Beech can be a big handsome tree or a small neat hedge, it is a versatile tree that can be used in a variety of ways in a garden. Beech is a deciduous tree but when grown as a hedge it will usually retain its brown leaves throughout the winter, giving it value as a year round screen.

Growing beech:

Beech will grow in full sun or part shade. It is hardy and will grow easily in most climates, though it prefers drier and more free-draining soils and has a preference for neutral to alkaline soils.

If you have a large garden you could allow a beech tree to grow to its full size of more than 40m though it is more commonly used as a hedge or boundary and kept trimmed and in bounds.

Beech hedges are not suitable for low-lying frost pockets or particularly cold areas. Tender new growth on beech can be damaged by hard frosts in the spring, so in harsh environments a more hardy hedge like hornbeam would be better. Beech varieties with purple leaves will retain their leaves more effectively in full sun and yellow varieties are better for situations in part shade.

It is important to water beech well and deeply between spring and autumn, especially while a hedge is becoming established. Regular mulching with organic matter around the base of the hedge or sapling will help the beech to become established. A hedge, that is trimmed regularly, will also benefit from the addition of an organic fertiliser.

If you are planning a beech hedge then it is essential, as the hedge will remain in position for many years, to prepare the soil well before planting. Beech is best bought as bare-root transplants, as these will establish faster and are cheaper. Bare-root beech should be planted in mild weather from October to late winter, though hold off of the ground is frosty or water-logged. Space bare-root beech 45-60cm apart.

For the first couple of years while your beech hedge is becoming established you should avoid trimming back too dramatically. Longer shoots should be trimmed off to encourage bushy growth. After those two years you may be able to start to shape the hedge and trim the edges – aim for a flat-topped A shape so sunlight can reach it all evenly. Aim for around 1m at the base.

An overgrown beech hedge can be cut back dramatically in February, if the weather is not too dramatically cold. If the height has to be reduced by more than 50% then pruning should be staggered in two stages over two years.

Why grow beech in the garden?

Beech provides a habitat for many creatures and woodland plants. In particular, beech is an important habitat for a range of butterflies, moths and other insects.

For humans, as well as providing a good boundary or shelter, beech is also used for fuel and to make furniture, utensils, tool handles and sports equipment. 

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