There are certain things you can do in the garden that transform a space from 'ok for wildlife' to 'fantastic', and one of those is the amazing 'cropped tree corridor', or CTC.
"So what does this miracle CTC look like?" I hear you cry.
Well, here's one example:
It does have a rather mundane alternative name that you might have heard of, for this is the common or garden 'hedge'.
They are simply incredible. Just look at that picture above and imagine all the nesting opportunities, the insects, the berries, the shelter, the protection from the wind.
And hedges can be shaped and sculpted pretty much as you please. You can give them straight lines:
Or beautiful curves:
They can be used to break the garden into different areas:
And they are 'permeable', so that wildlife can crawl underneath them, or through them, or climb over them.
Research has also shown how good street-side hedges are for trapping vehicle exhaust particulates, which is very topical given the spotlight on human health and air quality recently.
You'd think we'd all have one. And yet in so many gardens this is course what there is instead - fences and walls:
Much of the problem is that many of us inherit a garden that already has these hard structures in place. Removing them and replacing them with a hedge is indeed a lot of work, and in many cases requires the permission of neighbours. But if you've got the energy, go for it.
However, if you do have a bare boundary that is crying out for a hedge, or even part of the garden that you'd like to separate off, then I'd urge you to give a hedge a go, for it is far cheaper and easier than most people think.
The steps are quite simple.
1) The line of the hedge ideally needs to be dug over and the weeds removed, but it is not absolutely essential as I'll explain.
2) The main thing to keep your job nice and simple is to buy bare-rooted hedging 'whips' (little saplings) at this time of year (November to March) while they are dormant. They are so cheap and easy to deal with.
3) Once you have your pack of little whips, you can either dig proper holes to plant each one, or you can even just cut a slit in the ground with a spade where each will go in. Drop the root into it, and firm back over. You can plant them as a single row, or plant two parallel lines of whips in a zigzag formation. The distance between each whip isn't set in stone - around 30cm apart is fine. The most important piece of advice is not to let the roots dry out, so keep the bundle of whips in their plastic bag as you go, removing one at a time.
4) Whether or not you cleared the ground of weeds, you can now mulch the new hedge with bark chippings or compost, or even use cardboard collars around each one. It smothers all the weeds, and gives the whip the chance to get itself established without competition.
5) Now here's your biggest challenge in the whole operation. Whips tend to come about 40-90cm tall. You now need to be brutal, and cut the top half off each one. Yikes! It feels so brutal! But it will force the hedge to grow thick at the base, instead of being a row of lollipops.
6) Water well immediately after planting, and if there are any dry spells in the summer.
And that's it.
Just three questions remain. Firstly, how much does it cost? Well, the RSPB sells bare-root bundles of native hedging plants. Here's the ultimate bird-friendly mix, which is £64.99 for 50 plants which are 60-90 cm tall, which will give you a hedge around 12 metres long.
Alternatively, you could buy shorter whips of a less varied set of tree species but still a bird-friendly mix, which costs £42.99 for 50 plants.
If you buy larger amounts, the cost per whip drops.
The second question is how long will it take to become a proper hedge? After all, straight after planting it will look no more than a line of sticks.
Well, here's a hedge I planted, after its first year growth:
And here it is four years later:
The third question is how much work it takes to maintain a hedge. Well, the hedge above I trimmed once a year, in midwinter, and took me about an hour. Compared with creosoting a fence with toxic chemicals, or replacing the fence once it has blown over in the wind, I know which I'd rather be doing.
Whether you call is a Clipped Tree Corridor or a hedge, wildlife won't mind. In fact they'll love you for it. As will I. So please give it serious thought - as a way of creating something amazing for wildlife in your garden, it's hard to beat.
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