- Managing Large Shrubs – Learn How To Trim An Overgrown Shrub
- What to Do with Overgrown Shrubs
- How to Trim an Overgrown Shrub
- When to Tackle Overgrown Shrub Pruning
- Tips for Cutting Back Overgrown Bushes and Shrubs
- How to tidy an overgrown hedge and high hedge disputes
- Tidying An Overgrown Hedge
- Tidying Up A Conifer Hedge
- High Hedge Disputes
- Cutting Back Big Boxwoods (& Other Overgrown Evergreens)
- Dealing with overgrown plants
- What is renovation pruning?
- The Ultimate Guide To Trimming Your own Bushes
Managing Large Shrubs – Learn How To Trim An Overgrown Shrub
Shrubs need trimming every few years. Those that don’t get the regular maintenance pruning they need become leggy and overgrown. If you move into a new home and find the backyard filled with badly overgrown shrubs, it’s time to learn about rejuvenating shrubs with pruning. Read on for information about managing large shrubs and tips on how to trim an overgrown shrub.
What to Do with Overgrown Shrubs
Large shrubs started out as small shrubs. If they didn’t get the maintenance pruning they needed, they may now appear as overgrown masses of crossing branches. What to do with overgrown shrubs? Before you hire someone to rip those shrubs out, consider cutting them back to rejuvenate them.
How to Trim an Overgrown Shrub
Overgrown shrub pruning, also called renewal or rejuvenation pruning, involves cutting out the oldest and largest branches at ground level.
Using pruners or a pruning saw, you’ll cut each of the heaviest stems as close to the ground as possible. This method of managing large shrubs stimulates the plant to produce new growth just below the pruning cut, close to the ground. If you just trim the tops of the shrubs, they will grow even leggier and taller.
Another option is to prune an overgrown, neglected shrub into a small tree. This is particularly effective if many of the branches are not in good condition. Simply prune out all stems except one, then remove lower branches on that stem to create a trunk and canopy.
When to Tackle Overgrown Shrub Pruning
Although it’s easy to focus on how to trim an overgrown shrub, when to prune is equally important. Badly overgrown shrubs respond well to pruning in late winter/early spring, just before new leaves appear.
Managing large shrubs isn’t done overnight. Instead, prune neglected, overgrown shrubs over three years. Each year, take out a third of the heaviest stems to start new growth developing.
Once you have completed renovation by overgrown shrub pruning, take the time every year to remove two or three of the older branches. Managing large shrubs this way keep them attractive, vigorous and healthy.
Tips for Cutting Back Overgrown Bushes and Shrubs
Bushes and shrubs are woody plants that are distinguished from trees and other plants by their multiple stems and shorter full-grown height. Bushes are also perennial, which refers to any plant that lives for more than two years. The terms bush and shrub refer to many types of plants including butterfly bushes, burning bushes, evergreen shrubs, flowering shrubs, landscaping shrubs, and lilac bushes. Because they are perennial, bushes and shrubs can grow to heights of fifteen to twenty feet tall depending on the particular variety of plant. Thus, bushes and shrubs that have become overgrown can become a problem. Cutting back overgrown bushes and shrubs is therefore essential for maintaining the good health of the plant.
When to Cut Back Overgrown Bushes
Many gardeners cut back bushes and shrubs to maintain the good health and attractive appearance of the plant. Shrubs and bushes that are left unpruned for too long of a period can become overgrown. Depending on the variety such as lilacs, an overgrowth will result in the bush or shrub producing fewer blooms and flowers. Because overgrown plants are also at an increased risk for disease and pest infestations, overgrown bushes and shrubs should be cut back as a way to renew or rejuvenate the plant. Pruning is also a good method for training a plant to grow in a certain direction or shape.
Although bushes and shrubs can be cut back at almost any time during the year, there are better and worse times recommended for pruning. The best time to prune most bushes and shrubs is in late winter or early spring—usually during the later half of March or the beginning of April—before new growths have formed after the dormant period. Avoid cutting off new shoots, buds, and blooms. Although not ideal, the second best time to prune an overgrown bush or shrub is at the end of the summer after the plant has finished growing for the year. Pruning in the late spring or early summer is not recommended because cutting off new growths can cause damage to the plant.
