The color of the hornbeam leaves changes with the seasons: a delicate fresh green in spring and summer, in autumn the leaves turn bright yellow and in winter they take on a dry, light brown tone. The wood of the hornbeam is very light in color, which is what gave it the name of hornbeam. Hornbeams are irregularly structured, medium-high trees, the trunk of which is often crooked or multi-stemmed. Due to their good cut tolerance, they are not only popular plants in historical horticulture, but are also used as privacy screens in many private gardens.

Location and care

Hornbeams like to socialize with oaks, deciduous trees and beeches. In the forest, the main task of the hornbeam is to shade the main tree so that trunks can be formed without branches. They are very shade-friendly, but also thrive in sunny locations. Since the trees never really develop deep roots, they are very sensitive to wind as a single plant. The best conditions for vital growth:

  • Soil containing lime and humus, which does not tend to become waterlogged.
  • Slightly acidic soils are ideal.
  • But they also grow in a slightly alkaline environment (they can tolerate pH values ​​up to 8 without problems).
  • Cool to warm locations
  • With sufficient soil moisture: tolerates heat
  • Hornbeams grow even on slopes with a steep incline.
  • In the first few years, moderate fertilization with organic fertilizers such as compost.
  • In the case of older hornbeams, fertilization is no longer absolutely necessary.
  • For very sandy soil: enrich with compost in spring.

Planting and watering

Hornbeams are popular and widespread plants, which is why they can be obtained relatively cheaply everywhere as young plants around 50 to 100 centimeters high: in nurseries, hardware stores or tree nurseries. There are a wide variety of species that are particularly suitable for a solitary position or a hedge planting due to their growth.

  • For heavy, loamy or very sandy garden soil: Dig the planting hole a little larger (at least four times the size of the plant pot).
  • Fill up with humus garden soil.
  • Water lightly without washing away the new soil.
  • Hornbeams have shallow roots, so they quickly suffer from drought.
  • Apply a layer of mulch to help contain evaporation.
  • Fibrous compost is best for this.
  • In warm, rain-free weather, water about twice a week.
  • Water more frequently during periods of extreme heat.
  • Older plants then only need additional water for longer drying times.


The name hornbeam is deceptive, because the tree is not related to the beech but rather to the birch family. In hornbeams, both male and female inflorescences are formed on the same plant, and pollination is mainly carried out by the wind. In autumn, less conspicuous, yellow-green catkins appear on the young shoots. These are the male inflorescences that hibernate clearly and not hidden in buds. The female inflorescences, on the other hand, grow at about the same time as the foliage in spring.


  • The fruits develop in September or October: compressed hard nuts with three-lobed wings.
  • Collect the nuts and place them fresh in moist soil.
  • However, they need cold to germinate, so sowing outdoors in autumn is probably the easiest method.
  • However, it can take up to two years for the seed to germinate.
  • The easiest and cheapest way to get a hornbeam is to collect young plants that the hedge or tree has sown itself.
  • To do this, dig up the yearlings under an existing hedge and place them in humus-rich soil. This works best during the rest period in winter or in the spring before budding.

Propagation by cuttings

Propagating the hornbeam by cuttings is very time-consuming. Therefore, it is not necessarily the best method to propagate the plant, but it can also be chosen as an alternative.

  • Cuttings are always cut from slightly to completely woody shoots.
  • Best time to cut cuttings: March, before budding.
  • Cuttings can also be cut in June, when the shoot has finished.
  • To prevent excessive evaporation: cut the leaves in half.
  • In both cases, the length of the cuttings should be about 10 centimeters.
  • Remove leaves in the lower third.
  • Provide the shoot with a double oblique cut and coat the interface with rooting hormone.
  • Put in well-drained, nutrient-poor soil. Normal garden soil contains fertilizers, so it is not suitable.
  • Suitable substrates are: cactus soil or potting soil mixed with sand.
  • Keep permanently moist, but not wet.
  • Place in a shady, sheltered place.
  • After about two years, the plants can be transplanted into larger bowls.

Hornbeam hedges

Its rapid growth, good cut tolerance and good privacy even in winter make the hornbeam one of the most popular hedge plants in our gardens. For beginners it is the ideal entry-level plant, because it accepts almost any mutilation and sprouts out again even from heavily lignified parts of the plant.

  • Use 2 young plants per meter of hedge. The planting distance is about 50 centimeters.
  • After planting, shorten the long unbranched shoots by at least half so that they branch.
  • As long as the hedge is still loose – i.e. at least for the first three years – continuous cutting is essential.
  • If the shoots are not cut right from the start, the lower and middle areas of the hedge will be bare and transparent.

Intensive cutting brings density

When a new hedge is planted, the plants are generally still relatively small and only consist of the main shoot and a few side shoots. If the hornbeam is left to grow on its own, it will gain size quickly, but it will branch out very insufficiently. This means that it is only leafy in the upper and outer area and remains bare below and inside. This is why it is necessary from the beginning to trim the plants regularly so that they become bushier.

