Hornbeam Hedging

(Question)

Hi there:
I’ve read all your posts pertaining to hornbeam hedging, but none quite seem to address our questions about spacing if you are planting young trees that are about 6 or 7 feet tall already. The link here suggests planting no more than 45cm apart, but in the pictures these are saplings, which seem to be unavailable here in Ontario. We’ve seen images of topiary hornbeam hedges on stilts, floating it seems 5 or 6 feet above the ground on trunks that seem to be 4 to 5 feet apart, but we’d like our hedge to start branching lower down, but we’re not sure how low we could expect starting with 6-7 foot trees. If our hedge could float 3 feet or less above the ground, we’d be satisfied. If it turns out that hornbeam is suitable for this hedging project, and we can figure out the appropriate spacing for the trees, is there a good resource to guide us through the pruning and pleaching needed to turn these trees into a proper hedge?
Thank you for your help!

(Answer)

A pleached hedge is a fantastic project, but it does require patience and pruning skills.  Pleached hedges are much more popular in Europe and the United Kingdom than they are here, and so it is understandable, but a little frustrating, to find almost no local information sources, or even one comprehensive source.  The good news is that every source indicates that the hornbeam is a great choice.

Many of the images available of pleached hedges show the first row of branches at the 4 to 5 foot mark or even much higher, the trunk having been cleared of branches to that point.  You would need to be sure that your trees had trainable branches at the 3 foot level.   Here is a Toronto Master Gardeners post specifically on pleaching, which provides several useful links (many of them English sources), and advice on planting distance for the larger trees you would like to start with. Most of these experts recommend that trees should be planted at approximately 5 feet apart, making sure that they are placed so that you can access them both in front and behind for pruning.

 

An English garden blogger weighs in with some well-illustrated examples of creating a frame:  https://andthegarden.wordpress.com/2015/03/16/how-to-pleach/

Another good article which gives a step-by-step description of the pleaching process is from the UK Independent newspaper:  http://www.independent.co.uk/property/gardening/like-a-nice-tall-border-for-your-garden-pleached-hornbeam-is-the-way-to-go-948104.html .

The library may well be the best place to find comprehensive instructions, for example, the Illustrated Practical Encyclopedia of Pruning, Training and Topiary by Richard Bird and Peter Anderson, or Topiary and the Art of Training Plants by David Joyce.  If you live near the Toronto Botanical Gardens, a visit to their extensive horticulture library may be helpful.

If we lived in the UK we would be able to purchase expensive, ready-pleached trees, but here we are faced with doing it all ourselves from scratch.  Very best of luck with this great project!