Maryland's Wild Acres

Creating a Wild Backyard - Hedgerows

Hedgerows are living fences of trees, shrubs and other plants. They can consist of a simple row of trees and shrubs or as a pyramid of plants, from low grasses and flowers to tall trees. Hedgerows are beneficial because they create corridors for wildlife in fragmented landscapes. In addition to passageways, hedgerows also provide food and shelter. Hedgerows can serve as fences between fields and can help reduce energy costs by planting them alongside your house where prevailing winds hit.

How to Plant a Hedgerow

Hedgerows work best for wildlife when they are wider than 20 feet. When deciding what to plant, try to include a combination of evergreen plants, like holly and juniper in addition to deciduous species. If you plant shrubs that produce berries at different times of the year, then wildlife will be more attracted to your hedgerow throughout the year. The most successful hedgerows have a diversity of plants and height structures. The variable plant heights favor more species and provide more cover than a group of plants all at the same height. If possible, then leave snags and logs within your hedgerow to increase shelter for wildlife.

For ideas on what to plant, check out the Native Maryland Tree page as well as the page on Planting Shrubs for Wildlife. A pyramid type of hedgerow is best for wildlife, with tall trees in the middle and bushy shrubs on either side followed by dense, low-growing plants.

Hedgerow picture designed by Kerry Wixted with graphics from Tracey Saxby. IAN Image Library 

Hedgerow Planting Tips

  1. Plow or disc the area in which you have planned to plant your hedgerow. Call your local agricultural extension agent about the possible application of herbicides to reduce heavy weed growth while your hedgerow is being established.

  2. It is best to plant your hedgerow in early spring, right after the last winter frost, usually from late March to mid-April.

  3. Plant trees and shrubs about six to eight feet apart. Plant each row about eight to ten feet apart.

  4. Plant one or two rows of tall trees flanked by a row or two of shrubs. A 20-foot wide hedgerow will have two rows of shrubs flanking a row of trees. This amounts to three rows with each row ten feet apart.

  5. If your hedgerow is for wildlife food and cover, leave breaks in the planted rows so that natural vegetation can grow and become part of the hedge.

  6. Make sure the planting holes are deep and wide enough to accept and cover the roots of each plant.

  7. Mulch placed around each tree and shrub after planting will discourage weeds. Commercial mulch, straw, or hay piled about three inches thick and one to two feet around each plant will help the plants survive.

How to Maintain Your Hedgerow

It is important to maintain the levels of vegetation you have created in your hedgerow. When your smaller shrubs grow into large trees, the habitat "edge" effect will be lost. You may also wish to discourage certain plants from growing in your hedgerow. The following are suggestions for maintaining a hedgerow for wildlife.

  1. Every three to five years, prune any fruit trees you may have. Cut off the tops of your junipers and pines when they reach 20 feet in height. These measures will cause the plants to produce less woody material and more leaves and fruits.

  2. To be sure your hedgerow will have a variety of plant growth stages, selectively cut the trees in the hedge every five years.

  3. Cut back the vegetation between the shrub rows every two or three years. This will reduce the growth of woody shrubs and trees and keep the green grasses, vines, and flowers growing in between the rows.

For Additional Information, Contact:

Sarah B. Witcher
Department of Natural Resources
Wildlife and Heritage Service
580 Taylor Avenue, E-1
Annapolis, Maryland 21401


Hedgerow picture designed with vector graphics from:

Tracey Saxby, Integration and Application Network, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (

Dieter Tracey, Integration and Application Network, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (