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Hedge Trimming 101 | Gardener’s Guide

The typical garden task of bush and hedge trimming is overlooked by many as a mere routine job. However, there is more artistry and craft to this job than many might consider and a definite skill is required to really do it justice and find that perfect straight edge.

The first piece of the puzzle is knowing the basics, and that includes the best time of year to get the shears out, various trimming techniques and the tools you need to get started.

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Best Time to Trim a Hedge

A woman hedge trimming

The best time of year to trim your hedges is generally around the middle of spring or summer (between March and August) when they are at their most healthy. However, some shrubs will need to be trimmed based on their specific growth habits.

According to plant experts, you should take note if your garden contains deciduous trees or shrubs. Deciduous in horticulture refers to plant life which naturally sheds its leaves seasonally and at the end of its maturity.

Also, knowing the blooming season for trees and shrubs will allow you to prune most effectively and allow growth for a coming season.

Here are the Fastest Growing Hedging Plants.

Formal or Informal Kinds of Hedges

This relates to the kind of hedge you wish to end up with. Formal hedges are more rigid and ‘perfect’ with crisp, straight edges made using a taut horizontal string tied between two canes to create a guide.

You could consider using a cardboard template for greater accuracy, but it’s not generally necessary. Keep your hedging shears parallel to the line of the hedge to keep the cut flat and level. 

When using a gas hedge trimmer, use a wide,  sweeping motion working from the bottom to the top so the foliage falls away naturally. 

Informal hedges meanwhile, require far less effort and can be pruned much like regular shrubs.

Hedge Shears vs Hedge Trimmers

This will depend largely on the kind of finish you desire and the size of your hedge. For a small hedge below eye level, it might seem like overkill to get out the trimmers.

However, even if the hedge itself is small, if the stems are thick then it might be a better idea to go for a decent battery-operated cordless power tool, as they are safer (no cords to accidentally cut) and generally easier to handle.

Other options to consider for this include powered pruning saws, pole runner saws and in the case of much thicker hedge branches, perhaps even a chainsaw.

Each of these power tools require safety knowledge on handling and intended use so always refer to user manuals and consider the job at hand before choosing an appropriate tool. 

Types of Hedges Trimming Cuts

Types of Hedge Trimming Cuts

Thinning 

This is the basic cut and is used to cut away undesired growth. Think of it almost as giving your hedge a haircut and is the bread and butter of hedge trimming.

While this method will offer a more open plant, it will not stimulate a great deal of new growth. 

Heading 

This is a more tactical cut that’s made to cut a branch back to a stem that will regrow into new side branches. Experts say you should never cut more than one-quarter of the height of a plant though, as if you cut it back too far you could end up with far too many side branches to take care of.

Shearing 

This is the shaping cut, which is used to create a finished look. If you are making a formal look then this might be the most important cut of the lot.

Whatever cut you’re doing, however, always go for a few large cuts over lots of small ones and always wear gloves and goggles when operating power tools.

Hedge Trimming Common Mistakes

While the basics of how to trim hedges appear quite simple, there are a number of easy mistakes that can be made in trimming that can result in unwanted results. 

Removing too much height from a shrub or tree in one go can cause irreversible damage and prevent future growth. Equally as important, simply removing the top of a plant can encourage multiple replacement branches to grow in an undesired direction.

In addition, cutting a branch too closely to the trunk will reduce the tree's natural defence mechanism and result in “wound compartmentalisation”. 

Pruning is also a necessity for many plant species as this aids in the removal of dead wood and encourages them to take a desired shape.

Safety Hedge Trimming Tips

The goal in hedge trimming is ultimately to promote a good looking outdoor space that is also healthy and remains strong for seasons to come. While trimming of course it is recommended that all safety equipment is used in the intended.

The use of goggles, protective gloves and sturdy ladders are the best recommendations and in the event of power tool use, manuals and safety guides should always be consulted first. 

Wrapping Up Our Hedge Trimming Guide

Creating a beautiful and healthy outdoor space shouldn’t be considered hard work if you have the right knowledge and tools.

Choosing hedging plants that grow fast makes it a lot easier. For more ideas, check out our beech hedging growing guide to add this hedge to your garden. 

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