How to Cut Back Overgrown Bushes
Bushes and shrubs should ideally be pruned every year. However, gardeners should take a three year approach to cutting back overgrown bushes and shrubs before pruning the entire plant annually. During the first year, remove one-third of the biggest and older branches starting at the bottom of the plant. Use a good pair of sharp gardening shears or clippers. Always cut a branch at the base rather than in the middle or near the end. During the second year, remove one-half of the oldest remaining branches as well as some of the new shoots. During the third and subsequent years, trim and shape the bush or shrub as desired. If you wish to forego the three year plan, some bushes like lilacs can be entirely trimmed to about one to three inches from the ground.
After initially cutting back an overgrown shrub or bush, continue to prune the plant annually to maintain it. Begin by removing large stems from the center and bottom of the bush. Then remove any old blooms or flowers that have died as well as any unwanted growths including overly tall branches, new shoots growing from the ground, and any branches sticking out from the main section of the plant. If you wish to shape your bush or shrub in a certain fashion, use gardening twine or a similar material for gently force branches to grow in a certain direction. Remember: the easiest way to maintain a healthy and attractive bush or shrub is to prune yearly in the early spring.
Bushes and shrubs are distinguished from other plants by their multiple stems and lower height. Because bushes and shrubs are perennial, some varieties can grow to heights of fifteen to twenty feet tall. Thus, cutting back overgrown bushes and shrubs is essential for maintaining the good health of the plant and an attractive appearance of the garden.
Tips for Cutting Back Overgrown Bushes and Shrubs © 2012 Heather Johnson
Overgrown Lilac Bush © 2012 Heather Johnson
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How to tidy an overgrown hedge and high hedge disputes
Tidying An Overgrown Hedge
In any garden, a hedge whether tall or short, bushy or formal can be used to define property boundaries, screen unwanted views or noise, and provide an important framework for the layout and design of your other plants; however, without proper maintenance all of these structural values can be lost, especially if a hedge is left to become overgrown. If when planting a new hedge you choose the correct species for the size and type of hedge that you require, the issue of an overgrown hedge can be avoided altogether. By researching the growth rate, the final height and the level of upkeep required, you will understand how much work you are committing to in order to achieve the hedge you desire. For example, if you are looking for a fast growing species to create a formal hedge boundary, you could consider Privet hedging, whereas for a more natural aesthetic and a slower growth rate, Euonymus Emerald n Gold would be a good option.
If however you do find yourself faced with an overgrown hedge, don’t worry – it may take a bit of time but your hedge can be restored to its former garden glory.
- Overgrown hedging
- Overgrown hedging
Tidying deciduous and evergreen hedges
Certain varieties of hedging take well to hard pruning better than others. Deciduous hedging species that can be hard pruned using the following techniques include, Beech, Hawthorn and Hornbeam, and this should be carried out in winter when the plants are dormant. Evergreen hedging such as Box, Privet and Holly can also be renovated in mid-spring in the following way:
- You can cut both the height and width of your overgrown hedge back by up to 50% in one single cut, however we recommend staggering this process over at least two years, preferably more.
- In the first year cut back the width of one side of your hedge to at least 15cm less than your final desired width then trim the other side as normal, leaving the top of your hedge uncut.
- To encourage growth at the base of your hedge, ensure the surrounding soil is free of weeds to prevent any competition for water and nutrients. Mulch and feed as usual in spring, watering weekly during warm weather to increase re-growth.
- In the second year, carry out the same process as year one but on the other side of the hedge, again leaving the top uncut and continue to feed and water in spring.
- The third year is the time to tackle the top. Cut back the height of your hedge to 15cm lower than your desired final hedge height. Follow with the same feeding and watering procedures in spring.
