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Hedge Cutting Basics


The more often you trim your hedge, the easier the task becomes.

Different Hedge Species Have Different Methods Of Cutting

If your hedge is a conifer species, such as Lleylandii, then take care not to cut the side foliage back as far as the brown interior of the hedge. It will probably not recover and will remain looking scruffy and defoliated. Also, when reducing the height of conifer hedges, new growth will be produced from the younger material at the outer edges of the hedge as opposed to re-sprouting from the main stems in the centre of the hedge. This is important to remember if you will be viewing the hedge from above as the top of the hedge will take several years to green over completely.

If your conifer hedge is lacking in foilage in the lower regions (as is the case with many older hedges in shady positions) it may be better to reduce the hedge gradually over the course of a couple of years.

Most other species such as beech, hornbeam, laurel, holly, privet, field maple and hawthorn will recover from a hard cut with no problems. If possible, carry out the work at the end of the winter before the sap begins to rise.

Species such as privet and bush honeysuckle will need trimming every month or so during the growing season to stay looking smart whilst tree species such as beech, hornbeam, field maple, holly and yew may only need trimming once a year depending on the position and growing habit of the hedge. Hedges of the same species can grow at vastly different rates depending on numerous factors such as position, soil type and climate, so if your hedge produces masses of growth, it will need trimming more often, it’s that simple.

If you want your beech and hornbeam hedges to retain their dead leaves through the winter, give the hedge a trim in late summer. Conifer species will sometimes require two cuts during the year, once in the spring and then again at the end of the summer; again it depends on how vigorous your particular hedge is. When trimming conifer hedges, take care not to remove too much foliage otherwise brown patches will develop.

Always start cutting your hedge from the top working your way down to the base. As you cut, trimmings will snag in the lower parts of the hedge. If you work from the top, the hedge cutter will ‘clean’ the hedge as you go. When using a powered hedge trimmer, slightly tilt the blade at an angle. This will give a better finish, especially on denser hedges such as Lleylandii and yew.

Certain hedges such as privet and box can become top heavy so it’s a good idea to make the base of the hedge wider than the top to aid stability, the same goes for conifer hedges. A narrower top is easier to trim and will also allow more light into the interior of the hedge promoting stronger stems.

If the hedge you are cutting is next to flower beds or shingle, it’s a good idea to lay down some old sheets or tarpaulin. It will save you a lot of time clearing up. This is especially true if the hedge is conifer which can be a nuisance to pick out of flower beds. Alternatively you can use a garden vac if the trimmings aren’t to long.

Reducing Tall or Wide Hedges

Occasionally, it becomes necessary to give a hedge a severe cut back or height reduction.

How you go about it depends on a couple of things:

• The thickness of individual stems.
• The species of the hedge.

If the stems are any thicker than 3/4 of a inch, then even a powered hedge cutter will struggle. It will be a case of using loppers and a pruning saw to cut the growth back to the desired level. Don’t try and use a chainsaw to reduce a thick stemmed hedge unless you are experienced – it can end in tears!

If the stems are less than 3/4 of a inch thick, it may be possible to use a petrol powered hedge cutter. Electric hedge cutters are only really suitable for general trimming and maintenance. Bring the hedge to at least 12 inches below the required level to allow for the new growth.

If you have a high hedge, it might be worth purchasing a long reach hedge cutter. These allow you a fantastic reach without the restrictions of working from a ladder. Many long reach hedge cutters have adjustable angled cutter heads to allow the top of the hedge to be cut from the ground. In reality though, if the hedge is taller than 8 feet and more than a couple of feet wide, you will need to get on a ladder to remove the trimmings that remain on the top of the hedge.

Safety equipment.

Eye protection is essential so equip yourself with some safety glasses. Small sections of cut stem can be propelled by the cutter blades in any direction. Ear defenders are essential if using a petrol hedge cutter.