Trimming hedges: the most important tips

Pruning a hedge is not rocket science, but there are a few tips and tricks you can use to get an accurate result. Here you will find everything you need to know about cutting hedges in the garden.

Hedges need topiary at least once a year. How to trim the green walls and achieve a perfect result is shown by garden expert Dieke van Dieken in this practical video

Credits: MSG/CreativeUnit/Cinematographer: Kevin Hartfiel, Editor: David Hugle

  • When to cut hedges?
  • You don’t cut these hedges in the spring
  • How to trim hedges properly?
  • How to cut hedges straight?
  • How to rejuvenate an old hedge?
  • Rejuvenate single-stemmed hedges
  • How to shape coniferous hedges?
  • How to trim a hedge: Closing holes and gaps
  • When to cut hedges?
  • These hedges are not cut in the spring
  • How to cut hedges correctly?
  • How to trim hedges straight?
  • How to rejuvenate an old hedge?
  • Rejuvenate single-stemmed hedges
  • How to bring conifer hedges into shape?
  • Pruning hedges: Closing holes and gaps

Most amateur gardeners trim their hedges in the garden once a year around St. John’s Day (24. June) around. However, experts from the Saxon State Institute for Horticulture in Dresden-Pillnitz have proven in several years of experiments: Almost all hedge plants grow more evenly and more densely if they are cut to the desired height and width for the first time as early as mid- to late February, followed by a second, weaker pruning at the beginning of summer.

With the exception of spring bloomers, you cut hedge plants back to the desired height and width in early spring, in mid to late February. A lighter pruning follows around St. John’s Day on 24. June. Leave about one third of the new annual shoot. Cutting a trapezoidal shape with a wide base and a narrow crown has proven to be effective. For a straight cut, you can take the help of a string that you stretch between two sticks.

When to cut hedges?

The first cut is made in mid to late February. The advantages of early pruning: the shoots are not yet in full sap in early spring and therefore tolerate pruning better. In addition, the bird breeding season has not yet begun, so you do not run the risk of destroying the newly created nests. After early hedge cutting, the plants need a certain regeneration period and often do not sprout again properly until May. Until then, the hedges look very accurate and well-groomed.

Around St. John’s Day in June, a second pruning is carried out, leaving about one third of the new annual shoots. A stronger cut with the hedge trimmer is not recommended at this time, as you would rob the hedges of too much substance. With the remaining new leaves, however, they can build up enough nutrient reserves to make up for the loss. For the rest of the year, let the hedge grow in peace and then cut it back to its original height in February.

How to cut hedges

Hedge trimming forbidden in summer? This is what the law says

Important: According to the Federal Nature Conservation Act, radical hedge trimming is prohibited between 1. March and 30. September not allowed at all. Background is the protection of native animals, such as birds. On the other hand, gentle maintenance pruning is permitted between March and September. Always check beforehand whether there are nesting birds in the hedge.

These hedges are not cut in the spring

Pruning hedges of spring-flowering plants such as forsythia or blood plum should not be done in February, but wait until they are in bloom. If you cut the hedge early, you would unnecessarily diminish the blooms. A possible second pruning should not be done after St. John’s Day, because then the shrubs will not produce new flower buds for the next year. As a rule, however, with these shrubs in the garden, you can get by with one topiary per year anyway.

How to prune hedges properly?

Cutting profiles hedge cutting

The best shape for all hedges has proven to be the so-called trapezoidal profile with a wide base and narrow crown. Sloping sides have the advantage that the lower leaves can also catch enough sunlight

Avoid in any case that the hedge is narrower below than above! If you cut it too narrow at the bottom, it will shade itself. This can easily happen because the upper branches naturally grow more than the lower ones. But if the lower leaves get too little light, they will wither over time. Species such as thuja and cypress will not re-sprout in these areas and will remain brown. If, on the other hand, the hedges are given a trapezoidal shape during pruning, they do not become bald at the base so quickly. In addition, when cutting the hedge width should be based on the natural growth of each plant. For example, a shrub such as the cherry laurel needs more volume than a tree-like hedge plant such as the hornbeam.