Tidying Up A Conifer Hedge
Conifer hedges are slightly different in that they cannot tolerate hard renovation pruning. With the exception of Yew, which can be cut back similar to a deciduous hedge, conifers such as Cupressus, Leylandii and Golden Leyland Cypress need to be approached with a different method:
In early to mid-spring, cut the height of your hedge back by up to a third. Prune some of the side branches right back to the leader and leave others uncut. Doing this will encourage growth by letting light and air into the plant, allowing the remaining stems to branch out. After pruning, mulch and feed your hedge and continue to water well.
If you find the top of your hedge remains quite bare for a few seasons, this is nothing to worry about – by leaving the shoots that grow around the damaged areas unpruned, you can tie or wire them over the bare spots to fill in any untidy gaps. Always remember, when pruning in winter, leave your berried hedging for as long as you can to provide hungry birds with food, and in spring always thoroughly check your hedge for nesting birds before carrying out any pruning or maintenance.
High Hedge Disputes
Planting a hedge is the ideal way to outline your garden, create a lasting feature with year-round interest, provide privacy and reduce noise and wind pollution in your garden; however, planting the wrong hedge can also be an easy way to cause problems with your neighbours.
High hedge disputes are a lot more common than you may think, so it’s important when making the decision to plant a hedge that you also consider how much maintenance it will require to keep it from invading next door’s garden and causing ‘right to light’ issues. And, if it’s not your hedge that’s causing the problem, make sure you go about raising your concerns in a sensible way.
The Government has a huge amount of information on their website relating to the issue of high hedges, including how to choose the right hedge for your garden, what is considered to be a problem hedge and how to deal with high hedge complaints.
Causes of high hedge disputes
There are many reasons that arguments arise between neighbours due to hedging issues, with light blockage and overgrown foliage being the biggest troublemakers.
Often people complain about a hedge that has grown so tall that it prevents natural light from reaching their garden or certain rooms in their house. In cases like these the Government have guidelines in place to determine the extent to which light is being blocked and its impact, for example, the garden is in constant shade or the homeowner has to leave lights on in their house for longer than they would normally be needed. Once the problem has been accessed, the Local Council will act accordingly, only when considerable effort to rectify the problem without their involvement can be proven, and decide if the height of the hedge needs to be reduced.
Another common hedge problem is that an overgrown hedge begins to encroach into a neighbouring garden. This can either be over a fence or simply that the neighbour’s side of the hedge has not been cut properly and is now affecting their plants or making their garden look untidy. It is the responsibility of the hedge owner to ensure the hedge is cut regularly on all sides and on top to avoid unkempt foliage. This issue should also be attempted to be resolved personally by the parties involved before the Local Council are asked for their input.
Preventing and resolving high hedge disputes
The Government suggest that with the appropriate planning, design and information, most high hedge disputes can be avoided completely. As long as hedging species are chosen with growth rate in mind, issues of fast-growing hedges that quickly become too large to handle can be prevented. The same goes for design, if the position of the hedge is considered prior to planting to ensure it will not affect the light exposure in neighbouring gardens, a lot of unnecessary hassle can be side-stepped.
With regard to fixing hedging issues, it’s always best to go about it in the most polite but clear way possible, whether you are issuing a complaint or on the receiving end. By speaking to your neighbour directly, you can let them know what the problem is, how it affects you and offer a proposed solution. It’s better to try and sort any high hedge disputes without the involvement of outside parties as you want to keep your relationship with your neighbour as amicable as possible. If the issue cannot be resolved, you may wish to contact your Local Council as a last resort, but be aware that they will ask for proof of your attempt to fix the problem without their help beforehand; if they do not think you have made enough effort to find a resolution on your own, they can reject your complaint.
So, although you do not need permission to establish a hedge boundary and there are no laws to restrict the height of your hedge, you do need to take into consideration your neighbours and the impact that planting a hedge could possibly have on their garden; after all, it’s much nicer to receive a cup of tea over the fence than a letter of complaint.
