A Guide To Trimming Your Hedges

Hedges should be pruned as needed using selective pruning methods.

Esthetically pleasing hedges can add value to your property, provide privacy or wind protection, and host birds and other beneficial garden insects. Keeping your hedges pruned properly will offer an attractive alternative to unsightly fences.

How you trim your garden hedge could make the difference between your neighbors calling you the "topiary Picasso" or the resident black-thumb. Treat your hedges as part of your overall landscape design with careful planning and maintenance techniques.

Depending upon the age of your hedge and the purpose for pruning (width, thickness, height or all three,) determine your goal and think past what the hedge may hide before hacking away with trimmers. Walk around the hedge or look over the top, if it hides warehouse you might reconsider the pruning plan. New hedge plantings don't need a lot of care until roots are established and the plants have grown together to form the border width and height desired. Periodically snipping outgrowth of smaller bushes a few times during the growing cycle will encourage the plants to branch towards each other and up. When the hedged achieves desired height and width, the best method for overall appearance is selective pruning by hand.

Remember that trimming your hedge prior to fall and winter months means; whatever you've trimmed will not grow back before spring, whereas late winter or spring pruning will rapidly recover in new growth as warm weather sets in -- and recover the unwanted, accidental snip.

Hedge sides should be trimmed at a slight angle beginning with the widest part of the plant close to ground level and tapering to a slightly condensed width at the top. This method provides more sunlight for exposed leaves and helps to reduce top-heavy hedges in the event of snow, ice, or wind damage.

Smaller leaves (boxwood, Japanese privet) and deciduous hedges (elms, beech, forsythia) will recover best from pruning mistakes. Gardeners must trim conifers and evergreens (cypress, holly, hawthorns, yew) with care to avoid unsightly brown leaves after pruning cuts cross their shafts.

Formal hedges, typical of topiaries (Eugenia, boxwood, privets) require regular shearing during the growing months to maintain the desired shape. Topiary hedges or shapes are the only plants requiring gardeners to use shears or electric trimmers.

Selective pruning with small hand cutters is more time consuming, but the effect is noticeable and will give the hedge a soft, natural look. If no one can tell your hedge is trimmed, you've succeeded at hedge trimming. Depending upon the type of hedge, some flowering shrubs bloom on one-year growth (pyracantha, forsythia, azalea, rose) and selective pruning will permit the hedge to flower and/or fruit each season.

If your hedge has overgrown its intended space and requires resizing or reshaping to half the size or more, it is best to wait until late winter to cut back the plants in order to take advantage of the full growing season on remaining branches. Hollies, roses, azaleas (not rhododendrons) and forsythia hedges respond well to drastic resizing and will sprout new growth close to your original cut. Cypress, pines, and yews do not respond well to resizing and perhaps the gardener should consider replacing these hedges altogether rather than attempting a drastic reduction in size. If you have nothing to lose and decide to cut the hedge by more than 50 percent, no matter what type of plant, then add an appropriate fertilizer for your plant and soil conditions, keep the roots moist, and wait to see how the new growth develops.

When trimming your hedge use hand pruners to selectively pull branches and cut the majority of the hedgerow, and use light weight hedge shears with serrated blades to cut through heavier branches. Use lopping shears for the thickest branches or to drastically reduce the size of your hedge. Always cut just above a leaf (small branches) or the branch fork at a slight angle. As a rule of thumb, don't leave stubs.

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