7 Expert hedge cutting tips

Nick Moyle and Rich Hood 8 March 2021

Most hedges require maintenance pruning to keep them healthy, tidy and manageable, with early spring being the time for most species to receive their first cut of the season. Ideally, choose a calm, dry day to cut, and make sure you wear a decent pair of gardening gloves and safety glasses to prevent any mishaps that may occur from overzealous chopping. Before you commence battle, here’s a few top tips to give you the (h)edge

1. Sharpen your blades

Whether you choose to go old school with a pair of hand shears or prefer the freedom and power afforded by a cordless trimmer, make sure your tool is sharp before commencing. Using blunt tools will increase the time and effort taken to complete your hedge cutting task and may also cause long-term damage to the foliage as ragged, frayed cuts can lead to disease. 

 

2. Check before your chop

Spring is the time when birds start to build their nests, and there’s no finer real estate than an overgrown hedge. The Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 forbids the cutting of hedges that contain bird nests, so if you spot birds squatting in your hedge, put down those shears and wait until your feathered friends have fledged. It’s also worth a quick rummage inside the hedge to check for obstacles, especially if it’s one you’ve never cut before. Old fence wires and concrete fence posts lurking within will soon damage pristine blades.

 

3. Rule of thirds

It depends on the species of hedge you are tackling, but generally speaking you can chop back up to a third without causing the plant too much stress. Hedges will often react well to a really good cut, growing back bushy and vigorous. 

 

4. Get it straight

Sometimes you’ll want super-neat sides—particularly when you are cutting privet or similar small leaved hedges. Press your ear to the hedge and take a good look—any unwanted undulations should now be easy to spot. To correct large patches, go over the area again with your shears or trimmer and for smaller imperfections, get busy with a pair of pruners.

 

5. Angles of attack

The widely accepted method of cutting a hedge is to work from bottom to top but it shouldn’t really have much bearing on the quality of your finish, so approach it whichever way feels comfortable for you. Ideally you should make sure that the base of the hedge is wider than the top to ensure that the entire hedge gets equal measures of sunlight and rain. A slight bevel where the sides meet the top will also help maximise rain coverage and help keep things lush.

 

6. Nab those weeds

If you’ve got a large, native species hedge to deal with, chances are that you’ll have brambles winding their way through the thicket. Time spent removing them in spring will save you angst later in the season, so delve into the depths with a pair of pruners and cut them as close as you can to the ground.

 

7. Clearing up

One of the biggest pains of cutting hedges can be the clearing up process which will often take longer than the trimming itself. Long lengths of tarpaulin can be purchased to help catch clippings, but you might find it easier just to use old bedding sheets. 

These can be folded easily to gather up hedge debris (a bit like a giant Chinese dumpling) and carried away for disposal. You may find that it's not always practical to lay down sheeting, so in this instance, grab yourself a leaf blower to herd up your hedge-y mess, then gather using a thick-tined plastic rake or dustpan and brush.

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