Creating an Edible Hedge for Foraging at Home

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Ripe sloes on a blackthorn bush

If you’re considering growing a hedge, this article’s for you. It’s time to lay the groundwork for a hedge that’s both functional – and edible! So banish the boxwood, privet and leylandii, because there’s a cornucopia of alternative hedging plants that will also produce something tasty.

Hedges serve many important functions in the garden – not merely marking out the boundary between one garden and the next, but filtering strong winds, providing a leafy backdrop to flower borders, dampening intrusive sounds and offering privacy from the outside world.

A living wall of green is also a boon for wildlife. This vertical tangle of branches and foliage provides food and shelter for many species of bugs, birds and mammals. Gardens blessed with hedges are an order of magnitude healthier than those without.

Fruit Bushes for Hedging

The first thing to consider is whether to plant a hedge consisting of just one species, or several. Single species hedges give a more uniform look, but a mixed-species hedge can be stunning – just think of all those contrasting leaf shapes and textures, punctuated by eruptions of color from flowering favorites such as elderflower. Plant an edible mixed hedge and you’ll have a tempting succession of hedge-gathered harvests to look forward to.

Blackberries growing through a hawthorn hedge

In temperate parts of the world the classic edible hedge could well take on the typical appearance of a mixed British hedgerow, with its riot of haws, nuts, hips, and berries.

Suitable tree and shrub species include elder, whose flowers and berries give two opportunities to make a delicious country wine. Then there are hazels for springtime catkins – so valued by early pollinators – and, of course, their autumn haul of nuts. To this pair you can add blackthorn, whose fruits infuse the delicious winter-warming tipple of sloe gin; rambling roses for their hips (great in jellies and jams); and sprawling throughout, blackberry canes, perhaps of a spineless variety to save your fingers when picking and pruning!

Hardy fuchsias also make good hedging plants, particularly in coastal locations. Their fruits are edible, with those from good eating varieties like ‘Riccartonii’ being particularly prized.

More Edible Hedge Ideas

Several wild fruit trees can be trained and contained within a hedge, where they will form a dense habit while yielding lots of small but delicious or useful fruits.

First up is the cherry plum, also known as the ‘myrobalan plum’ – a fast-growing tree that produces masses of fruits a little larger than a cherry. The fruits are can be eaten just as they are or can be used as the basis for all manner of jams, wines and liqueurs. The cherry plum was traditionally planted to create orchard shelterbelts. In fact, cherry plums are well suited to this close association with orchard trees. The early appearance of its stunning, pale-pink blossom helps to attract a legion of pollinating insects, which will go on to fertilize other fruit trees.

Crab apples

Another plant that bears masses of flowers and fruits is the crab apple. The clusters of tiny apples are too sour to eat on their own but make an excellent jelly to accompany roasted meats. Like the cherry plum, the blossom is an incredible boon to wildlife. In Britain some 93 species of insect are associated with the crab apple. Wherever you plant it, it’s sure to bring beneficial bugs of all types to your garden.

Completing a trio of plum, apple and pear is the wild pear tree. It flowers in mid spring then goes on to produce small-but-perfectly-formed pears, which are often a little more rounded than their cultivated cousins.

Many ornamental hedge species are also edible! Acca sellowiana, whose common name is pineapple guava or guavasteen, thrives in warmer conditions (it hails from South America) and will reward the patient gardener with tasty fruits described as a fusion between strawberry and pineapple.

And don’t forget the quince (Cydonia oblonga), whose fragrant fruits make the perfect companion to apples within a pie. The lower-growing Japanese quince (Chaenomeles species) is also edible, but often considered less tasty.

Blackberry harvest

Planting an Edible Hedge

The best time to plant a hedge is when the plants are dormant – so any time during the winter or, in regions with severe winters, once the ground has thawed in early spring. Start by clearing the ground of weeds then dig over a strip of ground about a meter, or 3 feet wide. Well-rotted compost can be dug into the ground to improve its fertility and get plants off to a flying start.

Fruit bushes can be planted at very close spacings in a hedge, but it’s still really important to avoid planting too densely. Young plants may look sparse to start with, but this is far preferable to planting too close together and having long, drawn out plants that are struggling for light and nutrients. Check with your hedging plant supplier for the spacing they recommend for each species.

Once planted and watered in, a thick mulch of well-rotted manure or compost will help to lock in soil moisture, protect the young roots from extreme temperatures, and keep weeds in check as your new hedge establishes. In dry conditions you may need to water your hedge regularly to help it do so.

I’ve only touched on a few edible species of hedge plant here; there are, of course, lots of other options. So if you’ve got a suggestion for something beautiful, functional and edible, please let me know about it by leaving a comment below.

