Planting a Beech Hedge: Which Species for the Garden?

If a quick and inexpensive privacy screen is required, beech hedges are the best choice.
European beech and hornbeam: These native deciduous trees are absolutely pruning tolerant and also show the change of seasons in the most beautiful way. But which species is better suited for your own garden? We provide some help in deciding.


European beech or hornbeam? The right hedge

The question of the right species always arises when you want to plant a beech hedge in your garden. Both the copper beech and the hornbeam are suitable hedges. Both grow quickly, tolerate almost any pruning and can be shaped into almost any conceivable form.

Seen from a distance, beech hedges look very similar. However, contrary to what their names suggest, the two woody species are not even closely related. The leaves of the copper beech (upper left picture) are clearly different from the foliage of the hornbeam (right), which has double-sawn leaf edges. The copper beech is a variety of the classic copper beech and actually bears reddish leaves.
The habitat requirements of the two woody plants

The copper beech (Fagus sylvatica) actually belongs to the beech family. The hornbeam (Carpinus betulus), on the other hand, is a birch plant. Their different habitat requirements are therefore not surprising. Both do well in sunny to semi-shady locations, but the hornbeam is more tolerant of shade.

The hornbeam is much more tolerant of the soil. It thrives in moderately dry to moist, acidic to calcareous sandy and clay soils and also tolerates short-term flooding. It is also tolerant of heat and survives dry periods very well.

Although the copper beech is considered quite undemanding overall, it prefers nutrient-rich, fresh to moist soil with a high clay content. It cannot cope with acidic and very sandy soils. It also does not tolerate prolonged drought.

For this reason, it is better not to plant copper beeches in Brandenburg, for example, where there is little rainfall. In the rainy Bergisches Land, however, Fagus sylvatica would do well.

Use as hedge plants

With their glossy foliage, copper beech hedges look very noble. They fit well into tidy, modern gardens. Hornbeam hedges, on the other hand, have a more natural look. They look good in country house gardens or nature gardens, for example. They are also less expensive than their chic sisters.
Planting a beech hedge

When it comes to planting, caring for and pruning, the two woody plants are very similar. Beech hedges are usually planted from bare-root heisters, i.e. twice-transplanted 125-150 cm tall young plants that already have branching side shoots but no crown yet. Ideally, beech hedges should be planted in autumn, because with mild temperatures and plenty of rainfall, the individual trees will grow before winter.

Plant four plants per running metre. If you want your beech hedge to become dense more quickly, one or two more plants are needed. For a good start, loosen a deep and wide planting trench and add plenty of compost to the top layer of soil. A good water supply is essential for the first two years – an inexpensive bead hose is effective and quick to connect.


Pruning a beech hedge

To ensure that your beech hedge becomes beautifully opaque, it is advisable to prune it first at the beginning of summer. With young beech trees, cut back the annual growth by half; in late years, cut back by two-thirds. A second cut is made at the end of February to bring the crown and sides to the desired size. If you have inherited a beech hedge that has become overgrown and out of shape, you can simply start from scratch. To do this, cut the plants back to the ground, i.e. cut them down completely. They will then reliably sprout new shoots.

The shapes and heights to which beech hedges can be grown are shown by the Monschau hedge country in the Eifel. Because strong, ice-cold winds blow there in winter, hedges were planted with copper beech as early as the 17th century to protect houses. Many have survived to this day – and new ones have even been added. Among the individually shaped hedges, which often have openings in the form of archways and windows, you can even marvel at examples that are ten metres high.

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