Which Hedging Plant is Better in wet conditions – Beech or Hornbeam?

The Beech (Left & Middle) / Hornbeam (Right and bottom) debate is one of the great rivalries in the world of hedging plants primarily because, when fully established, Beech and Hornbeam hedges do have a certain visual similarity. What’s brought this friendly contest to the fore is the weather – the very, very wet weather that seems to have established itself as a regular feature of our climate. And it’s relevant because of a particular (and rare) quality offered by the Hornbeam…
Round 1 – Which is Better in Wet Conditions?
The Hornbeam is incontrovertibly tougher than Beech – not that Beech is a weakling, but the Hornbeam will shrug off shady, damp and exposed locations without a murmur.
AND it really doesn’t mind wet feet. So, if your plot hasn’t the best drainage, is in a frost pocket and/or is in the path of winds, cross or otherwise, choose Hornbeam.
Winner: Hornbeam
Round 2 – Which has the Better Foliage?
It’s really a matter of taste. Both Hornbeam and Beech are semi-evergreens and while Beech holds onto its foliage for longer during winter, new leaves can start to appear on the Hornbeam as early as mid-March while the Beech will generally make you wait until early May.
The foliage of both changes colour in Autumn, but only the Purple Copper Beech (Fagus Sylvatica ‘Purpurea’) will provide the classic display of red foliage. Its summer clothes also offer a wide and subtle variation.
Winner: The Beech (Well, the Purple Copper Beech)
Round 3 – Which Grows Faster?
Both are medium fast growers, though Hornbeam has a slight edge.
Winner: The Hornbeam
Round 4 – Which Will Grow the Tallest?
Both are medium fast growers, though the Hornbeam has a slight edge.
Given space and time, both will exceed 25m, with Hornbeam having the edge.
Winner: The Hornbeam
Round 5 – Which is Easier to Maintain?
Both are justifiably classified as ‘easy-to-maintain’ – nothing is required for either other than an annual trim
Winner: A draw
Round 6 – Which is Less Fussy when it comes to Soil Types?
Again, there is nothing to part them – both are happy in an acid or alkaline soil.
Winner: A draw
Round 7 – Which is More Versatile?
Both plants obviously make fabulous hedges; both can be container-planted and both make welcome specimen plants. However, the Hornbeam perhaps looks more at home in a pot and therefore takes the prize.
Winner: The Hornbeam
The HORNBEAM, therefore, takes the contest 4-1 but several of its category winners are extremely narrow and then there is the no small matter of the Purple Copper Beech’s foliage. Ultimately, unless your plot is especially damp, either will provide a glorious addition.

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  1. […] including raising that perennial hedging question: Hornbeam or Beech? It’s a topic we covered HERE though he comes to a more unequivocal conclusion elsewhere – as we will discover in our next […]

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