Cultivate wildness at home by growing a hedgerow

Last Updated: 
October 8, 2010

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Many Oregonians seek beauty and the experience of wild places by traveling to the coast, mountains, rivers and east side of the state. But it is also possible to cultivate beauty and wildness in our own backyards, rural lands and farms by planting hedgerows.

Hedgerows are long rows of mixed woody shrubs and trees that once commonly framed the rural landscape. Farmers often planted these as "shelterbelts" or "windbreaks" and birds added their own contributions to hedgerows by depositing shrub, tree and bramble seeds in their droppings. In the past few decades, many of these hedgerows have disappeared from the American countryside.

"Biodiversity and beauty in the landscape have inherent value," said Dan McGrath, entomologist and staff chair of the Linn County office of the Oregon State University Extension Service. "And one way to enhance biodiversity on your property is to grow a hedgerow, as they maintain diversity and beauty in the landscape."

In recent years, scientists have come to realize that diversely specied hedgerows may play an important role in fostering wildlife and plant and insect diversity. Monarch and swallowtail butterflies, for example, were once common in the Willamette Valley, feeding on plants that grew at the base of valley hedgerows.

Hedgerows growing along streams and sloughs also protect water quality and provide privacy as well, McGrath said.

Agricultural growers and private homeowners should consider planting more hedgerows again in the landscape, McGrath said. But he also recognizes that maintaining a hedgerow brings a new set of challenges including weed control, visibility and safety.

Fall or spring is the best time to plant a hedgerow. Potted plants are quicker and easier to establish than bare root plants, but are more expensive.

Consider the following list of questions when planning to grow and maintain a hedgerow habitat on your property:

  • Where will the hedgerow be best located? Will it be used to mark a property boundary, to accent a landscape pond or to provide shade or to block prevailing winds?

  • What are the characteristics of the site – is it dry, sunny, shady or wet? Is the soil well-drained or clay?
  • How tall do you want the hedgerow? Do you want to keep it less than eight to 10 feet, or do you have room for a tall hedgerow, which will cast more shade? Which way will the shadows be cast?
  • Then, choose a diverse array of perennial plants that will be well-suited to the site. An OSU Extension Service publication can help you choose the best woody plants for your site. Available on the Web, "A Guide to Multi-Functional Hedgerows in Western Oregon," (EM 8721) offers growing information on more than 70 species of plants suitable for hedgerow plantings and includes ecological background on hedgerows. Purchase a printed copy by calling 1-800-561-6719.

    The OSU Integrated Plant Protection Center is working with farmers to develop habitat, including hedgerow planting, for beneficial insects. These efforts can be applied to the garden as well. To learn more, visit OSU’s "Farmscaping for Beneficials," publications Web page.

    Author: Carol Savonen
    Source: Dan McGrath, Gwendolyn Ellen