Cutting Back Big Boxwoods (& Other Overgrown Evergreens)
Question. When I bought my house 35 years ago, one of the things that most attracted me were the three large boxwoods trimmed into balls out in front. At the time, they were about four and a half feet high. Over the years I have enjoyed these substantial ornamentals, but now have two problems. First, some of the canes on one have died, turning it into a Wiffle ball. (http://www.wiffle.com) The holes are taking a long time to fill in, and I am afraid I will disappear before some of them do. Second, over time (and despite pretty frequent and aggressive trimming) the bushes are now over six feet high, have reached window level and are beginning to look wildly disproportionate for my little house. I would like to cut them back to about four feet and maintain their ball shape. But cutting them back that drastically will remove all the leaves. Will the hedges grow back if I do so? I also have no idea when it would be best to take the plunge. The bushes keep their dark green foliage when they’re dormant in the winter, and then start sending out light green leaves in the Spring. Based on this behavior, I’m guessing I ought to prune them in November. Any helpful hints would be appreciated.
- —-Greg in North Plainfield, NJ
Answer. We sent Greg our first ‘helpful piece of advice’ immediately upon receiving his excellent question: Don’t touch them—or pretty much any other plant—now or in the near future; late summer through fall is the worst possible time to prune.
The time for pruning—especially the kind of renovation/rejuvenation pruning we’re discussing here—is generally either when the plants are fast asleep during their most dormant period in winter, or right before or right after they wake up in the Spring.
(The big exception, of course, is Spring blooming trees and shrubs—forsythia, lilacs, azaleas, rhododendrons and the like. Their flower buds are already fully formed for next year, so delay any pruning of such plants until after their flowers have faded away next Spring.)
“Yes, late summer through Fall is the absolute worst time of year to prune practically anything,” agrees Lee Reich, Ph.D., author of the notoriously useful tome, “The Pruning Book”, which was reissued in a brand new edition earlier this year by The Taunton Press.
“Pruning stimulates plants,” he explains, “and pruning a plant that’s beginning to enter dormancy can often stimulate lush new growth. Even if it doesn’t cause actual new growth, it stimulates cells; and either response can make the plant more susceptible to winter injury when the temperatures plunge and the winds pick up—and this is especially true of boxwoods.”
Otherwise, you’re pretty lucky, says Lee. “Boxwoods can be cut back pretty dramatically and they’ll re-grow nicely. That’s not true of all evergreens. In general, firs, Pines, spruce and other evergreens with ‘whorled branches’ will NOT sprout new growth in areas cut back to leafless wood. But most evergreens with random branching—like boxwood, arborvitae, junipers and yews—will develop new growth in areas cut completely back. Especially yews,” adds Lee, “you can do pretty much anything with them.”
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“But because boxwoods are very prone to winter damage, you want to time their pruning—especially a hard pruning—carefully. The best time is that period where the end of winter meets the beginning of Spring, just before the new growth appears. Right around the time the crocuses are coming up in your area would be ideal.
“As noted, they’re fast growers” says Lee, “so to re-create four-foot high plants, cut them back to around three feet and then shear them a couple of times as they’re growing throughout the season; this will promote a nice dense growth pattern. The more of a distinct shape you want, the more often you should ‘maintenance prune’—but lightly, like a haircut.”
Makes sense—those amazing topiaries of animals and such require someone to go over them with hand pruners gently and frequently to keep the design viable. But it’s often worth the effort. A 20-foot long green ‘whale’ carved out of a line of yews pictured in the new edition of Lee’s book displays the art form brilliantly—and to great effect, as the leviathan is cleverly hiding the cinder block foundation of the home from view.
“Unless you’re striving for a formal, geometric look, don’t use electric hedge shears to do your pruning,” adds Lee; “hand-held shears (those giant scissor-like things) will give you a much more natural look. And you can occasionally switch to hand pruners for your frequent trimming. They make it difficult to take off too much at any one time.”
And what about those Wiffle ball holes?
“Sounds like it could be lack of sun,” says Lee. “Even the most aggressive growers are going to develop bare spots in areas the sun can’t reach. So there may be some trees nearby that have grown too large and need some pruning of their own this winter to help the boxwoods be their fullest. Check for signs of pest or disease problems as well.
“And, of course, the healthiest plants are the ones that are going to take a hard pruning best and regrow the fullest. You can’t neglect proper plant care if you want nice healthy specimens to show off.”
