Winter Hedge Care: How to Protect Your Hedge in Cold Conditions

Hedges need to be looked after all year round, especially during the winter months. 

If not given attentive care during this time, the icy, wet, and windy conditions can cause damage to your hedging plants, taking months to recover. 

In this guide, we’ll walk you through our top tips for protecting your plants during cold conditions to keep them looking healthy come spring and explain why winter is the best time to plant.

Top tips for caring for your hedge in winter

1. Trim the edges of your hedges 

Early winter is the ideal time for pruning. Most hedging plants are dormant during the winter with the leaves falling off, making it easier to adjust the shape.

It may not seem like you see much progress in the garden over winter, but generally speaking, deciduous hedges grow rapidly in the early part of each year, which happens to be the peak of winter. Cutting these species back is necessary so they don’t become out of control — just be mindful not to cut them back too much to avoid them becoming sparse.

All hedges grow at different rates, so checking when and how your species needs pruning is critical. For example, most deciduous hedging plants, like beech and hazel, can be pruned in winter. However, evergreens like cherry laurel should only be cut back in spring, as they are more vulnerable to winter damage. 
For more information on how and when to trim your plants, take a look at our beginner’s guide to perfect hedging.

2. Apply mulch to your soil

Mulch is a layer of material made from dead plants such as bark or grass clippings. Inorganic mulches also include plastic sheeting. 

Apply a thick layer of mulch so that it covers the soil around your hedge and acts as an insulator, protecting your hedging plant roots from the cold. Mulch also helps to maintain soil moisture and keep weeds at bay, improving the fertility and health of your soil.

3. Cover your hedging plants

One of the most effective ways to protect your hedges in harsh winter conditions is to use a cover, especially in the evening when temperatures drop. Fleece, straw, and polystyrene are just some of the materials covers can be made from. 

To allow sunlight to get to your evergreens, use a wooden frame with clear polythene stretched over it. It’s important to ensure the polythene doesn’t touch the leaves, as the condensation could cause rotting.

Remember to remove covers during the day so they aren’t suffocating your plants and they can still get the nutrients they need. 

4. Firm the soil

During wintry conditions when the temperatures drop, water in the soil may freeze. When this happens, the soil expands, leaving behind an air pocket when the ice thaws. As a result, plant roots may not be stable, and frost can penetrate the air pockets. This can cause further damage to the roots resulting in limpness, brown leaves, or even complete failure of the hedging plant. 

By firming the soil gently with your foot regularly, the air pockets can be closed. Make sure any ice has thawed before compacting the soil to avoid damage to your plants during frosty conditions when they are at their most vulnerable.

5. Don’t forget to water in winter

Although your hedges may be dormant during the winter, the roots are prone to drying out in cold conditions. Feel the soil every two weeks, and if dry, water lightly with a hose or watering can directly at the base of your plant so it can soak into the roots quickly and easily. 

Make sure not to water too much, as this could cause waterlogging: when the soil can’t absorb the water, so it sits on top of it. This could cause root damage, bacterial diseases, and loss of essential nutrients for your hedge.

6. Stop fertilising your plants

During winter you should refrain from fertilising, as the majority of hedging plants are dormant during this time. Therefore, fertilising in cold conditions will have no effect on the plant and may even cause damage. 
Once the temperatures begin to rise in early spring, you can continue using fertiliser again to promote healthy growth. Fertilising in autumn will also strengthen your plants in preparation for winter weather.

7. Bring hedging plants in pots inside

Unlike those planted in soil, pot-grown hedging plants are more vulnerable to the cold. As the roots are above ground they are more prone to freezing.

Regularly check for any signs of frost and, if possible, move your potted plants indoors during extremely cold days to keep them warm. Or, you could temporarily move them inside overnight when temperatures drop. 

If bringing them inside isn’t an option, put a fleece bag over your plant — a piece of material that acts as a jacket for your hedge, keeping it warm and protected from frost. Or, you could simply tie a piece of fabric around your plant for insulation. It’s critical that the material you use is breathable and removed from your plant as soon as the temperatures rise to prevent suffocation.

Planting hedges in winter

Root hedging plants are available from autumn to early spring when they are dormant. They are available in two varieties: 

  • Bare-root hedging plants — Field-grown plants that are dug up once dormant in early autumn. They are packaged in bundles with no soil around the root. To learn how to plant a bare-root hedge, read our guide.
  • Root-ball hedging plants — Field-grown plants that are often evergreen. They are dug up once dormant in autumn and packaged in a bio-degradable sack with soil in them.

Planting when dormant during the colder months will give your hedges time to establish their roots. This will ensure they are strong enough to support leaf and stem growth come spring. 
For more information on the ways hedges are sold read our guide. Or, read our how-to plant hedges guide to learn how to get the job done successfully.

How to care for new hedging plants during winter

Caring for your newly planted hedges is extremely important to give the roots the best chance of establishing, especially during harsh winter conditions when prone to damage. 

To care for your bare-root or root-ball hedge in winter you should:

1. Avoid planting during bad weather conditions

Although planting straight away will provide the best results, planting during harsh weather conditions can cause damage. 

To ensure your roots are healthy and established quickly avoid planting during:

  • Snowy or frosty weather — Planting during these conditions can cause frost or snow to be buried with your plants. This could stay frozen for months, causing slow establishment or death of the roots. 
  • Windy conditions — Wind may rock your newly planted hedges, causing air holes in the soil. Drying winds or frost could reach your plant roots, limiting growth. 
  • Wet weather — Heavy rain may cause your soil to become compacted, causing waterlogging: when water sits on top of the ground. This could result in hindered growth. 

You can keep your plants in a sheltered area like a garage or shed to protect them from bad weather for a few days, a week at most. If you can’t plant for a longer period, put them temporarily in a small trench with the roots covered for protection. 

2. Keep moist before planting 

If you can’t plant your hedge straight away, maybe due to bad weather conditions, you must keep your plants moist. 

Bare roots can be added to a bucket with damp compost covering the roots, and root balls can be given a light watering to keep them from drying out. 

3. Compact the soil during windy conditions 

Windy conditions can rock your plants, resulting in air holes in the soil, which can let in drying winds and frost during icy days. To avoid damage to your plant roots, gently compact the soil with your foot or the back of a spade to remove any air holes.

You could also put up windbreak netting around your plants if conditions are extremely windy. 

Once you understand how to care for your hedges during winter to prevent damage, you can help them to thrive once spring arrives. For more expert gardening advice, take a look at our blog