If you have a lot of green cuttings to spare, you can use them to create a so-called Benjes hedge. Also known as deadwood hedges, these artificially accumulated branches and cuttings can – in contrast to gabions or privacy fences – provide ecologically valuable privacy, attract a variety of animals and, over time, even become living biotopes themselves that contribute to nature conservation. We explain how to create them in the article.
What is a Benjes hedge?
Benjes hedges go back to the eponymous Benjes brothers, two landscape gardeners and conservationists who developed the concept in the 1980s. The idea of the Benjes hedge is not to replant hedges, but to let nature decide which species to establish.
A layered or piled-up embankment of leftover green cuttings and woody debris serves as a breeding ground. To ensure that the deadwood retains its shape, posts are usually used as borders, which are inserted into the soil. In this way, the cuttings, which would otherwise have ended up as bark mulch or in the biogas plant, can be reused and also contribute to nature conservation and species protection.
Hedges for species protection
In the layered branches and thin trunks, birds and small vertebrates find not only shelter but also a new habitat. In addition, seeds that fly by get stuck in the piled-up embankment and can then grow on site. Over time, this creates a living habitat for the flora and fauna of the surrounding area.
The creation of Benjes hedges is a cost-effective option for habitat connectivity in agricultural steppes in intensively farmed regions. But a Benjes hedge also contributes to species conservation in private gardens. Because not only hedge-breeding birds, but also hedgehogs, small rodents, insects or even lizards are attracted by the interwoven deadwood. Plants also quickly take over the artificially draped undergrowth, so that the colourless brushwood gradually turns green.
Tip: To prevent undesirable species from establishing themselves and to speed up the process, you can also help out sporadically by specifically planting the desired plants in the hedge. Then the deadwood netting serves as protection for the cuttings.
Risks when planting Benjes hedges
In rare cases, Benjes hedges can also have a negative impact on the ecosystem, for example if the deadwood is infested with pests or diseases. There is also a risk that introduced species will invade the deadwood strips and inhibit the establishment of native species. In any case, it should be noted that some woody plants tend to sprout even after pruning – blackberry cuttings or similarly indestructible plants should therefore be avoided.
How do you plant a Benjes hedge?
First of all, the location and the dimensions of the hedge must be determined. You can determine the width of the hedge by measuring the distance between the stakes. You can also design the height individually – depending on how much pruning is available. It is important that the distance between the stakes in a row is not too large. Otherwise the piled up cuttings would fall out of the border over time.
Wooden stakes or sturdy, sharpened branches Prunings, branches and thinner twigs Hammer to hammer in the stakes
Driving in the stakes: As Benjes hedges are particularly effective in natural gardens, you do not have to be meticulous when driving in the stakes. A few irregularities will not detract from the overall appearance of the Benjes hedge. Cut the grass: It has proved useful to place the larger branches and trunks further down, while the finer twigs are used higher up. Interweave the wood and compact the hedge: Once the cuttings have been deposited, the hedge can be compacted by physical means. In addition, the individual branches can be interwoven or protruding branches can be pruned.
The Benjes hedge is ready. Now you can leave it to its own devices for the time being. When the biomass starts to rot and the hedge loses height, you can always replenish it and bring in new cuttings. With a little patience, you will witness how new life develops in the dead wood. And the wall becomes a hedge. The result can be almost reminiscent of the picturesque landscapes of southern England or Normandy, where boundary hedges between fields are a central feature of the cultivated landscape.
Tip: If there is a shortage of cuttings, you can ask at green waste collection points or municipal green space management.
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I have worked as a horticulture specialist lead gardener, garden landscaper, and of course i am a hobby gardener at home in my own garden.
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