Dealing with overgrown plants
Pruning regularly is the best way to keep your shrubs and trees in good shape and produce the best display.
Discover seven plants to prune for better flowers.
However, if a plant has become very overgrown, more drastic action is needed – you’ll need to remove some of the stems and reduce the rest by a third or a half.
Here’s how to rejuvenate an overgrown shub, a large hedge and a neglected apple tree.
Many popular hedging plants can be given a very hard rejuvenation prune and respond well.
Rejuvenate an overgrown shrub
Cut out the thickest, oldest stems from the base, using a pruning saw or loppers. To prevent tearing a heavy branch, make a first cut, about 30cm above the final desired cut. Remove the oldest wood – up to a third of the stems – each winter, leaving the rest to flower, and cut back any crossing branches. Then reducing the remaining wood by half after flowering. Don’t worry if you can’t see any buds – hard pruning stimulates new shoots from under the bark. This works well on forsythia, mahonia and viburnum.
Removing a branch of a shrub at its base
Reduce a large hedge
Many popular hedging plants can be given a very hard rejuvenation prune and respond well. Beech, privet, hornbeam, mixed native hedges and yew can all be cut back very hard to near the main trunk. Only tackle one side at a time, ideally with a one- or two-year break between prunings, then feed and water the hedge well afterwards. Coniferous hedging plants are a different story – this method works on only two of them, yew and thuja. Lawson cypress and leylandii hedges won’t take hard pruning.
Trimming a hedge with electric hedgecutters
Sort out a neglected apple tree
Apple and pear trees produce fewer fruits with age. Borne high in the canopy, they are hard to pick and often end up as bruised windfalls. If you enjoy the character of a gnarly old tree, then leave it be. Otherwise, take a third of the oldest central branches to open up the heart of the tree and reduce congestion. Then shorten the lower branches by up to half and cut back half of the old, weak fruiting spurs. Remove any crossing branches to reduce congestion.
Rejuvenating an old apple tree in winter Advertisement
Read more about overgrown garden problems on our forums
Some plants, including Viburnus tinus and Cornus alba, can be pruned hard, right down to the ground. Hard pruning encourages them to send up vigorous new shoots in spring. It’s best to hard prune tender shrubs and evergreens, such as mahonia, in spring, after the last frost.
- Use sharp pruners.
- Avoid pruning in summer heat or in late fall.
- Always remove branches that cross or are damaged or diseased.
- Take breaks and examine your work from all sides to make sure you are working evenly and creating a pleasing shape.
Above: Two overgrown privets in designer John Derian’s garden on Cape Code required drastic measures. Garden designer Tim Callis “cut them down to 3-foot nubs” and transplanted them to flank an entry gate. Privet grows three feet a year, Callis notes: if necessary, tie branches with string to train them. Photograph by Matthew Williams.
All the experts advised research. For your particular plant, determine when and how to best prune it. Tracey Hohman recommends The Royal Horticultural Society Pruning and Training: What When and How to Prune ($14.81 from Amazon), which she considers the bible of pruning (and which she frequently consults on behalf of both her clients and callers to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Hotline, where she is a weekly volunteer).
Above: Mammoth rhododendrons look more like trees than shrubs, with large trunks and no lower limbs. Photograph by Heather Edwards. For more, see Rhododendrons and Memories of Manderlay: A Garden Visit.
One handy pruning technique suggested by Nancy Crumley is “limbing up.” On a large shrub, remove the lower branches to give the plant a more tree-like appearance while clearing the area below and around it. This creates open space to add new plants, a major plus in a small garden where planting space is always at a premium.
Above: A well-behaved hydrangea mingles with perennials and dahlias. Photograph by Sara Barrett.
Back to the issue of the giant Oakleaf hydrangea, Joan McDonald suggested considering replacing it with a smaller variety such as ‘Munchkin’, ‘Pee Wee or ‘Sike’s Dwarf”. But, she said, if I want to keep my plant (I do) the solution is renovation pruning.
What is renovation pruning?
