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Portugese Laurel Hedge . . . thoughts and advice please

Firstly, many thanks to the contributors and their historic comments that I have read through helping me to gather knowledge and formulate a plan

I confess . . . I made an absolute cods of planting 20 x 5ft Portuguese Laurel to make an 'instant hedge'  - am looking for 6ft or so in due course for privacy

So I received a load of rootball plants and shower the rootball lightly before planting next day. Plants went in too late (early spring) about 2 ft apart and I didn’t cut them back or nip them out and I didn’t give the rootball a soak prior to planting and the holes were only just about big enough to get the rootball in and the ground is well-compacted clay and I didn’t put a good mulch on top and I didn’t give them any Fish, Blood and Bone and they are sitting under trees so get robbed of water and light and I don’t water them as heavily or as often as I should . . . .  probably.  So, due to bad advice, some bad luck and a good dose of ignorance it is a proper comedy of errors.  Having said/done that, about half of them have survived though have struggled a bit recently – too dry I think, top leaves going brown

Have now bitten the bullet and pulled up the dead ones and will replant the gaps.  So here is my plan:  dig a trench (in progress) a lot bigger than the pot and shove a load of part-composted kitchen waste peelings, tea bags, and grass cuttings in the bottom to retain moisture and a good sprinkle of Fish, Blood and Bone, then cover with compost.  Tease out the roots of the new pot plants and put them in, fill up the gaps with a mix of the existing clay soil and compost.  Put a layer of mulch on top – how much?  The new plants have been growing happily in their pots this year and are currently 3-4ft – intend to cut back height and a third off any spindly branches.  Thoughts on severity welcome bearing in mind I am after a 6ft wall of green as soon as possible.  Water in well . . . and continue to water until the rains set in.

The survivors are about 5ft so I’ll cut them back also - guessing this is so they can throw their energy into developing a good root system?  After watering, pile their bases (not touching the trunks) with mulch and a good sprinkle of Fish Blood and Bone and water regularly until the rainy season. 

Also intend to cut back the tree branches overhead to allow more rain and light through.  Thinking light is okay-ish as faces almost due South

While I am at it would it make sense to put in some form of irrigation pipe in the trench for new plants and on the surface for the survivors as well? (Would also make watering quicker for me – will be about 50m in all)

To aid the struggling survivors I had an idea about using a ¾” drill (14” long) to perforate the soil between footpath and the plant – hopefully not damaging their roots.  Then sticking some of these moisture retaining crystals, down there with some Fish Blood and Bone – is this complete madness?  Forking is close to impossible as the ground is that hard – soil is well-compacted clay

Compost thoughts?  I have a pile of inherited compost (I think) been left about ten years and surrounded by ivy.  Can I use this without any ivy taking over in the new location?

Could do with thoughts on what to do when – a planting / maintenance calendar

Am also interested to know how long I should expect to wait for a fully fledged 6ft hedge so I can manage expectations

Thanks if you made it this far.  Anything I have missed?  Guidance and best advice welcome



  • BorderlineBorderline Posts: 4,700
    Your plan sounds fine. Be generous with mulching. Two inches would be ideal. Bark chip is good for long term planting. Not familiar with water retaining crystals. Sounds like a waste of time for these shrubs. So long as each root ball has been loosened, or even cut/slashed around the base and sides, and the soil has been loosened by digging around to the depth of around a foot. Then mixed with some compost, they should settle in well. 

    If the plants are not very bushy, you can give them a light trim now. You can give them another trim in late spring next year to keep them bushy and encourage further branching. Growth rate all depends on your local conditions, but it's very possible they will reach 5-6 ft in 2 years if all goes well.
  • Thanks Borderline, good to know I'm on the right tracks.  So as we have had a splash of rain, is now a good time to plant them or should I wait until later October or doesn't it matter particularly?

    Thoughts on future watering - an irrigation pipe (particularly for) under the tree-covered sectiion
  • BorderlineBorderline Posts: 4,700
    I don't have experience with irrigation pipes, but if you don't have the time to water, then that can be an option. A good drench with a hose around the base of each plant once every week in summer in the evenings or early mornings to get the best of the water. A little more often if temperatures are consistently hot. In the autumn and spring, you can ease off a bit. Only need to water when there has been no rain for weeks on end. 
  • Okay, think I can manage once a week watering in the dry season.  Reckon if they've survived this year they'll be ok, especially as I am starting to put the care plan into action. 

    So I have now trimmed away at new growth for the surviving plants - the 5ft ones.  However I am having trouble makng the final cut down in height - 4 ft seems too radical.  Some of the plants have gained about 10" this year so it can't be all bad . . .  can it?  Will a more severe cut pay dividends - they are reasonably bushy lower down
  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 53,924
    Cutting back quite hard pays dividends, especially if they have a decent medium to grow in. Difficult to judge without seeing them though  :)
    There's a house near me which has a  mature hedge along the [main] road boundary. When it was being sold [must be around ten years ago] the owners put in another one to give a bit of privacy to the back garden, as it's a corner site. They bought 5 or 6 foot ones. They still look pretty awful, as they've never been pruned, and basically still look much the same as they did when they were planted.
    We have good conditions here for laurel, and the other hedge is really sturdy and dense. It proves the point that a good prune really benefits them  :)
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
  • BorderlineBorderline Posts: 4,700
    Might be a good idea to see a photo of them now to judge. At this time of year, you can leave it till next year in spring to prune back, so not the end of the world if you don't prune back now.
  • So this is how they turned recently - guess this was a water issue - now trimmed a bit

    This is after a bit of a trim and some digging of the earth around the bases and adding some goodness out of the composter, will add a layer of grass cuttings soon.  One of them was looking quite poorly so I cut it right down to green, healthy bark level

    For context, all sitting under the trees which I will cut back to give them more light and rain.  This last photo is facing pretty much North so they do get light from the South

    Judge away!
  • LynLyn Posts: 22,852
    If you were to cut them off to my red line they will shoot out next spring and by the summer will have lots of new thick growth in them, you cant expect newly planted trees to make good roots whilst trying to feed all the top growth. 
    They'll be fine,  they’ll get all the winter rain they need and will reward you next year. 

    Gardening on the wild, windy west side of Dartmoor. 

  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Posts: 86,030
    Thirded 👍 

    Gardening in Central Norfolk on improved gritty moraine over chalk ... free-draining.

  • LynLyn Posts: 22,852
    Hexagon said:
    Agree with Lyn, cut them all level.
    Ok so I can’t draw a straight level  line 😀
    Gardening on the wild, windy west side of Dartmoor. 

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