Tall or small plants what are the pros and cons?
We speak to thousands of customers each year and one of the most common questions is "should I buy small or tall plants?". Our advice depends upon what type of hedge you are creating - how long the hedge will be, how high you want it to ultimately grow to and how patient you are prepared to be in the meantime (they all get there in the end!), how much you can trade off some height for a cost saving, whether it's important that the hedge is dense to ground level, and so on.
Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules for when smaller is better than taller or vice versa. We offer the following as general advice, but our helpline team will be happy to advise you on your specific requirements - please phone 01257 263873 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The key differences between a hedge purchased as tall plants (say over 1.5m) versus smaller
the ultimate desired height of the hedge and the species growth rate are major factors. If the hedge is to be 1.5m Holly, because the growth rate of this species is slow, we'd recommend 1m or 1.2m plants. On the other hand, if the hedge is to be 1.5m Leylandii, then we'd probably suggest 60/90cm plants because its only going to take a couple of years to reach the desired height. Of course, some customers might not want to wait for future growth and might buy 1.5m plants to achieve a virtually instant effect which is the key benefit of tall plants.
taller plants are considerably more expensive - the cost isn't in proportion to the height, because of the cost of care and re-potting as plants grow. However, sometimes this extra cost can be offset by the fact that you don't need as many per metre. A tall hedge planted at 1 per metre can sometimes be less expensive that a medium height hedge planted at 1.5 or 2 per metre.
taller plants are not as easy to establish as small plants. It takes a lot of plant energy to support a large leaf structure, and the disturbance caused by planting large plants can lead to defoliation, slower growth and even in very unusual circumstances complete failure of a plant. Most people get 100% success when they plant a new hedge but if the soil or situation are poor or its going to be difficult to give a new hedge the constant watering that it needs, then its sensible to buy smaller plants which will be easier to establish.
with small plants, it's easy to achieve good density at ground level but taller plants which are planted 1m apart will inevitably have small gaps between each plant at ground level. If you are planting a longish length of hedge perhaps around a field or in a very large garden, this is often acceptable but if the hedge is a short length (where the height of the hedge is not in proportion to the length of the hedge and seems to make the gaps more noticeable) or the hedge is near a house or if a "formal" appearance is required, then generally we'd recommend smaller plants to avoid the "gap" problem.
there's considerable "labour" involved in planting a new hedge - whether you DIY or use a contractor. Sometimes it's easier to use a lot of small plants and sometimes it's easier to plant fewer tall plants - but having planted a few hedges in our time, it's something we'd encourage you to think about!
We hope this general advice is helpful, but please do contact us if you'd like further clarification or specific advice.