How to Trim Hedges and Do It the Right Way

The idea of hedges is actually about 2,000 years old. The residents of ancient Rome pioneered many things we take for granted today, and one of them was landscaping with hedges. Today, hedges can still form an integral part of a modern landscape -- but just like the ancient Romans, you’ll need to know how to trim hedges.

The way you trim your hedges can have a significant effect on how good they look and how healthy they are. But trimming your hedges doesn’t have to be a major chore. With the right techniques, you can work smarter, not harder, and get the hedges you really want with minimal effort.

Not sure how to trim hedges? We’ve got the answers. Read on to learn everything you need to know to maintain healthy, beautiful hedges all year long!

Is There a Difference Between Trimming and Pruning?

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When you start researching “how to trim hedges,” you might run into a lot of information that has to do with pruning. But are they the same thing, or are there differences you need to know about?

 Pruning

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The two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but they really have different meanings. Most people use “trimming” when they’re talking about smaller plants, like low hedges or shrubs. “Pruning” more often refers to larger plants, like trees.

Each technique works a bit differently, to meet the needs of each type of plant. Pruning involves removing branches that are at risk of falling off, like anything dead or loose. That way, they can’t fall off and damage other plants (or anyone standing too close).

Pruning also helps trees thrive. When you remove the dead or dying branches, the tree’s resources get funneled into the ones that are still alive. You might also need to prune branches that have been harmed by insects or disease. Finally, pruning is sometimes used to simply to give a tree a specific shape.

 ​Trimming

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Trimming focuses less on removing dead or damaged branches. Instead, it involves removing branches that are growing too long or in the wrong direction, to maintain a certain shape.

However, it’s not just about looks. If a bush or hedge grows too far out of shape, the long branches will block the ones underneath from getting the light and water they need.

It’s easy to see why hedges need trimming. These landscape features rely on their shape to offer a visual effect and privacy. Trimming ensures that they maintain that shape so they can fulfill their purpose. It also keeps the whole hedge healthy, by providing equal access to light and water.

Some hedges may also need to be pruned, depending on what they’re made of and what they need. However, most hedges can do well with more frequent trimming and pruning only occasionally or as needed.

When to Trim Hedges

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Knowing how to trim hedges also involves knowing how to trim them at the right time. You’ll get the best results if you time your efforts carefully.

Of course, the hedge shape will affect how often it needs a trim. If the shape is very precise, you’ll need to trim it more often to maintain those clean lines. But if you have a hedge growing in a natural shape, you have more room to let it grow between trimmings.

The timing will also depend on the type of hedge you have. Here’s how to trim hedges at the right time, for several different hedge types.

Evergreen

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Evergreen is a popular hedge material for obvious reasons. The year-round greenery looks nice, while the year-round leaves offer uninterrupted privacy.

They’re also low maintenance, which means you have more flexibility for pruning evergreens than other hedge types. Late winter, just before new growth starts, is usually a good time to trim your evergreen hedge.

These hedges tend to grow fastest in the summer, though, so they might need some extra pruning during those months.

Flowering

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Knowing how to trim hedges with flowers at the right time is a little more difficult. If you want your hedges filled with flowers, you’ll need to put extra thought and effort into the timing of your trim.

If you don’t trim a flowering hedge at the right time, you could prevent it from growing any new flowers. Most of the time, it’s best to trim a flowering hedge right after it’s finished flowering.

You may also be able to trim your flowering hedge at the end of winter before it starts new growth -- but only if it flowers on new wood, not old wood. Otherwise, you run the risk of cutting away old branches that could bear flowers.

Deciduous

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Deciduous hedges don’t lend themselves well to precise shapes like evergreens do. That means your deciduous hedge probably has a more relaxed shape and doesn’t need super-frequent trimming.

Early spring, before the new leaves open, is a good time to prune this kind of hedge. However, they’ll probably grow faster in the summer, so you may need to trim them periodically throughout the warm months.

Newly planted

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Knowing how to trim hedges that were newly planted at the right time is a bit trickier. However, you’ll often need to give them a trim shortly after planting. It also depends on when you planted the hedge -- whether it was dormant or actively growing.

