A study published last year by UC Davis alumni Marit Wilkerson has shown that although hedgerows contain weedy species, they don’t cause those weeds to invade agricultural fields. Wilkerson suggests that instead, hedgerows may be functioning as filter fences, trapping the weeds. However, in hedgerows with larger plants that cast more shade, the amount of weedy species dropped dramatically. She suggests that if it were possible to create conditions in hedgerows to allow woody plant species to thrive, then smaller herbaceous weeds would likely decline. These findings provide an interesting goal for growers putting in hedgerows- to figure out ways to ensure the best growth of their plant species. This might be hard in California, where drought is likely making establishment of new hedgerows without irrigation a challenge.
Another interesting finding to come out of this study was that what was planted next to a hedgerow affected the weed composition and density. Hedgerows next to row crops and vineyards had fewer weeds than those next to sloughs or grasslands. These more natural habitat types are not only less-managed, but also provide more habitat for species likely to disperse weed seeds, such as birds. However, other studies have shown that proximity to natural habitats is highly beneficial for pollinators, leading to increased yields in crop fields. Therefore a balance between biodiversity and ecosystem service benefits and weed suppression needs to be struck. Fortunately, taking actions to reduce weed populations before planting a hedgerow can create a “legacy effect,” limiting weeds in the hedgerow to volunteers from the landscape.
Knowing the history of your hedgerow and the landscape context (whether it is likely to be invaded by weeds), and managing it so that woody native plants grow large enough to shade out unwanted herbaceous weeds seems like a good recipe for making the planting more successful at limiting ingress of weeds into agricultural fields.
Learn more by reading the full paper:
Wilkerson, M.L. 2014. Using hedgerows as model linkages to examine non-native plant patterns. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 192: 38-46.
On Monday I had the pleasure of attending at the California Small Farms Conference, a gathering of growers, government/non-profit/extension personnel and marketers. I was delighted to run into my favorite vendor at my local farmers market (lake Merritt) from Say Hay Farms.
Together with Katarina Ullmann, a Pollinator Conservation Specialist with the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, and Ben Munger, Farm Manager of Midland School, I hosted a workshop about managing small farms for pollination. Katharina began the workshop by discussing the importance of wild bees for crop pollination (1/3 of our food is pollinator-dependent) and going over the key players (discussing the differences between wild bees groups as well as how to differentiate them from honey bees, wasps, and flies). Next I went over specific techniques to increase floral resources and nesting habitat on farms, largely drawing from an infographic series I recently published in collaboration with UC Cooperative Extension and the Berkeley Food Institute (with input from the Xerces Society). You can download the infograpics on the Resources page of this website. After this Ben shared pictures of his multi-hedgerow project, discussed the goals (to increase aesthetics on the farm while improving pollination of tomato, squash and pepper crops). He also talked about the importance of partnership- he worked with NRCS and Xerces, but also found working with a local landscaper greatly improved the installation and maintenance of hedgerows. He talked about some poor plant choices that have become weeds and escaped, as well as plants he really likes (non-cultivar plants from the native scrub surrounding the school’s property). Finally, Katharina finished up by discussing all the resources available to help for installing hedgerows, like NRCS and Xerces. It was fun to put this workshop together, hopefully we will give more in the future.
Thinking of installing a hedgerow, or want to learn more about them? Now you can check out the website hedgerowhub, providing information about hedgerows. In addition, the Yolo County Cooperative Extension site not only provides tons of information on hedgerows, it also has opportunities to fund on-farm hedgerow projects!