I just spent a lovely morning at a field trip to Hedgerow Farms, in Winters, CA. Strolling amid the tawny hues of late summer, we learned about hedgerows – wide, densely planted swaths of trees, shrubs, forbs, and grasses traditionally used to define the boundaries of farms. Experts from Hedgerow Farm, UC Davis, and UC Cooperative Extension took turns sharing their research and observations.
In recent decades, hedgerows have largely been replaced in California by mown, cultivated, or weedy edges as farmers seek to maximize the portion of their land that is in production. But, as scientists document the many benefits that they offer to farmers and the environment, hedgerows are coming back into agricultural favor. Some interesting tidbits that we learned today:
- Hedgerows can perform several distinct functions. Depending on the plants selected, they can provide wildlife habitat, dust control, wind breaks, biofiltration, pest control, crop pollination, and natural beauty.
- California native plants make effective hedgerows. The natives bloom and set seed later than weedy invasive plants. The timing of their blooming and seeding is just right for many beneficial pollinators and too late for many pests.
- Hedgerows can help control insect pests. UC studies have shown that hedgerows have 90% fewer crop pests and 60% more beneficial parasitoid wasps (tiny, non-stinging wasps that prey on stinkbugs, aphids, scale, and many other harmful pests) than conventionally managed edges. And, cropland adjacent to hedgerows were found to have 10% more parasitoid wasps than conventionally edged fields.
- Hedgerows support insectivorous birds that eat the larvae of coddling moth.
- Populations of potentially harmful animals, such as field mice and gophers, were the same or lower in hedgerows than in conventionally managed edges.
- Populations of predatory animals, such as raptors, that prey on potentially harmful animals are much higher in hedgerows.
- Hedgerows support native bees by providing undisturbed habitat, pollen, and nectar. Some species of native bees, such as Mason bees, are more effective at pollinating flowers than are honey bees.
Although the talk focused on benefits to farmers, the hedgerow concept can be of use to homeowners, too. A mini hedgerow, planted along a property boundary, will attract many pollinators, pest predators, and birds to your yard. Landscape-friendly CA native plants that are of a scale suitable for a suburban yard while providing habitat, shelter, pollen, and nectar include CA Redbud, Ceanothus, Buckwheat, Coffeeberry, Manzanitas, Coyotebrush, Deergrass, CA Fuchsia, Milkweed, Cleveland and White Sage, Yarrow, and Penstemon.
Looking for a way to screen views or define your edges? Consider planting a mini hedgerow!