Fredrick is a miniature-garden designer and author of landscaping guides. He loves to write about garden flowers, ponds, lawns, and hedges.
A Guide to Hedge Trimming
According to arborists and tree experts, trimming improves both the aesthetics and the health of a hedge (also known as a living or green fence).
How Does Trimming Help a Hedge?
- It stimulates the growth of new branches and reduces pest infestations.
- Since it promotes the growth of more branches, it makes hedges bushier and stronger.
- When it is done together with shaping, it improves the attractiveness of the shrubs or trees.
But still, according to my own observations, many people do not know how to trim a hedge correctly. Some people carry out the process at the wrong time of year while others use the wrong type of equipment.
In this article, I'm going to discuss how to trim a hedge to grow bushier, fuller, and thicker. Read on to learn the right time to prune the plants and the best equipment to use.
How to Trim a Hedge to Grow Fuller and Thicker: 11 Tips
- Learn what time of year is best for trimming your hedge.
- Decide exactly how much to trim for maximal health and beauty.
- Use the right tools and equipment.
- Get safety gear ready to start the process.
- When trimming, make the right cuts.
- Remove damaged branches first.
- Clean equipment after removing diseased branches.
- Remove other unwanted branches.
- Protect stems and major branches.
- Dress the wounds.
- Clean off the cut materials.
Each of these steps will be explained and described fully below.
1. Decide When to Trim Your Hedge
Arborists have documented the best seasons to perform hedge trimming, but some situations can trigger the process to take place outside these seasons. For example, you can trim branches that wither or get infected by pests or diseases at any time. Dead branches can harbor pests while the diseased ones can spread the disease, so you should not allow them to exist in your fence.
When it comes to deciding on the best time to trim your hedge, you should consider the late winter or early spring. Plants lose less sap during these periods, and therefore they do not suffer a lot from the cuts, which promotes quick regrowth. Another great thing about these dormant seasons is that they are associated with minimal pest infestations and disease transmissions.
Some plant species can survive pretty well when trimmed in the late spring or early summer. So you need also to consider the species of your fencing plants to know the best time to trim them.
2. Decide How Much to Trim
First, uncontrolled trimming can cause serious damage to a hedge, so it is advisable to trim your plants carefully and as minimally as possible. You should consider cutting only the overgrown branches or stems and shaping them in a way that doesn't hurt the plants so much.
Second, you need to consider the age and species of your plants to decide on how much to cut. Young plants and most evergreen species require little cutting and simple shaping. On the other hand, older shrubs and adult trees can respond pretty well to excessive cutting.
Regardless of how much you have decided to trim, you need to ensure that you remove sagging stems, acute-angled secondary stems, and closely growing or running secondary stems. Other parts that you need to remove include root and base trunk suckers, water sprouts, and broken, diseased, or dead wood.
3. Get the Right Pruning Tools and Equipment
You need to consider the size of the branches and the height of the hedge to choose the right tools and equipment. Some tools and equipment that you will definitely need include a pruner (manual or electric), strings, and garden stakes.
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The strings and stakes are for marking purposes. You can use them to mark the parts that you need to cut. You can really achieve even sides and a well-leveled top with the help of these tools.
If the branches are thin (0.75 inches in diameter or below), you can go for the hand pruners. The most recommended hand pruners are bypass and anvil. According to my own experience, the bypass pruners are the best because they don’t crush plant tissues like the anvil types.
These pruners can also be used to shape a hedge, but I recommend a garden shear for the shaping job.
If the branches have diameters in the range (0.75–1.5 inches), you need to get loppers. These tools have longer blades which are suitable for trimming taller hedges. They are also available in bypass and anvil types.
For branches that are three inches and above in diameter, it is recommended to use electric pruners or trimming saws that can cut thick secondary stems.
When it comes to choosing the right trimming tool, there is one tool that you shouldn't fail to have for your hedges, and the tool is no other than the Fiskars Bypass Pruner. I have settled on this pruner as it is the most efficient, versatile, light, and user-friendly trimming tool out there. I keep my green fence looking smart, attractive, and lively with the help of this pruner.
If you are confused about which pruner to buy for your hedges, I recommend that you try this one provided by Fiskers—a leading manufacturer of gardening and landscaping tools. The tool itself comes with top-notch features, including a fully hardened, precision-ground steel blade (stays sharp even on heavy use), low friction coating (improves gliding, prevents gumming up, and resists rust), and maximum cutting capacity (cuts a wide range of branch sizes).