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Show Comments


"One important consideration for a lot of hedges would be evergreen for privacy. I'm trying a couple Silverberries (Elaeagnus)."
Marc on Friday 18 November 2016
"Eleagnus are brilliant edibles too. And you're right, they will give good, solid evergreen protection."
Ben Vanheems on Saturday 19 November 2016
"I apologize if I missed it, but I didn't see any information on what parts of the country would be best for each fruit mentioned."
Bob Simpson on Friday 25 November 2016
"Hi Bob. It really depends on where you are and in which country. The recommended species here are all good for a temperate climate - so the UK, much of the Pacific Northwest etc. Other species may be better suited for hotter, dryer climates. It's best to have a good look around at what is available in your part of the world and then work from there."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 28 November 2016
"Hello, Would anyone be able to suggest a security hedge where the fruit and or leaves are edible. The hedge should be evergreen, about 1.5 – 2.5 meters tall and ideally the fruit should be edible raw. Many thanks"
Mark Brend on Thursday 1 June 2017
"Hi Mark. You could try blackthorn (which produces sloes - perfect for making a sloe gin). The plants have lots of long spines on them and is fairly dense, so would make a good security hedge. It also grows to about person height."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 5 June 2017
"How easy is it to create a hedgerow from Chaenomeles Japonica? I would be trying to plant this in Italy where the summers are glorious but the winters can be pretty cold (snow). Thanks."
Bernie Howley on Thursday 5 April 2018
"Chaenomeles japonica (Japanese quince) makes a good low hedge. It originates from China but was also grown for centuries in Japan. It is very hardy, so should grow well in Italy, even with the cold winters."
Ben Vanheems on Friday 6 April 2018
"Thanks Ben."
Bernie Howley on Friday 6 April 2018
"Hi I want to plant a fruit hedge, to include the plum, blackberry, crab apple and a Gooseberry. What varieties would you recommend? The hedge borders on a field usually used for cows to graze "
Denise Wyatt on Thursday 6 June 2019
"HI Denise. It really is a matter of personal preference. There are some varieties of blackberry that are thornless and so more of a please to pick - e.g. 'Oregon Thornless' and 'Loch Ness'. Gooseberries are pretty fuss-free but can sometimes get mildew. The varieties 'Invicta' and 'Leveller' are highly rated and show good resistance to disease. Crab apple varieties are available as slightly larger fruited-varieties or small fruit varieties that are clustered. Some varieties are columnar, which may be good if you don't want it to dominate the hedge - it's worth a search of fruit tree suppliers to see which types you might prefer. Plums come in dessert or culinary varieties. The important thing is to choose the correct root stock, which will control the final size of the tree. The rootstock 'VVA-1' limits the size of a plum tree, while allowing for good winter hardiness and improved yield."
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 11 June 2019
"Hi, how will the maintenance differ when growing fruit trees within a hedge? I was thinking about eventually laying an edible hedge, to improve light reaching the whole plant. Would this work? Many thanks in advance :-)"
Ashley on Friday 14 June 2019
"How close together to plant a mixed hedge? I don't have much space. Would like to include quince, hazelnut, cherry plum... but not sure if enough space!"
Katie on Sunday 20 October 2019
"Hi Ashley. Fruit tree maintenance would be much the same as for free-standing trees. The fruit trees mentioned would grow well within the hedge, being more natural and easier-going than fruit trees developed solely for big, perfect fruits. But pruning requirements would be much the same, so I don't think laying them would work. Leave laying for the traditional hedgerow species such as hawthorn. "
Ben Vanheems on Monday 28 October 2019
"Hi Katie. Generally I would recommend leaving about 12-18 inches (30-45cm) between hedgerow plants."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 28 October 2019
"Your suggestions for an edible preferably (or mixed edible and non edible) evergreen hedging for an exposed area approximately 50 ft long which gets full sun most of the day please? Height 6ft plus. In South West UK region. Looking for some variety but similar patterns of growth. Many thanks. "
Karen Taylor on Monday 2 December 2019
"Hi Karen. I'd have a little look at the website of Ashridge Trees. They are based in Somerset and you can search for hedging options by soil type, growth habit etc. The quality is very good too. They have a great edible hedge pack collection, which includes cherry plum, hazel, crabapple, blackberry (thornless) and wild pear or damson. Lots of other options too."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 2 December 2019
"I plan to replace a hedge with a mixed fruit hedge which will be about 40m to grow 1-2m in height. The location is in West Yorkshire at around 300+ metres above sea level. The ground is clay."
Robert Casper on Sunday 14 March 2021
"Hi Robert. Very best of luck with your new fruit hedge. There are several nurseries that offer packs of edible hedgerow plants, which are very good value for money. You'll want reliable, hardy plants at that height. I'd say blackthorn, dog roses, elderberry, hazel, blackberries and cherry plums are just a few examples of what should do well for you."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 15 March 2021
"Hi. I want to plant a varied 21 meter hedge preferable evergreen but because we're getting older we don't want anything that will grow higher than 6 to 8ft (1.8 to 2meters). I would love to include fruit we and our neighbours could eat as well as berries and shelter for the birds. I live in the UK on the south coast where winters are windy and wet. Although our winters are mild for the UK some years the temperature can get down to -6 degrees centigrade. Have you any ideas of what to include, consider and avoid. Thanks Lesley"
Lesley Murdy on Sunday 24 October 2021
"Hi Lesley. I'd recommend all the usual British hedgerow favourites, which can all be cut to keep them 8ft or lower: hazel, blackthorn for sloes, hawthorn - also cherry plum, cornelian cherry and perhaps a shorter type of crab apple. All great for jams, jellies etc and a boon for wildlife."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 25 October 2021
"Amazing article. Thank you so much for putting this all out there. I have just removed a 100 year old 30m privet hedge from a mountain property in Northern Italy (hot dry summers, thick snow in winter) and ideally I'd like it replace it with a mixed edible indigenous (to Italy!) hedge that is as low maintenance as possible, doesn't grow more to than 2m and includes some evergreens. A big ask! I've seen elderflower grow locally, so that's on the list, but I don't think I've ever seen hawthorn, quince or crab apple locally. I was thinking rosemary might be a good idea, or bay, along with elderflower. Any other suggestions? Thank you enormously!"
Candida Jones on Monday 8 May 2023
"Hi Candida. I think your suggestions would work well. I'm guessing you want heat and drought tolerance, so rosemary would be great, and I think bay could work well too. You could try bushier sage plants too, and maybe try some hazelnuts too."
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 10 May 2023

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