Edge space is the most happening part of any ecosystem, hosting the most diversity and transition. A multitude of plants and animals use edge space; plants take advantage of the light, having open space to grow into, and animals like the thick shelter offered by low lying shrubs and dense briar. Most transition zones happen where forests meet clearings, but can also occur where land meets water, or any major topographic and/or ecosystem change happens upon a landscape. At these edges, a forester can grow the most biomass, and should take care in selecting a good hedge where they can.
Hedges are cultivated edges, usually creating a boundary between fields, or a field to forest transition. Sometimes they include rock walls, or split fence backing, especially when newly established. In the picture above, our young hedge is backed by pallet fencing, which is a great barrier to livestock, as well as the ever invading blackberry. All the hedge plants have an orange tag, and most are mulched with cardboard. This is the fourth year of this hedges growth, and we’re still adding new plantings. The oldest trees will be pleachered this winter, encouraging abundant new shoots to thicken the hedge, as well as laying the trees to encourage horizontal growth. .
Back in the home garden, a nursery of young trees awaits transplanting into the hedge this winter. Mulberry, birch, and twin berry are along some species selected as good hedge species. Red alder and vine maple are two examples of native plants which are good hedge material. Other ground species like twin flower, comfrey, yarrow, and day lilly are great companions.
Some parts of the land at EEC Forest Stewardship are being reclaimed from pasture into tree islands. Above is an example of two islands close together, one established with cypress and spruce cultivars, while the one in the foreground is comprised of native willow and crabapple. These micro-habitats are not an intact forest, or hedge, but they do provide that crucial transition zone, offering more edge space within a larger pasture. Within the shade of a few trees, under-story can thrive with teaming diversity. In these islands you can find iris, thimble berry, carrot, dock, clover, sweet pea, rose, and more. Wildflowers often come in around these edge spaces in early spring. It’s a great pollination station too.
Cultivating nursery space for future hedge plantings is important, not just for the cultivation of species to plant into the hedges, but also as a way to save money. Instead of buying expensive potted trees and shrubs, you can order root stock, and also take cuttings and re-rootings from already established plants in your forest. Just remember to keep track of these plants and make sure they eventually find a place in the planned hedges. The Douglas fir in this tree nursery is getting almost too big to replant. The red oak behind it will stay where it was initially put in, which also means eventually, this tree nursery will be overtaken by an oak. By then, we’ll hopefully have enough established plantings on the landscape to negate the need for a set aside nursery bed.