Pruning hedges

Every now and then a hedge can get a bit out of control. Here’s how to prune it back into shape.

A gardener’s advice

1. Knowing the right time to prune or trim your hedge can lead to a healthier plant. The best time to cut a hedge is the middle to end of June, when deciduous woody species have come to the end of their first annual growth spurt. By this time, any birds that have been nesting in the hedge will have usually raised their first broods and the nests will have been abandoned. Hedges that grow vigorously, like beech, may also need cutting in autumn.

2. Hand-held shears are best for hedges of large-leafed plants, such as laurel or holly. Start with the front and back of the hedge, cutting evenly and starting at the bottom and moving upwards. Then cut the top. Finally, neaten the edges. If you are pruning a very tall hedge, use a step ladder or some other form of solid, stable support to help you to reach the tallest parts.

3. Some hedge shrubs, such as boxwood, can be trimmed to just a couple of feet wide, while more sprawling shrubs will need more. Because pruning stimulates new growth, prune evergreen and most deciduous hedges in spring. However, if your hedge produces spring flowers, wait until after they bloom to do any cutting.

4. Hedges do not have to be trimmed into neat, formal rectangles. Many hedges are loose and informal, incorporating a variety of plants. Pruning for any type of hedge starts with removing any dead wood and cutting back any broken or damaged branches.

5. To shape a formal hedge, use hedge shears. Make the hedge narrower on top than on the bottom, so that light can reach the bottom branches, keeping them green and preventing them from dying out.

6. If you have an informal hedge, use shears or loppers to thin it out, trimming old wood to the base of the plant. If you want to control the size of the hedge, selectively prune branches to retain their natural form. Don’t cut off the ends of the branches; that will stimulate bushy growth that will shade the interior and create a dead centre.