Hawthorn hedges are trees or shrubs common to the northeastern United States, Canada, Africa, western Asia, and Great Britain and other areas of Europe. Specific methods for growing hawthorn vary, depending on geographic location and intended appearance. Also known as Crataegus monogyna, common hawthorn can be grown as either trees or hedges. Laying hedges is a traditional practice involving stripping buds and bending shoots to form a thick hedge row that serves as a livestock fence. The practice takes considerable experience and knowledge of proper pruning and angles.
To grow hawthorn hedges, you must first choose whether to grow from seed or cutting. Seeds germinate sporadically and may take up to 18 months to sprout. Growing hawthorn hedges from cuttings taken from healthy plants offers the highest success rate for propagation. Grafting is a viable option if an existing hedge begins to fail. Keep in mind the cause of original hedge failure prior to grafting, as diseases are common and can infect grafts.
If starting from seed, a seedbed or individual pots are preferable, as are cold frames and early fall planting schedules. Saplings should be removed from seedbeds within the first two years of growth. Potted saplings should remain in pots for at least one year after sprouting before transplanting to a seedbed for an additional year. Alternatively, potted saplings may be planted directly into the permanent site selected for the hawthorn hedges.
While saplings are growing and maturing, growers should select the site for permanent planting. Moist, fertile, loamy soil is preferable for hawthorn hedges. Direct sunlight produces a higher fruit yield, although partial shade is acceptable. Heavy shade is not recommended, as hawthorn hedges cannot thrive in full shade conditions.
Note that hawthorn hedges are susceptible to numerous diseases and many of the same pests as apple trees. Take appropriate precautions to protect saplings, including drip irrigation to reduce the spread of ground-based diseases. Screen coverings and companion plantings help to reduce the attraction of pests. After the first two years of growth are complete, the hedges are ready to be manipulated into hedgerows for livestock fencing, a practice known as laying hedges.
Creating a fence-like hedge with hawthorn involves snedding. Snedding is the word used to describe trimming excess shoots and buds from main stems in preparation for bending. Once side shoots are stripped or snedded, the stem, also known as a pleacher, is bent to one side at a drastic angle. Pleacher tops are tied together to create a dense tangle of branches resembling a screen. As new shoots grow, some are stripped and woven into the screen, while others are allowed to flower and provide greenery.