An edible hedge or a fruiting hedge is a useful and attractive feature in a garden. It provides separation, and shelter from the wind, and it produces a variety of fruits that can be eaten fresh or used to make jam and other specialities. It can become a good backdrop for other ornamental plants and flowerbeds.
Many different species of woody plants can be planted close enough together to create an attractive fruiting hedge. These include many types of fruit trees. However care has to be taken if you want to harvest fruits suitable for fresh consumption or for use in the kitchen. The trees have to be close enough together to fill the space, but not so close as to create excessive competition. In any case, it is very likely that in an average year the size of the fruits will be on the small side. However this will not affect the taste, as long as the fruits are left long enough on the trees in order to mature properly. You will find that about 70% of fruit will be used for processing in the kitchen, and 30% will be suitable for eating fresh.
How to plan a fruiting hedge
The basic scheme for a fruiting hedge is fairly similar to a cordon type of tree formation, except that with a fruiting hedge the trees are upright and not planted on an angle.
Check that the soil is suitable in terms of pH and depth. To give the trees a real chance of success and keep them free from canker it is essential to avoid waterlogging, by draining the soil well. If the soil is suitable and the roots of the trees are able to explore the soil to the full depth, after the first 4 years, the fruiting hedge will be able to look after itself. During the first 4 years, the trees will need extra moisture during very warm summers. So in that period, be prepared for manual watering or trickle irrigation using leaky pipe. Proper watering is essential.
The final height of the fruiting hedge has to be considered. If you want a hedge reaching from 6 to 9 feet, apples on the M26 rootstock would be suitable. If you need a taller hedge, rootstock MM106 would be the one to use. The nursery from which you buy the trees can provide advice on rootstocks for various types of fruit and varieties, according to desired tree height.
The best fruit tree varieties for an edible hedge
The best fruit species for a fruiting hedge are sloe, damson, apple, pear and plum. These should be planted in a line, 2 feet apart. Maidens or one-year-old trees are most suitable.
How to plant a fruiting hedge
The best time to plant is any time between November and the following March. This will give the trees time to get their roots down before the start of the growing season. Follow the usual techniques for tree planting. Please note that the young trees will need support. This can be provided using two wires, similar to the cordon system.
For a fruiting hedge of up to 5 metres length, you will need two stakes, one at each end. Stretch two wires at a height of about 3 feet, so that there is a wire on either side of the trees. This is to ensure that whatever way the wind blows, the tree gets blown onto a wire and so is held firmly. The wires should be plastic-coated. Tie the trees to the wire using the appropriate plastic ties.
For fruiting hedges longer than 5 metres length, you will need intermediate stakes so that the distance between stakes is never longer than 5 metres.
That way, once the trees’ trunks are robust enough – usually after four years – the wire and its stakes can be removed.
How to prune a fruiting hedge
The basic principles of fruit tree pruning apply even when the trees form part of a fruiting hedge. Pruning during the winter months increases the vegetative growth. Pruning during the late summer months will control tree size and slow down the formation of new shoots. Pruning at any time in between, in other words in spring and early summer, encourages the formation of short shoots. So, considering apples:
- After planting in the dormant period, cut the tree back down to 5 feet to encourage the development of new shoots. Cutting the central leader encourages the growth of lateral branches from the wood buds below.
- Pruning next summer will depend on how strong growth has been (which in turn depends principally on the soil). If growth has been strong, with 3 feet growth of the central leader above the cut you made at planting, cut back the central leader and lateral branches in August. If you cut back in winter, you will get an excessively dense forest of branches next spring.
- Once the trees have reached their final size – after about 4-5 years – pruning will be determined by necessities. If you have a good array of branches and shoots, prune in July, August or September to stimulate fruit bud production for the next year. If shoots are not growing enough, prune side shoots by about 10 inches in winter. Read our pruning section for more details.
Can you combine a fruiting hedge with soft fruit?
It is not really practical to grow soft fruit in amongst fruit trees. If you want to incorporate soft fruit into a fruiting hedge, it is best to dedicate a section exclusively to soft fruit, but you have to take care with groups because different types of soft fruit have different soil pH requirements.
So blackcurrants, white currants and gooseberries are not pH sensitive and so can be combined into a group without any problems.
Blueberries are pH-sensitive and need a pH of about 4.
Raspberries are also pH-sensitive and require a pH of about 6. So blueberries and raspberries should be planted in separate areas, in groups of at least 5 plants of each type.
You can adjust the pH for these plants by using a foliar feed, Maxicrop Plus Iron, applying the foliar feed every 10 days during the growing season.
Lastly, loganberries and blackberries can be considered as another group, and they can be planted together if you wish. However in this case the difference is that they have to be planted at least 6-8 feet apart, depending on soil quality and the topsoil depth. They are not suitable for close planting.
So a soft fruit edible hedge is a nice idea but it requires careful planning. As a last hint for a hedge of soft fruit, we recommend good organic feeding: and we have always had great success with dried chicken manure, a product called Super Dug Extra.