With new hedges, you can also consider trimming the hedge’s upright branches back to a length of about six inches. When they grow back, they’ll be more likely to branch out, which gives you a fuller-looking hedge that keeps its shape well.

The Equipment You’ll Need

Now that you know approximately when you’ll need to trim your hedge, you can start getting ready. It’s important to have the right equipment on hand for the task.

The right equipment will depend on how much trimming you need to do, and the type of hedge you have. But here are a few options to choose from.

Hedge trimmer

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Hedge trimmers look a bit like specialized chainsaws, and they function much like chainsaws, too. You can buy both electric- and gas-powered models. However, the electric ones tend to be smaller and easier to handle.

Just like a chainsaw, a hedge trimmer requires special care and protective equipment, including eye protection. Unlike chainsaws, though, hedge trimmers are good for cutting small pieces off a plant.

While you could technically trim a hedge with a chainsaw, it’s much more difficult to get the results you want this way. It can also be dangerous to cut through smaller branches using a chainsaw.

Hedge shears

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Hedge trimmers basically speed up what a pair of handheld hedge shears can do. If you have small hedges or lots of time to spare, you can get the job done with the shears instead.

Hedge shears also aren’t as dangerous as trimmers. There are quite a few different styles of pruning shears. Some are stronger, while others work better in small spaces. You can pick the style that meets your trimming needs best.

Loppers and saws

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If your hedges have branches over two inches thick that need to be cut, you can get a pair of loppers. You can also cut through those thicker branches with a small pruning saw.

Once you learn how to trim hedges, you might find that you need more than one tool to get the best results.

How to Trim Hedges: Your Essential Guide

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Now that you understand the timing and equipment, let’s delve into the basics of how to trim hedges.

Wait for good weather


Rain isn’t conducive to good trimming results. And if you use an electric hedge trimmer, you should never trim in the rain. It’s better to wait until you have a good, rain-free day.

Dress the part


You’ll need to wear the right clothes and shoes to keep you safe, as well as special safety equipment. Opt for sturdy clothes that are tight, so they won’t get caught on the branches as you go.

Wear thick, sturdy shoes with plenty of traction. Eye protection and safety gloves are also a good idea, especially if you’re using a hedge trimmer.

Keep animals and children safe


Make sure your pets and kids are safely out of the way before you begin. Check for nearby wildlife, too. It’s especially important to make sure there are no birds nesting in your hedge. In some places, it’s illegal to disrupt certain kinds of nesting birds.

Clear debris


You’re almost ready to begin. But an important part of how to trim hedges is clearing out loose debris first.

Take out the loose leaves, sticks, and other debris in your hedge. This step keeps your hedge trimmer from getting jammed and ensures you aren’t cutting twigs and sticks that aren’t attached. Make sure you have access to every part of the hedge you need to reach before you start trimming.

Provide light


As you start trimming, focus on making sure light can get to the interior of the hedge. Aside from shaping your hedge, this is your most important task.

Thin out the top of the hedge, and every year, do a thorough trim to remove about a quarter of the old branches by cutting them at the ground.

You can also help your hedge get enough light by making sure the bottom is wider than the top. A hedge that’s too wide on top will block the light from getting to the rest of it, causing the bottom parts to die.

Finally, periodically clip away branches from inside the hedge, so there’s space for light to get to the interior branches and leaves. If you only cut away the tips, the inside of the hedge can die.

Ready to Get Trimming?

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The basics of how to trim hedges are easy: all you need to do is cut the branches into the shape and size you want. Adding our simple tips to that basic goal will ensure that you get the best results from each trim.

Now that you know how to trim hedges correctly, maintaining a great-looking hedge is easy. Just make sure to give your hedge a thorough annual trim, followed up with maintenance trims during periods of fast growth.

Knowing how to trim hedges brings you one step closer to meeting your landscape goals. But if you want to learn more, make sure to check out our favorite landscape ideas here!

Do you have any tips for trimming hedges? Share them in the comments below!

About the Author Love Backyard Team

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