Renovation pruning involves cutting a third of the plant’s stems down to a height of 2 feet or less. According to McDonald, this should ideally be done after the shrub has bloomed every year for three consecutive years and will eventually produce a rejuvenated, more reasonably sized shrub. (Oakleaf hydrangeas bloom on old wood, and although my plant would likely tolerate being cut completely down to the ground all at once, doing so would mean sacrificing a whole summer of flowers.) My big friend in the backyard doesn’t know it yet, but he is in for a major haircut.
N.B.: Show your shrubs you’re in charge. For more help, see:
- Shrubs 101: A Design Guide.
- English Boxwood: Is It Worth It?
- 5 Favorites: Brit-Style Garden Hedges.
- The Cult of the Wild Camellia.
Finally, get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various shrubs and hedges with our Shrubs: A Field Guide.
The Ultimate Guide To Trimming Your own Bushes
Shrubs, bushes and hedges are arguably the most underrated and undervalued of all landscaping plants. They possess a natural beauty that can enhance the curb appeal of your home, while providing an attractive complement to lawns, trees, gardens and hardscapes, such as walks, patios and stonewalls.
Many types of shrubs and bushes can be grown into a privacy screen, windbreak or living “fence” along a boundary line. Most varieties stay green and vibrant all year. Shrubs, bushes and hedges can even increase the resale value of your home, but only if they’re well maintained and neatly trimmed.
Badly overgrown, misshapen and unkempt shrubs and bushes will have a negative impact on the appearance and value of your home. Fortunately, maintaining these landscaping beauties is relatively easy if you use a hedge trimmer. In a recent survey, nearly one-third of fathers stated they enjoy working on outdoor DIY modifications for their home space—and planting and shaping hedges is the perfect project to create a private getaway in your own backyard.
Below are detailed descriptions of hedge trimmers and advice on how to trim a hedge. There’s also a brief discussion of how to avoid injury while using a hedge trimmer. Read this section carefully, and then study the trimmer’s instructional manual for more specific safety tips.
Types of Hedge Trimmers
There are three basic types of hedge trimmers: gas-powered, corded electric and battery-powered cordless. Each comes in various sizes, ranging from about 16 to 24 inches, which is the length of the cutting bar. The type of trimmer to buy depends on several factors, including the size of the hedge, the location of the hedge on the property, personal preference and cost.
Gas-powered trimmers have powerful engines that cut the thickest branches quickly and cleanly. And because they aren’t tethered to an extension cord, gas-powered trimmers allow you the freedom to work anywhere on the property.
Keep in mind that gas trimmers have two-stroke engines that require you to precisely mix oil and gas to the proper proportions. Prices start at about $180 and go as high as $550, but most models range between $290 and $360.
Pro Tip: Most two-stroke trimmers require a 50:1 fuel-mix ratio. (Check the owner’s manual to confirm.) Achieve this ratio by mixing 2.6 ounces of two-stroke oil into one gallon of 89-octane gasoline. Be sure to use an approved gas container, and shake it to mix the oil and gas prior to filling the trimmer’s fuel tank.
Be advised that if your neighborhood has a homeowner’s association, you should check to see if there are any restrictions against using gas-powered equipment due to noise.
Corded electric hedge trimmers are popular because they’re extremely easy to use, very quiet, and virtually maintenance free. There’s no pull cord, choke, exhaust fumes or gas and oil to mess with. Simply attach the trimmer to an extension cord and you’re ready to start cutting.
Electric trimmers are also very affordable, ranging in price from about $30 to $190, with most models costing between $50 and $75. The obvious disadvantage, of course, is that you’ve got to drag around an extension cord. That limits your range, but also creates one more hazard to avoid when trimming.
Electric hedge trimmers are best for people who have relatively small yards or shrubs in close proximity to an electrical outlet.
Cordless hedge trimmers have been around for quite a few years, but have only recently been taken seriously, thanks to the advent of powerful, long-lasting lithium-ion batteries. They’re growing in popularity because they possess the best qualities of both gas and electric trimmers.
A cordless trimmer provides the freedom to roam around the property untethered, like a gas trimmer, but is also much quieter than an electric trimmer. It starts quickly, produces no exhaust and doesn’t require engine gas or oil.
