Trim your hedge!

By Sarah Buchanan. First published by Rattan Direct on 4 September 2016.

Hedges are part of ancient and modern landscapes. Cutting or laying hedges to control their growth began in Britain 4,000 or more years ago and as farmland and animal enclosures, hedges are a traditional part of many farmed landscapes. Changes in farming and land use meant more or fewer hedges at different times and now, in some agricultural areas, hedges are a rarity while gardens and parks are full of them. The National Trust (see their great pic. of extreme hedge trimming here!) and other gardens are home to formal and informal hedges, grand avenues and tiny borders around flower beds. Around the country are mazes to amaze you and hedge features like topiary structures or animals. What does your hedge look like?


'Cloud pruned' box, beside the wall of Sharsted Court, Newnham, Kent. Late summer
‘Cloud pruned’ box, beside the wall of Sharsted Court, Newnham, Kent.
© David Anstiss and licensed for re-use under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence.

Hedge basics

The RHS Advice Notes, as ever, provide fantastic and specific guidance. Here are some basic points.

  • Young deciduous hedges need to be trimmed in late winter to create the shape you want. Older ones are trimmed in late summer.
  • Young evergreens are best trimmed in spring. Different species in older hedges need trimming at different times of the year: holly in late summer, yew in April or September, thuja and box in spring and September to October.
  • The ‘look’ of the hedge will reflect what it is made of and how you want it to look: formal or informal, neat or relaxed, a feast of flowers or berries, or not.
  • Flowering rose (rugosa) hedges are best pruned in late winter.
  • Privet – the hedge we love to hate – can be a joy when under control (cut twice a year) or allowed free rein to flower. But when it’s somewhere in between it’s a mess, and you will need to prune hard to regain control.
Neatly trimmed (and impressive) privet hedge, Mortlake, Surrey. Stefan Czapski.

Hedge hair cuts

  • Stand back and decide what you want the finished, trimmed hedge to look like.
  • Check your equipment is all ready to use: at least gloves, eye protectors, shears, secateurs, loppers and probably a hedge trimmer.
  • For a formal hedge create an ‘A’ shape, with a narrower top than bottom, as this allows more light into the base which helps prevent a leggy look. Set up taut lines of string (from stakes put in for this job or nearby trees/ washing lines) along the hedge to mark the height and width you want to achieve. Leaning a cane against the string along the side will help to keep it steady.
  • For an informal hedge, cut how and where it looks right. But do put a taut string along the hedge at the height you are aiming for or you will (like me) end up with a hedge that goes up or down hill, or both!
  • A good rule of thumb for established hedges is to cut back only the new growth made this year. If you push the hedge the new growth folds in and where it feels firm is the line you are aiming for.
  • When you are ready to cut, lay old sheets or tarpaulins along the bottom of the hedge to catch the trimmings (it saves a lot of raking later).
  • With powered hedge trimmers, always swing the blade parallel to the hedge surface (side or top) and swing the blade UPWARDS not down. This reduces the danger to you, and creates a better cut edge.
hedge trimming
Beech hedge ready to be trimmed, today! Sarah Buchanan.

Take care …

Follow the instructions that come with hedge trimmers. It is all too easy to think we know better, and quickly zip through an electric cable, or worse. Always use a circuit breaker on electric hedge trimmers and wear good gloves and eye protectors. Why not remind yourself of other health and safety points in our earlier blog?

And care for wildlife …

Garden hedges are wildlife havens offering nest sites for birds, homes and food for insects, and safe routes along gardens for hedgehogs and other small creatures. If you trim your hedge between April and end July – the peak nesting time for birds –  you stand a good chance of making some homeless. Trim berried hedges after the birds have eaten their fill – in late winter or early spring. And leave the bottoms of hedges a bit untidy to provide shelter for small creatures.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s