A landscape enhancement that's good for the ecosystem? Consider a hedgerow
If your yard or garden needs a boost for birds and wildlife, more privacy, or a good windbreak, creating a new hedgerow just might be in your future.
Hedgerows not only add interest and beauty, they also improve the biodiversity of one's yard, garden or property. Spring is a great time to get started.
Made up of mixed woody shrubs and trees, hedgerows have traditionally been used as fences between fields or properties. However, the important ecosystem services they provide are immense.
Scientists know that hedgerows made from diverse plant species are especially beneficial to bird and wildlife habitat. One example? A thoughtfully created hedgerow will support populations of both monarch and swallowtail butterflies. Hedgerows also benefit migratory songbirds whose populations are down across North America.
Lucas Nipp, East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District's senior conservationist, has installed more than half a mile of pollinator hedgerows at Headwaters Farm just outside Gresham. Known as an "incubator farm," the 60-acre site gives farmers hands-on commercial farming experience while instilling conservation principles. Recently, in partnership with the Portland-based Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, Headwaters Farm has developed new pollinator strips.
Nipp offers his expertise, and some excellent suggestions about successfully establishing a new hedgerow.
"Your plant choices really depend on what you're trying to achieve," says Nipp. "For example, planting conifers will give you the height you need for an effective windbreak, providing protection all year long versus deciduous trees, which lose their leaves in the winter. And long-blooming native plants are the best choice for a pollinator hedgerow."
Whether you create a hedgerow to add privacy, create a sound barrier, provide a windbreak or to help wildlife, you'll want to think about the characteristics of the site you choose. Consider sun, shade, soil type and, if you own a very large lot, how to best locate your hedgerow so it improves wildlife connectivity in the landscape.
Site preparation is also important. Make sure you've removed all grass and weeds, and that the soil is ready for planting. Spread straw or mulch over the area to reduce weeds. Remember, too, you don't need to plant the entire hedgerow in one season — you can spread it out over two or three years.
"The goal of pollinator hedgerows is to have species blooming all growing season long, from as early as possible to as late as possible," says Nipp. "If you want the native pollinators to live on your property, and provide nesting resources, you need to have floral resources blooming throughout the entire growing season."
For plant species that flower early, Nipp encourages the use of red flowering currant, Oregon grape and Indian plum.
Later-blooming species he recommends include native forbs like Douglas aster and goldenrod and the shrub Douglas spiraea.
"Most garden and kitchen herbs are also a great benefit to pollinators as they flower abundantly," adds Nipp.
If you wish, while waiting for perennials to fill in the area you can supplement the hedge with annuals. You can also add rock piles to your hedgerow as habitat for reptiles and amphibians.
Establishing your new hedgerow will take 2 to 3 years, during which time you'll need to water regularly so as to meet the specific water needs of your plant choices. Long-term maintenance also requires watching for invasive plants, and weeding the site on a regular basis.
Attracting pollinators and beneficial insects, and creating healthy soil, clean air and water are just a few ways your new hedgerow will create a lasting legacy for your property and community.
Cynthia Orlando is a certified arborist and recently retired from the Oregon Department of Forestry.