Performance, power and price are directly related to the size of the battery. Cordless trimmers are available with batteries ranging from 18 volts to 56 volts. Higher-voltage batteries have more power and longer run times, but they’re also heavier and more expensive. Cordless hedge trimmer prices range from $60 to $500, but most cost between $100 and $250.
Pro Tip: When shopping for cordless hedge trimmers, check to see if the battery and charger are included. Many trimmers are sold as bare tools, meaning that you must purchase the battery and charger separately.
Hedge trimmers are very easy—and fun—to use. They cut with lightening speed and the precision of a Hollywood hair stylist. However, they’re also potentially dangerous. That’s why it’s critically important to keep both hands on the trimmer at all times, and never, ever hold a branch with one hand while trying to cut it with the trimmer. The risk of serious injury is just too high.
Be aware of your surrounding at all times when using a hedge trimmer. Clear the work area of all obstacles, and look out for hoses and wires that may be hidden by the hedge. Be sure all pets and children are kept well away from the area. When using a corded electric trimmer, be mindful of the extension cord at all times.
Finally, protect yourself by wearing eye goggles, hearing protection, work gloves, a long-sleeve shirt, pants and close-toed shoes.
Pro Tip: Keep a pair of bypass hand pruners in your back pocket and use it to cut branches that are too thick to cut with the trimmer or located in a particularly hard-to-reach spot.
How to Trim a Hedge
The following hedge-trimming tips and techniques are useful for most varieties of shrubs and bushes, regardless of what type of trimmer you’re using. Note that most formal hedges will need to be trimmed three or four times annually to maintain a neat, manicured appearance. Informal hedges, which are allowed to grow into a more natural shape, will require trimming just once or twice per year.
Start cutting near the bottom on the hedge and work your way up toward the top. Move the cutting bar in a slow, steady pace. Allow the cutting action of the blades to do the work. Don’t try to cut too deeply into the hedge on the initial pass; you might lop off too many branches. Instead, make several shallower passes, trimming off just a couple of inches at a time.
It’s important to trim the sides of the hedge at an angle, so that it’s wider at the bottom and slightly narrower at the top. That way, sunlight can reach the lower branches and root system, which helps the entire hedge grow green and lush.
Pro Tip: Don’t trim hedges in early spring when birds are nesting.
To cut the top of the hedge flat, hold the trimmer’s cutting bar perfectly level and slowly guide it left to right, then right to left. Hedge trimmers cut in both directions. Again, only trim off a little at a time.
Small- to medium-size hedges can be trimmed to the desired height freehand. But to accurately trim long hedgerows, it’s best to stretch a taut nylon line between two wooden stakes to represent the finished height of the hedge. Then guide your trimmer along the line to produce a straight, even cut.
After completing the first few passes, set the trimmer down on the ground and use your hands or a leaf rake to pull out the severed branches and leaves. Stand back and examine the hedge. If necessary, make a few finishing passes to trim the hedge to its final shape.
Then, separate the branches by hand and look deep inside the shrub for dead, diseased or damaged branches. If you find any, cut them out with bypass hand pruners.
Pro Tip: Trim hedges in the early morning or late afternoon to prevent the sun from scorching the freshly cut ends of the branches.
If you need to trim really tall hedges, consider buying or renting an extended-reach hedge trimmer. This specialty tool is essentially a standard trimmer that’s attached to a long, adjustable shaft. It provides the easiest and safest way to trim tall branches without having to stand on a ladder.
In conclusion, be aware that you’ll probably feel a little awkward and tentative the first time you use a hedge trimmer, but don’t get discouraged. Within an hour or so, you’ll become comfortable with the way the trimmer feels in your hands. Just remember: Don’t rush, work at leisurely pace and allow the blades to do the cutting. Before long, you’ll be trimming hedges like a pro.
Written by :
Do-it-yourself expert Joe Truini has taught many homeowners the finer points of outdoor landscaping, including how to use hedge trimmers. Joe writes his tips for the Home Depot, where you can research a large variety of trimmer styles.