Heart of England Hedge Laying

Pleaching a simple stem

The process of pleaching and laying is basic to all styles of hedge laying. What follows is a simplified scheme for laying a single stem. In practice, stems are often mis-shaped, too close together or out of line. Every hedge is different – every stem is different – and you will develop strategies to deal with different situations as you gain experience.



Using a billhook, a downward diagonal cut should be made low down on the right side of the stem. Ideally the cut should start at a height of about 5 times the diameter of the stem and aim to cut about three quarters of the way through. The cut should be angled at about 30 degrees to the vertical. You are aiming to develop a single cut rather than creating several: accuracy with the billhook is needed here, which will improve with practice! For thicker stems an axe can be used or a saw. Support the upper part of the stem with your left hand and you will feel the tension in it change as you reach a critical point...

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...and you can then lower the pleacher and build it into the hedge as dictated by the particular style that you are using. Do not allow it to fall on its own. It may be necessary to use a lever in the cut to encourage the pleacher to lower. Use a billhook for this: insert it into the cut and twist horizontally to create a split that will run down the grain from the end of your cut. If you force it over before it is ready you may create a split running up the pleacher and this should be avoided. Again, for larger stems, an axe may be necessary: the longer the handle, the more leverage. If the upper part of the pleacher is tangled with the rest of the hedge it may be necessary to free it with a billhook, slasher or loppers but ideally this should have been done before the cut. You may well need to tidy the pleacher in order for it to build neatly into the hedge: branches may need removing and it may need attention in order to get it to lie in the correct line (see more details in the article on problem pleachers).

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When the pleacher has been laid, the heel should be trimmed so that it is approximately 5cm tall at the right and 10cm tall next to the cut. Ideally this should be done with an upward cut from a billhook, but this requires great accuracy and a sharp tool. As an alternative a saw can be used.

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In the spring new growth should appear from both the pleacher and the heel. The majority of the strength of the roots will be directed towards the heel rather than the strap feeding the pleacher: this is important because we are hoping for strong regrowth from the base of the hedge. After several years of growth, the hedge can be re-laid. At that stage ideally the old pleachers can be removed and the growth from the heels provide the new stems for laying.

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Here is a good example of a well-pleached stem. Notice the thin strap that will nourish the pleacher and the heel that will take the majority of the sap from the root causing it to create strong new growth. (Picture courtesy Graham Teece)

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Another good example. (Picture courtesy Graham Teece)

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This shows the regrowth from a pleacher after several years. The old heel has been taken over as the new shoots grow. The old pleacher can be seen off to the left. The new stems will be ideal to be laid in the future when the time comes. (Picture courtesy Stuart Bridger)

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Here is a method that should be avoided at all costs. A sawcut is made horizontally part way through the stem and the upper part of the stem is pushed over....

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...until the stem splits, usually upwards and downwards. Cutting like this displays a poor understanding of the basic idea of hedgelaying. Unfortunately, this type of work is often seen amongst poorly trained workers who may themselves have been trained by poorly qualified instructors, or may simply have forgotten what they were shown. To repeat, avoid this type of cutting!

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