A beech hedge is a versatile option for your garden. They’re useful as functional barriers, and they also add an elegant touch to the design of any landscape. As hedges grow, they can become thin, and they may need additional help in order to stay healthy and strong. Luckily there are lots of different ways you can thicken up a beech hedge, so it looks great again! The first step is determining why the hedge has become too thin in the first place; this will help determine which method you’ll want to use, if any at all.
How to Thicken a Beech Hedge
There are a couple of ways that you can promote strong growth and thicken your beech hedge.
1 – Prune
The first thing you can do to promote strong growth in your beech is to give it careful pruning towards the end of the summer. This may seem a little counterproductive but pruning at the end of August will help the beech hold on to its leaves throughout the winter months. Pruning the top of your beech will also help to promote thickening. Beech Hedges can get to around 5m tall and it takes a lot of energy to sustain that size plant. By topping your beech, you will be helping to promote growth elsewhere whilst also making it more manageable.
2 – Fertilise
Next up, ensure that your beech is getting enough nutrients. In the early spring, mix in some organic compost or well-rotted manure and mulch around the base of your hedge. If necessary, you can also add a little fish, blood, and bone fertiliser to the soil in the late winter – but be careful not to overdo it as too much nitrogen can cause yellowing and may even weaken branches.
3 – Complementary Planting
If there are significant gaps in the hedge, consider planting additional beech plants in those areas. Choose a time when the hedge is dormant, typically in late autumn or winter.
Why Do Beech Hedges Thin Out?
There are a number of possible causes for the thinning of a beech hedge and being able to diagnose the problem means that you are one step closer to a solution. When a hedge becomes too thin, it may be due to the growth habits of your particular plants or from damage caused by deer or rabbits. Other reasons include root damage from insects and fungi, nutrient deficiencies, drought stress, herbicide injury and a general lack of care.
Beech hedges are quite hardy and thought to be able to last hundreds of years so if your beech hedge is thinning out, there is likely to be another cause and it is unlikely to be age-related.
Insects are capable of causing damage to trees and shrubs are responsible for some diseases which can cause mortality in hedge plants as well as weaken them, so they don’t grow normally. The beech woolly aphid is one pest that can cause significant damage if left untreated. Luckily, these aphids are quite easy to spot. The best way to check if your beech hedges have fallen victim to these woolly aphids is to look around the leaves. True to their name, the woolly aphids feature a white, cotton wool-like covering on your leaves. It has a waxy and sticky texture and can cause mould growth on your beech hedges.
We have a homemade remedy to help you get rid of the aphids but if there are any areas that have a particularly bad infestation, trim the area, and dispose of it immediately.
A beech hedge that has become too thin may have been chewed on by deer, rabbits or other animals that will eat the leaves off the hedges. Beech is not a particular favourite of deer, but it is not out of the realms of possibility that they will eat a healthy beech if there is nothing better available.
To keep deer and other animals away, you can use silent roar (Amazon link – opens in a new tab). Silent roar is made up of Lion dung and the very scent is enough to send other animals scampering away.
Beech is susceptible to the extremely destructive ‘Honey Fungus’. This fungus infects the plant through the roots and in extreme cases of infection, honey fungus grows between the bark and the inner wood of the stem. When Beech hedges are infected with the fungus, mycelium will grow between the bark and wood of stems. This can cause cracks to appear on plant material near the base of the stem from which mushrooms will grow during the autumn.
Unfortunately, if your beech ends up with an infestation of honey fungus, you are in trouble as there is no cure, and the plant will have to be uprooted and destroyed along with as much of the infected soil as possible.
Each year, as we head into winter your beech will naturally lose some of its density and the foliage will crisp and turn a rusty brown colour but with the right care, it will still hold its leaves, unlike most deciduous species. Despite being known to be resilient, beech hedges may also fall victim to extreme weather conditions. Common problems such as winter frost or overly hot summers are often culprits behind thinning beech hedges. Late frosts, once the first buds have appeared, can also be detrimental too – not much we can do to prevent this though.
Thankfully, weather damage to beech hedges is mostly reversible when the seasons change for the better.
Poor Soil Conditions
Beech hedges will grow in almost all soil types although roots do not like to be waterlogged so if your beech has been planted in heavy clay, it is important to improve the drainage by digging in some sharp sand. It is also important to ensure that the soil contains enough nutrients as beech are quite vigorous growers and the thinning out could be because it is not getting what it needs from the soil.
Another thing to consider if your beech hedge is thinning is that nearby plants will also be competing which could rob your beech of essential nutrients.
As we mentioned, beech does not like to be waterlogged – particularly in the winter. In the summer, however, they are big drinkers and will need watering up to 4 times a week. If you think that your beech is thinning because of a lack of water, try increasing watering frequency or adding mulch around the base.
Beech hedges are versatile plants that can be used in many different ways. Whether you need an ornamental feature or a functional barrier, they’re perfect for the job. They also require very little maintenance and upkeep which means you don’t have to worry about spending too much time caring for them. If your hedge is starting to thin out it could be because deer have been eating the leaves, fungi have infected it, the weather has caused its branches to die back, or poor soil conditions mean there aren’t enough nutrients available. Whichever of these apply, the best way to thicken up your beech hedge is to take good care of it. Prune it regularly during the late summer and ensure that the plant is getting the right amount of water and nutrients.
Garden Doctor Tips
“Beech Hedges need to be well-watered during the hotter summers!”
“Just after the last frost, mix in some nice organic compost and mulch around the area!”
“If you discover a bad infestation of woolly aphids, trim the affected area and dispose of it immediately!”
“By topping your beech, you will stop it from becoming too tall which means more energy is channelled into growing back thicker instead of reaching for the sky!”
Frequently Asked Questions
Is beech good for hedging?
Beech makes excellent hedging because they are extremely tall and dense which means they provide an excellent functional barrier and although beech hedges are deciduous, with the right pruning, they will keep their leaves for the winter.
Is beech hedging fast growing?
Beech grows particularly fast and will grow 30-60cm per year.
Are beech hedges good for wildlife?
Beech trees are very good for wildlife as they provide a lot of cover and food. They also make a brilliant nesting site for birds and animals and also support a wide range of insect species.
Trevor Wright is not just a seasoned horticulturist; he’s the esteemed Garden Doctor. With a BSc in Horticulture and years of hands-on experience in the soil, Trevor has become a trusted mentor for all things gardening. As the founder of Garden Doctor, he’s committed to clarifying the intricacies of gardening, offering straightforward advice that’s rooted in years of practice. His writing is a garden of how-tos, savvy insights, and comprehensive guides that enable individuals to nurture and grow their garden dreams. When he’s not knee-deep in garden beds, Trevor is at his keyboard passing on his green-thumbed wisdom to budding gardeners, ensuring that the legacy of sustainable and joyful gardening blossoms far and wide.