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Hedge Trimming Tips and Advice

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  • Hedge Maintenance, Hedge Trimming, Hedge Tips and Advice
  • Posted date:
  • 22-09-2022
Hedge Trimming Tips and Advice

Hedge Trimming Tips and Advice

If your garden hedge is left unkept, then it can look messy and overgrown, even if the rest is well-kept. Giving your hedges a quick trim can easily improve the overall look of your garden.

Regularly trimming your hedges can be quite time-consuming, although satisfactory when completed. On the other hand, you can contact a professional company to help keep your hedges in order; this costs; however, the time saved may be worth it to you. Professionals can work quicker owing to their vast experience, as well as producing a higher quality finish.

After moving into a new home, start renovating with an easy hedge trim and clear garden space. This helps the house feel and look like a home and presents the opportunity to assess the available space. Furthermore, trimming your garden hedges can improve their health and allow new shoots to sprout. 

These shoots also brighten the garden hedges, so after planting a new hedge, consider contacting a professional trimming service to encourage faster and healthier growth.

Basic Hedge Trimming Maintenance

When to trim hedges

For the first few years after planting, new hedges require formative pruning to help the earlier stages of development. Formative pruning should be carried out during the early signs of spring or into winter.

A Maintenance trim should be completed at least twice, or three times, a year for 'formal hedges' and once a year for 'informal hedges'. The best time for maintenance trimming is between spring and summer, although the pruning should consider the nesting times of certain animals who set up homes inside hedges.

If there are any indications that an animal is nesting in the hedges, then the trimming should be delayed until after they have cleared. The period for animal nesting generally runs between March and August. 

Trimming techniques

For smaller hedges, handheld sheers should work fine, and for larger hedges, it'll be more effective to use a petrol or electric hedge trimmer. Whether using a handheld or power-operated tool, make sure it's sharp and lubricated to allow a clean cut.

Handheld hedge shears are fine for smaller hedges, but for large hedges, you'll probably find it easier to use an electric or petrol hedge trimmer. No matter what you use for trimming hedges, always ensure the equipment is sharp and well lubricated. Consider the weather conditions before using an electric hedge trimmer outside, as even damp conditions can affect use.

Hedge Trimming Tips and Advice

Consider your safety equipment when using a powered hedge trimmer. You'll need safety goggles for spraying debris and thick gloves for any thorns etc. Next, prepare the area to remove any obstacles, including plant pots or outside furniture.

When trimming hedges with a powered tool, make sure that you don't lift it over your shoulders; instead, use a sturdy platform or step ladder to gain height. Any cables should be safely placed over your shoulder to prevent tripping and accidentally cutting off power. It's recommended to use a residual current device (RCD) when using an electric hedge trimmer.

How to trim hedges

The width of even the wildest hedges generally never needs to exceed 60cm (2ft) when they've been routinely maintained and trimmed. For formal boundary hedges, you should taper the sides to create a wider base and thinner top; this allows light reaches the bottom of the hedge.

The industry calls this 'cutting the hedge to the batter'. To ensure your hedge is trimmed symmetrically, follow the tips below:

  • Don't try to determine angles by eye. For straight and crisp edges, use a taut horizontal string tied between two stout canes; the string will act as a guide to ensure a level cut. Vertical lines can be guided using stakes or canes pushed into the ground.
  • To create a shape at the top of the hedge, like an arch or point, cut a template first. This can be made from plywood or cardboard and then traced.
  • Keep handheld shears parallel to the line of the hedge to ensure a level and flat cut.
  • For powered hedge trimmers, the blade should always be parallel to the hedge, with a sweeping action used from the base upwards.

Informal and flowering hedges

Pruning a flowering hedge at the right time of year is important for the next year's flowering process. Only prune flowering hedges when the flowers are desired once a year at the current time.

For instance, Fushia plants flower during spring; trimming them during the season's growth still allows further growth of the flowers throughout the year without damaging next year's growth.

In the summer, if the plant flowers on one-year-old growth, like Pittosporum, then reduce the current season's growth by half. Or, for berry-producing shrubs, like the Pyracantha, wait for the berries to disappear before trimming.

Problems working on garden hedges

To remain in line with the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, ensure that there are no nesting birds or other animals in the garden hedges before trimming begins. It's an offence to cause damage to or destroy any wild nest whilst it's being built or in use. Any suspicions that a nest is an active stop all work immediately; it may mean work is delayed until after August, when hibernation periods begin.

Conifer hedges are the most commonly found hedges in Europe; these are often cedar, redwood or cypress, which have soft, flat-scaled leaves rather than needles like pine or fir. To prevent bare patches from developing, Conifer hedges should never be trimmed after August, although Yew can be safely pruned in early Autumn.

Problems working on garden hedges

Some hedges, like Thuja (western red cedar), can cause skin irritations, so it's recommended to wear long sleeves and use gloves. Further information regarding potentially harmful garden hedges is mentioned below.