  • The first cut is due after planting in the field
  • In order to become denser, the plant needs more branches
  • Shorten all long, unbranched shoots by about half
  • The rule is: shorten the shoot attachment to a maximum of the second or third eye
  • Do not shorten to the first eye, if there are no more dormant shoots, the hornbeam cannot form new shoots there
  • But: Cut off all shoots growing inwards or crossing each other right up to the roots.
  • The dormant leaf roots begin to sprout after a short time.
  • Usually at least two new branches form.
  • Even if it is difficult: The main shoot must also be shortened.
  • Cut back to about 15 centimeters above the last side shoots, otherwise the hedge will be too airy in the upper area.
  • Overall, pay attention to the shape of the hedge from the beginning
  • It grows an average of about 30-40 centimeters annually.
  • In the first few years, cut the hornbeam hedge up to six times a year
  • At first glance this may seem very complex, but later it becomes noticeable through a wonderfully dense growth.

Trimming older hedges

A hornbeam hedge can be only one meter high or up to four meters. However, it takes a few years of intensive care before it reaches a stately height. As an existing hedge, however, it is relatively easy to care for. The hornbeam grows very robustly and is also insensitive to rigorous rejuvenation cuts. These can be tackled when the hedge has already reached heights that allow this without loss of privacy or when it has been neglected for years.

  • Shorten all shoots growing outwards and upwards
  • with electric or gasoline powered hedge trimmers
  • At least one cut a year, two are better
  • first cut in February or March
  • To avoid larger excesses: cut back again in June to July
  • Birds love hedges as a breeding ground. Before cutting, make sure that there are no more young birds in the nest
  • Leaves only appear where they receive sufficient sunlight
  • Therefore keep the hedge a little narrower from the start, otherwise it will be bare on the inside
  • If the hedge is unsightly or neglected: rigorous pruning
  • If light comes back into the bare areas, the hornbeam will also sprout there again
  • However, it will take time until it is tight and handsome again
  • With patience and creativity, elements such as archways can also be formed from a hornbeam hedge


As older plants, hornbeams are fully hardy outdoors. Like most other native deciduous trees, they go through a hibernation, in which they reduce their household to a minimum with constant temperatures below 10 degrees. The leaves are no longer supplied with water and die. However, a large part of the dry foliage remains on the branches and only falls to the ground when the new growth shoots next spring. Hornbeams are very cold-resistant, and they usually withstand temperatures of around minus twenty degrees without any problems. However, they often suffer from a lack of water in winter when it is frost-free and sunny for a long time.

  • Mulch in autumn to protect the shallow roots.
  • This not only protects against the cold, but also against dehydration.
  • For longer periods of frost-free and little rain: watering.
  • Leave fallen leaves under the plants.
  • It is easily decomposed and the favorite food of earthworms.

Diseases and pests

The best protection against disease or pest infestation is regular hedge trimming and adequate watering of the plant. Many pathogens such as fungal infections occur more frequently when the hornbeam suffers from drought or the crown is insufficiently ventilated. The first signs of a drought-stricken tree are easy to mistake for a fungal infection: irregular brown edges or spots on the leaves. If individual leaves are deformed and on the underside of the leaf, usually along the midrib, tiny white or yellowish larvae appear, then this indicates the gall mosquito. This does not harm the hornbeam, so control is not necessary. However, urgent action is required in the following cases:

  • Leaf buds are swollen and do not sprout: Gall mosquito in the leaf bud.
  • Yellow spots on the upper side of the leaf, whitish underside: powdery mildew.
  • Measure in both cases: Cut out the affected shoots and dispose of them in household waste.
  • Different colored spots on the upper side of the leaf, underside with a fungal lawn: fungal attack.
  • Spots on the top, small animals on the back of the leaf: spider mites, scale insects or mealy bugs.
  • In the case of mites, lice and fungus infestation: cut out shoots, collect fallen leaves and dispose of with household waste. Additionally treat with chemical agents from the trade.
  • Holes or skeletal damage on the leaves: caterpillars of moths or butterflies, larvae or beetles of the cockchafer or the blue alder leaf beetle. Measure: collecting the animals and cutting them back.
  • Sudden death of the entire plant without any visible pest infestation: Mice eat at the roots: The only thing that helps here is removing the plant.

Hornbeams are characterized by their rapid growth and good tolerance to frost. Isolated plants are very sensitive to wind due to their flat roots. The plants are particularly popular as opaque hedges. About two prunings a year ensure bushy growth. Hornbeams prove to be very pruning-compatible, even from extreme prunings or felling of the entire trunk they sprout again. If they are regularly watered and cut, they usually prove to be insensitive to disease or pest infestation.

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