The hornbeam hedge is considered particularly sturdy and low-maintenance, but this does not diminish its beauty. In autumn, the hornbeam hedge shines bright yellow and its fresh green colour will add cheer to your garden during the spring and summer. Individual hornbeam trees can reach up to 25 metres in height, but many amateur gardeners are particularly fond of hornbeams as hedges that are easy to maintain. After several years of proper care, a hornbeam hedge can reach a height of up to four metres and its thick growth makes it an ideal privacy screen for your garden. Hornbeam hedges can also be used to create archways over paths and entrances. Even in winter it doesn't lose all its leaves, so the remaining dry foliage can act as a privacy screen all year round. This feature is also very useful for wildlife, because non-migratory songbirds can take shelter in the old growth during the winter and protect themselves against the icy winds. As every dense hedge also provides plenty of space for insects, nesting birds can find a wide source of food as well.
Choosing a spot for your hornbeam is when you realise their versatility and how easy they are to maintain. To give it the best conditions for good growth, you should plant it in a sunny to semi-shaded site, although hornbeams can still fully develop relatively fully, even in shaded areas. The ground must be moderately acidic to slightly alkaline for hornbeams to grow. Ideally the soil should have a sandy-loamy texture. Hornbeams can take root and grow sufficiently even in pure sand or clay soils, as long as they can provide the shrub with enough moisture and nutrients.
For a hornbeam hedge to act as a privacy screen, it is important to space the plants the right distance apart from each other. When planting larger plants over 125–150 cm tall and plants with root balls, you should leave a gap of 60 cm between plants. For smaller plants under 125–150 cm and plants without root balls, a gap of between 30 and 50 cm should be sufficient.
Caring for your hornbeam after planting
As soon as the freshly-planted hornbeam has established itself in the garden, the next task is to shorten the long shoots of bare-root plants by around half using Gardena secateurs, so that they bush out into a thicker hedge. Otherwise the hornbeam grows upwards and outwards too quickly, meaning plant cover in the central section can become sparse.
Generally speaking, after the first time, you should prune the hedge little and often in the next two or three years to maintain its thickness and to avoid any bare patches. The young hornbeam will lose some of its vigour if it is cut back too frequently. Adding fertiliser in the form of compost (approx. 2–3 litres per square metre) will give the shrub enough nutrients for healthy growth. Apply the required amount of compost as a thin layer and work it in lightly using a Gardena grubber. After around three years, when the hornbeam has grown into an imposing hedge, pruning it twice a year will be sufficient — once at the end of June and once in January or February before buds form. Adding fertiliser to nutrient-rich soil is not usually necessary, but with thin soil you should add fertiliser as usual.
After planting the shrub in autumn, you should also water vigorously by adding 10 to 20 litres of water per square meter, followed by occasional watering during its first winter on days when there is no frost. But take care — like many other plants, hornbeams are sensitive to waterlogging.
Prevent salt damage at an early stage
When growing hornbeam hedges in particularly frost-prone areas, it is helpful to cover their roots with a layer of between three and five cm of bark mulch in their first winter, to protect against frost. If a hornbeam hedge is positioned along a footpath or at a roadside which is gritted in the winter, then mulching with straw is recommended during this period to protect against water splashes. After planting the hornbeam hedge, it is also important to ensure that the ground is landscaped so that large quantities of melt water containing salt do not reach the roots of the hornbeam hedge.