How to cut hedges straight?

A simple trick helps to cut the crown of the hedge nice and straight: Use a guide line to orient yourself by setting up two poles at the side of the hedge and stretching a string at the desired height. When freehand cutting, avoid dents and mounds in the hedge crown by holding the hedge trimmer with both arms exactly horizontal and making slight sweeping motions out of the back. The more you move your arms in the process, the more uneven the pruning pattern tends to be. When cutting the sides of the hedge, stand with one side of your body next to the hedge so that you are facing the end of the hedge that is still uncut. You should hold the electric hedge trimmer parallel to the hedge with your arms largely outstretched and swing it up and down in smooth movements from your shoulders.

How to rejuvenate an old hedge?

Most hedges made of shrubby deciduous trees such as cherry laurel, barberry, firethorn or privet can be rejuvenated if necessary by cutting them far back into the old wood. The ideal time to prune deciduous shrubs is early spring, before the leaves come out, and evergreens in early summer, around the time of regular hedge trimming. In order for the plants to sprout again safely, however, the accompanying conditions must be right – this includes, above all, a bright location in the garden and a good water supply. Cut back all the main branches of the plants with a saw to about 30 centimeters above the ground. The new shoots should be trimmed again by at least a third of their length next spring at the latest, so that the hedge becomes nice and dense again. Note that with slow-growing species, such as boxwood, it can take several years before the rejuvenated hedge is respectable again.

Your boxwood has frost damage? In this video we explain how to cut it properly.
Credit: MSG/CAMERA: FABIAN PRIMSCH / EDIT: RALPH SCHANK / PRODUCTION SARAH STEHR

Rejuvenate single-stemmed hedges

Such brute pruning measures as for hedge shrubs are usually not necessary for tree-like growing hedge plants. Nevertheless, it happens that you take over an old garden with a hedge that has become very wide and would like to bring it back into shape. Then it is time for a rejuvenation pruning. Because of their high regenerative capacity, most tree-like hedge plants such as field maple, copper beech and hornbeam tolerate such rejuvenation well.

To spare the plants as much as possible, proceed as follows for unkempt, older deciduous hedges: In early spring of the first year, use loppers or a pruning saw to cut back all side branches on the top and one flank so that only stubs with slight side branching remain. In the second year it is the turn of the other flank. The advantage of this gradual rejuvenation is that the plants always have enough leaves on one side and can therefore better tolerate the removal of shoots.

Rejuvenate hedges

In the first year, the right side of the hedge was rejuvenated (see the hedge on the left). In the second year, the left side was pruned back (see right hedge)

Branch stubs will sprout vigorously again from the so-called dormant eyes. Some hedge plants, however, take a long time to sprout again and do not show fresh green until summer. This is not a cause for concern, as the plants need time to recover their "sleeping eyes" to activate.

How to bring hedges of conifers into shape?

Coniferous hedges, unlike most deciduous trees, are not very tolerant of pruning. They do not sprout again from the un-needled branch sections if you have cut them back too far. Therefore, always stay in the "green zone" when pruning trees (Thuja) or cypresses, but also pines and spruces." However, moderate pruning to regulate the height is possible with all conifers: the cut stems will be overgrown by the fresh shoots of the side branches over time and the hedge will slowly become dense again from above. However, the flanks should only be cut back as far as the base of the needles will go. Needleless shoot stubs are no longer sprouting. The only exception is the yew: it even forms fresh green shoots directly from the trunk.

Trim the hedge: Close holes and gaps

Who is not annoyed when the external appearance of the hedge in the garden is marred by gaps? There are several tips on how to repair such blemishes: Smaller holes in deciduous hedges such as hornbeam, boxwood and privet, or conifer hedges such as arborvitae (thuja) and mock cypress, will close relatively quickly if the area receives adequate light exposure. Therefore, if in doubt, remove the branches of neighboring trees if they cast too much shade on the hedge.

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