch should be applied immediately after planting, and one application of mulch is usually adequate for a number of years. However the hedge will benefit from being re-mulched in years 2 or 3 and this is best applied early in the year when the ground is moist – but after all weeds have been cleared.
Mulch should be spread to a depth of 50 – 100mm (2 – 4 inches) and could be:
- Wood chips – although not fresh ones because there is a danger of nitrogen loss from the soil as they degrade.
- Composted bark
- Well-rotted lawn clippings – or grass clippings from the previous cut
- Leaf litter
Plastic mulch mats can also be fitted around trees and shrubs in the event that mulch cannot be obtained. It is important that these plastic mats are secured firmly to the ground and after 5 years they should be removed to avoid littering.
Except in long dry spells, it is rarely necessary to water a newly planted fruit hedge, provided attention is paid to mulching and weeding. If a long dry spell occurs, then water infrequently and heavily, as this allows water to penetrate deeper into the soil. This ensures that the hedge plants' roots don’t grow close to the surface (where they will dry out and potentially lead to death).
Check guards and shelters
- Check tree guards to ensure they are effective (no bark is missing or twigs bitten off) and not rubbing or cutting into the tree.
- If a guard is inadequate or the risk has changed, consider different protection, e.g. a taller tube to protect against deer, or fencing to keep off cows and other animals.
- Repair/replace damaged guards.
- If a guard is damaging the tree, adjust, modify or replace it.
- Remove the guard when there is no longer a risk of damage and clear away any material that has built up inside.