Pleached trees are specially trained plants with long, narrow stems and horizontally trained branches. A row of pleached trees looks a bit like hedge on stilts.
Pleaching is the technique used to train the trees. The crown is trimmed and young branches are secured to a timber framework so that they grow in the desired direction.
The beauty of pleached trees is that they create stunning visual effects without taking up a lot of space on the ground. Ideal then for a small garden or for a formal garden where they can be used to create structure and to direct the eye.
Pleached trees have been used by garden designers for at least four centuries. It’s not unusual to see an avenue of pleached trees in the grounds of a stately home. I’m very pleased to report that the 21st century is seeing a revival of these amazing trees, not least because they fit will with the clean lines of contemporary garden design. And of course, their slimline crowns and subsequently smaller root runs are the perfect way to bring carbon busting trees into today’s smaller gardens.
You can use these trained trees to increase the height of your fences thus improving security and creating a far more private space. It’s no coincidence that twenty first century pleached trees have a stem height of 180cm – which is the height of a standard fence panel.
Use them too to create tree lined walkways or to divide a larger garden into smaller “rooms”. The high crown means that your pleached trees can be underplanted with tightly trimmed shrubs, with wildflowers or with formal borders. The Eden Project in Cornwall has created an eyecatching path by establishing white flowered globe alliums beneath pleached hornbeams. Beautiful.
Any tree species with a single straight trunk and a branching habit has the potential for pleaching. Unless you are confident in your pruning abilities and can wait several years for your tree to be trained, it’s wise to buy ready-pleached trees from a reputable nursery. In these days of biosecurity worries, I would advise any gardener to select UK grown trees.
In the broadest sense, pleached trees fall into two categories. Evergreen and deciduous.
Pleached evergreens are fabulous architectural plants. Classic species include Laurel and Photinia.
Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus). A very robust plant with big glossy leaves commonly used as a hedging plant as it has a dense growth habit. Relatively easy to train and trim but may need more than one cut a year.
Photinia (Photinia x fraseri). Can only be described as a “good doer”. Beautiful, beautiful tree with cheerful red foliage to bring a splash of colour to the garden. Very popular with top garden designers. It tones well with cedar fencing and creates a warmth and vibrancy unmatched by any other plant.
Deciduous plants lose their leaves in the winter time. In the case of pleached trees that means that the geometric structure of the branches is exposed. And my goodness, it’s beautiful. Just imagine how amazing the horizontal branches could look lit up against the night sky.
The classic deciduous pleached tree is of course the lime. But an excellent substitute is our very own native hornbeam.
Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus). Native to the UK, frost hardy and visually similar to green beech. Tolerates clipping very well and casts a gentle, dappled shade in summer months. In winter, brown leaves are often retained on the plant bringing movement and a little bit of sound as the wind plays with them. Copes well with exposed sites and poor soils.
“Fresh” and “Mature” are terms that refer to the stage a tree has reached in its training. Several species of either are available from Hedging Plants Direct, it’s for you to decide which is right for your design and your budget.
From the moment they are planted, these give the full effect. Neat, uniform with a strong structure and, depending on the species and the time of year, dense foliage. Expect to pay up to 40% more than fresh pleached trees but it’s worth it if you want your garden to look “finished”.
Younger and more cost effective than mature pleached trees. Fresh pleached trees have been trained but have not yet reached their full width. Plant them 150cm apart but expect to see gaps between their heads. Don’t worry. It will only take a couple of years for them to fill out.
Whether you are buying fresh pleached or mature pleached trees, the spacing between them is crucial. Precision is key. A fully grown pleached tree is 180cm from the ground to the crown. The head of the tree is 120cm deep and 150cm wide.
Plant your trees 150cm apart and at exactly the same depth so that the bottom of one frame lines up with the bottom of the next frame. Frames must be perfectly level. BUT be careful when planting to ensure that the top of the soil is level with the nursery line or root flare at the bottom of the trunk. If planting is too shallow or too deep, the tree will not thrive.
For best long term results your tree should be supported. If you are worried that stakes will look unsightly in your garden, talk to the Hedge Plants Direct team about underground tree anchors.
Read more about tree planting in this article from our friends at Holland Landscapes.
If you have any questions about choosing and planting pleached trees, please don’t hesitate to contact the team at Hedging Plants Direct. We are horticulturists with a wealth of experience of growing, training, pruning and establishing trees.
We’re here to advise you on which tree species will look the best, perform the best and fit in best with your lifestyle.
Proud grower and supplier of high quality Hedging, Trees and Shrubs at Hedging Plants Direct.
Experienced Director with a demonstrated history of working in the environmental services industry. Skilled in Garden, Plant Identification, Tree Planting, Landscaping, Palletised transport management and Customer Service. Strong professional with a NVQ level 2 focused in Horticulture from Otley College.