Hedges growing on boundaries can cause nuisance when they overhang onto the pavement or street, impeding access for pedestrians. Even when periodically trimmed, some hedges can still overgrow to a point they may need replacing rather than renovating or trimming. 

Maintaining Hedges

Without maintenance, a hedge can go from looking sharp and fresh to woody, scraggly, yellowish and unsightly. This can ruin the look of your entire garden as it's the border most people see, so follow these simple tricks to maintain your hedge correctly!

Hand-pruning in conjunction with shearing

Taking off branch tips with handheld shears, pruners, or electric trimmers keeps the hedges extra neat and encourages bud production towards the plants' edge, preventing balding spots. 

Although this should be observed as extensive growth of buds near the edge of the hedge can prevent sunlight from reaching the inside, preventing internal growth and leading to large hedges with perished interiors. If done correctly, pruning will still allow sunlight to enter the interior of the hedge, giving a full look.

To encourage growth in a certain direction, every few feet, reach inside the hedge and clip a couple of branches at a 45° angle just above a leaflet or nub.

Older and overgrown hedges are likely to require rejuvenation pruning whilst applying the '3-year rule'. The rule states you should remove up to one-third of the thickest stems from the base of the hedge; this will stimulate new and healthier growth whilst reducing it in size. Repeat each year until desired results are achieved.

Prune in the winter

During winter, plants are dormant, and animals have gone into hibernation, presenting the perfect opportunity to carry out hedge trimming with fewer obstacles. The buds won't have been produced yet, so it allows for more drastic trimming without damaging the flowering season. Destroying a plant's buds is essentially cutting off spent energy, making your plant work harder to fill out.

Evergreens, like Yew and Holly, require pruning earlier in the season as they grow slower and are likely to be bare inside with off-colour, yellowish tips. Deciduous hedges, like Privet or Spirea, grow much faster and shed their leaves annually.

They are much more forgiving than other hedges, so require less intense maintenance. For flowering shrubs, wait until the blooms have died and turned brown; this allows for next year's growth.

Hedges should be narrower at the top

Inherently hedges will begin to widen at the top, as this is where it receives the most sunlight. However, this growth can be detrimental as it prevents the sun from reaching the lower branches, interior and base of the hedge.

An overgrown V-shaped hedge should be trimmed to turn the shape upside down, with a thinner top and thicker base.

You should always shear from the bottom and work upwards to allow cut branches to fall. To precisely cut the hedge, you can use a string line and stakes, as discussed above in 'How to trim hedges', although some may prefer a more natural look.

If you flatten your hedges at the top, be aware it's more prone to snow damage, like broken branches, as it's harder for the hedge to shed snow. If you have tall hedges, consider tying them up for winter using a rope or another plastic tree-guying material to avoid strangling the tree trunks when left for extended periods. 

Decide the height and width of your hedge before planting

When growing a hedge from scratch, consider using plants that lend themselves naturally to the shape of a hedge, thinner on top and thicker on the bottom. Look for the keywords- columnar and fastigiate in the name, as this indicates the growth pattern.

Formal hedges need to be able to tolerate shearing and frequent pruning, like Boxwood, Privet, or Yew. Typically, a hedge should be a minimum of 3ft in width; the height of a hedge can vary depending on your needs, wants and privacy expectations.

Decide the height and width of your hedge before planting

Having a hedge at eye level means easier maintenance, although you can use a ladder or platform for taller hedges.

Before planting a new hedge, get a rough estimate of the desired height and width. Gather sufficient research regarding the growing habits of different hedge plants. Choose a plant that won't overgrow the space and follows the desired growth pattern; otherwise, you'll be playing a game of cat and mouse all year round.

Some of the best choices for larger, evergreen and naturally shaped hedges that require minimal pruning includes; eastern red cedar, juniper, hemlock and cypress. For informal deciduous hedges, consider using flowering shrubs like Fushia, Lilac or Rose of Sharon.

Hedges vs Privacy plants

Hedges generally grow to 6 to 8 feet when properly maintained; although this provides some cover for your garden privacy plants, they can grow much taller up to 30 feet.

Alternatively, you can use screen plantings which are much wider and allow you to mix Evergreens and Deciduous trees, shrubs and perennials (lives more than two years).

Dos and Don'ts of hedge cutting

DO: Check for nests! Don't disturb them during nesting season; you must wait for the chicks to fledge. THIS IS THE LAW! The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 states it's illegal to damage or destroy an animal's nest during use or as its being built.

DO: Keep your shears or other equipment sharp and clean.

DON'T: Clip Evergreen hedges when they're dry. In the summer, water them before a trim.  

DON'T: Try cut straight lines by eye'; use the guidelines above!

Are you looking for soft landscapers in Maidstone and Kent for Pruning and hedge trimming? We recommend visiting the following pages on our landscaping services website: