So many gardeners naturally opt for evergreen hedging and miss the opportunity of planting Beech or Hornbeam which are both way more exciting in so many ways!
Beech trees are often spotted in parks and stately gardens and include stunning purple, golden and weeping varieties that suddenly open up all kinds of fascinating, possibilities. Mature trees can reach anywhere between 25ft -100ft and are long-lived — a healthy tree can thrive for up to two hundred years or more, so provide a joyful return on investment for future generations.
Who would have thought their cathedral-like majesty allows them to adapt so splendidly for hedging? Weeping or stiff, upright Beech are best grown as feature trees but the rest make easy-maintained hedging or garden divisions. Since they both hold their leaves in winter when leaves turn rust-brown, they provide privacy and winter interest.
Typically, all Beech and Hornbeam have fresh oval leaves unfurling from enchanting copper buds from spring and are mainly semi-evergreen, meaning they reliably hold their leaves except in very cold winters.
Hornbeam vs. Beech
Let’s start with the basics. It can be difficult to tell the difference between the two, but there are notable differences between Hornbeam and Beech. We’ve listed the differences and similarities to help you choose the best hedging for your garden space.
- Both keep their foliage in winter but Beech tends to hold onto more of its leaves through winter cold
- Both are native British trees
- Beech and Hornbeam are happy growing in full sun or part shade
- Both are available as bare root, pot-grown, cell grown and also instant hedging
- Beech and Hornbeam are wildlife-friendly — nesting birds including Great and Blue Tits and Blackcaps favour Beech, whereas Blackbirds, Finches Thrush and Wrens prefer Hornbeam. Both provide food for foraging birds and small mammals when their catkins appear each spring.
- Beech leaves are glossier, thinner and smoother with wavy edges – Hornbeam is matt green with deeply-etched veins and toothed edging.
- Winter Beech leaves are bright copper – Hornbeam foliage is a darker, grey-brown.
- Beech doesn’t like damp soil – Hornbeam can cope with moist soil but loathes waterlogged sites.
- Hornbeam grows faster than Beech so needs clipping twice a year whereas Beech being slower, only requires light pruning once a year in August
- Beech is more drought tolerant than Hornbeam.
What is Beech?
Beech hedges are semi-evergreen and provide year-round appeal with pretty male and female catkins against fresh apple-green leaves in spring that age to attractive autumnal hues that last throughout winter. Beech plants grow anywhere between 30cm to 60 cm annually, are low-maintenance and ideal for providing privacy, interesting garden screening or divisions.
What is Hornbeam?
Hornbeam is an outstanding all-rounder and can cope with all kinds of aspects, even windy spots except coastal conditions. Tasselled catkins appear in late spring, often followed by small winged fruits against vivid-green oval leaves.
How to plant Hornbeam or Beech hedges
It’s best (and cheaper,) to plant hedging from November to March. Why not take advantage of bare-root plants that come in bundles and are way cheaper than using pot-grown plants and are ideal if you’re thinking of planting a long boundary? Rootballed plants are another alternative and for impatient gardeners that may prefer instant gratification at Hedges Direct we have mature hedging plants that make a bold statement and provide privacy quickly, so take time to explore the many choices available. Whichever hedging plants you plump for, the methods for planting Beech or Hornbeam hedging are much the same.
- Prepare your soil by removing any weeds or stones and loosening the soil
- Space plants about 25 cm – 45 cm apart.
- If you require a denser hedge, try staggering a double-planted row, leaving a gap of about 30 cm between each plant.
- Firm in each plant as you work along the line.
- Water well and add a layer of organic matter such as leaf mould or composted bark that will prevent soil from drying out in warmer months and help prevent weeds.
- Generally, there’s no need to prune bushy, newly-planted hedging. However, if the side shoots are a bit on the thin side, just prune the main lead stem by about a third to help them thicken up.
- If your garden is prone to grazing deer or rabbits, protect young plants with galvanised fencing or individual tree guards.
Is Hornbeam or Beech Hedge better suited to your garden?
It’s better to base your choice on your local garden conditions and if you’re a wildlife gardener, the types of birds you wish to attract. Take a glance at the growing conditions Hornbeam and Beech like best.
Best places to grow Beech
- Any well-drained soil including sandy and chalky soils
- Sunny or part-shade
- Best in the South and milder areas.
- Glowing rich autumnal leaf colour from bronze, rust to red.
Best places to grow Hornbeam
- Any reasonable soil including wet, clay soils
- Sun, part and full shade
- South and colder Northern areas
- Light brown leaf colour through autumn and winter
Both Beech and Hornbeam are largely untroubled by any serious pests and diseases which is why they remain such a popular choice for gardens across the country. If you’re unlucky enough to spot a problem, see our quick guide for troubleshooting potential dangers.
Hornbeam: common pests and diseases
Squirrels enjoy stripping bark from young shrubs so protect them with netting or tree guards.
Root rot as the name suggests, can affect any plants grown in soggy, poorly drained or waterlogged soils. To avoid it, choose disease-resistant varieties where possible, plant in well-drained soil and avoid overwatering.
Beech: common pests and diseases
Deer and rabbits can graze on newly-planted hedging so make sure plants are protected with animal-proof fencing.
Woolley aphids can be a nuisance, these sapsuckers leave tiny holes and fluffy white deposits underneath leaves in spring. Although unsightly, the damage is rarely harmful and nothing to worry about.