Edible Hedgerows

Hedgerows have long been an integral part of landscapes and when it comes to wildlife, hedgerows also serve as safety zones, nesting sites and food sources where small mammals and winged wildlife can flourish.

A backyard hedgerow is composed much like a woodland or forest edge, with structural layers of diversified plants that provide different functions for wildlife. The main difference is you downsize the effect with more petite versions and smaller hedge-type plants. By incorporating food sources for wildlife that include native and non-native berries and fruit, you have the makings for terrific tasting jams, jellies and pies.

Planning your hedge

The key to any successful hedgerow begins with choosing the right shrubs for your space and climate. Start by deciding on the height of hedgerow that will work best in your space. Keep in mind you want your hedgerow to include a mix of layers and heights. If you want an edible hedgerow that doesn’t block your view, choosing smaller shrubs that naturally top out at 5 feet might better serve your needs rather than a cranberry bush (Viburnum trilobum), which can grow up to 15 feet tall.

Next, decide on how you want your edible hedgerow to function. The main purpose is to function as a habitat that provides seasonal food sources for wildlife as well as jams and jellies for you. But if you also want the hedgerow to block wind, steer your main focus toward wildlife-friendly shrubs and small trees with denser growth.

Perhaps you want to protect a backyard garden from animal intruders. Concentrate on creating a hedgerow that’s impenetrable by growing shrubs that are prickly or have sharp thorns, such as blackberry, hawthorn (Crataegus spp.), firethorn (Pyracantha spp.), wild plum (Prunus americana) and rugosa rose.

Now you’re ready to create a list of potential shrubs that produce edible fruit, nuts, seeds or berries for wildlife. Include a mix of nectar- and pollen-rich flowering shrubs that span the seasons. The flowers attract pollinators and other beneficial insects, which in turn will increase your fruit, nut and berry yields and keep pest insect populations in check.

Bring in a range of plants that flower during different times of the year, including shrubs that provide autumn forage and those that typically keep their fruit into late winter and early spring.

Call your local extension office or visit www.turkeycountrymagazine.com for a Quick Link to find your USDA plant hardiness zone.

Putting it together

It’s much easier to have an edible hedgerow that flourishes if you keep variety, unity and composition in mind.

Variety can be achieved in many ways, starting with planting a mixed hedge featuring a diversity of plants that span the seasons, including evergreens and deciduous shrubs. This will offer a selection of plants that are essential for supporting wildlife diversity. As a result, your hedgerow will provide multiple food sources, attract multiple pollinators and beneficial insects, and bring visual interest to your backyard.

Another way to incorporate variety is to buy odd numbers of the same plant and group them together in a natural way. You might arrange you hedgerow in a zigzag pattern, undulating row of vegetation, or as two staggered rows of plants. Ultimately each plant should contribute one or more functions to your hedgerow. 

Unity ties everything together. It brings harmony to the landscape through a consistent style. For example, you can unify diversity through a color scheme, repetition or vegetative types that creates visual flow. Mass plantings or large drifts of color also help unify the space.

The composition of your hedgerow is so much more than just putting together plants in an aesthetic way. It's also about considering the function, both as individual plants and as a group, and how they are going to be used. Create many horizontal layers, with the tallest layer of small trees or large shrubs in back and the shorter shrubs staggered in front.

Wildlife exists at all levels of the vertical space. By composing your hedgerow with structural layers of variety, unity and composition, you create many different foraging and shelter opportunities for a variety of wildlife species. 

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