4. Get Safety Gear Ready to Start the Process
Safety is the number one thing to consider when trimming your hedge. To prevent injuries and accidents, you must get safety gear and use it throughout the process. The protective gear will shield you from thorns, harmful sap, and equipment cuts.
To protect your thorax and abdomen, you need to wear an apron or a long sleeve shirt. When it comes to protecting your hands and feet, you need to wear gloves and safety shoes. To keep your head and eyes safe, you need to use a helmet and safety goggles.
5. When Trimming, Make the Right Cuts
According to hedge trimming experts, making the right cuts prevents the formation of wounds and allows the plants to recover faster. Flush cuts or cuts that leave stubs are not considered right and therefore you should not practice them.
When trimming a branch, you need to locate the major bud and make a cut 0.25 inches above it. You should not cut branches halfway between minor buds as this can cause the withering of the plants.
There are three steps that you can follow to trim a branch correctly. The first step is to make a shallow cut on a suitable part of the branch, preferably near the stem collar. In case you didn't know, the stem collar is the part that connects a branch to a stem.
The second step is to make another cut opposite the initial one, but slightly up or down the branch. The part being trimmed should fall off after this cut. The last step is to cut the remaining stub ensuring that there is no peeling of the bark.
6. Remove Damaged Branches First
If your hedge has some branches that are broken, dead, diseased, or infected with pests, you need to remove them first. This will give you an easy time in the whole trimming process. It will also allow you to maintain a bushier, fuller, and thicker green fence.
When removing dead wood, you need to do it carefully to avoid peeling off the bark of the healthy parts. It is recommended to use a sharp pruner, lopper, or pruning saw to carry out this task.
7. Disinfect Your Equipment After Removing Diseased Branches
The trimming equipment is well known for transmitting diseases, so it is advisable to disinfect it after cutting diseased branches. If your hedge is infected by diseases, you need therefore to find a suitable disinfectant.
Some recommended disinfectants include isopropyl alcohol, trisodium phosphates, and chlorine bleach. To disinfect your equipment, you need to put the disinfectant in a large container and dip the equipment in the chemical for at least five minutes. You can also just wash the equipment with the disinfectant.
8. Remove Other Unwanted Branches
Some good examples of these branches include the crossing branches, narrow and weak crotches, and co-dominant branches. Other unwanted plant parts are water sprouts and suckers.
The weak and narrow branches create weak areas in your green fence, and you can remove them through a process called crown thinning.
The crossing branches rub against each other, causing plant damage while the co-dominant branches tend to grow quicker than the other branches spoiling the fence shape.
The suckers and water sprouts grow waywardly and compete for resources with the main plants.
9. Protect Stems and Major Branches
As mentioned above, uncontrolled trimming can damage your hedge, preventing it from growing thick and strong. To avoid any damage when doing so, you need to identify stems and major branches and protect them. When trimming the major branches, you should make your cuts a few inches from the stem collar and the cuts should not extend to the stems.
Another great way to protect your stems and major branches is to position your cutting equipment in a way that doesn’t damage these parts of the plants.
10. Dress the Wounds
To many people, this task may seem unnecessary, but according to my own experience, it is quite important. It inhibits the cut branches from growing back and keeps disease-carrying insects away during the healing period.
The task is usually not complicated. You can select only the major wounds and apply a suitable dressing. You can also apply the dressing through spraying to cover all the wounds.
11. Clean Off the Pruned Materials to See the Final Shape
After you have finished trimming your hedge, you can expect to have a lot of cut branches and leaves lying around the fence. You need to clean these materials to expose the final shape of the hedge and allow for a quick recovery of the plants.
You then need to dispose of the materials properly. You can also use them in your garden to improve soil fertility or use them as firewood. If the materials have pests or diseases, you should burn or bury them.
Trimming a Hedge Is a Straightfoward Process
As you can see, trimming a hedge to grow fuller and thicker is a straightforward process. To some people, it may appear to be a good bit of work, but it is clearly a process that people can do on their own. If you have the equipment and time, you can use this guide to prune your green fence.
- Wade G.L., Midcap J.T., Pennisi B. "Pruning Ornamental Plants in the Landscape.". extension.uga.edu. College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences. University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. (2006).
- Zins M., Deborah B. "Trimming Trees and Shrubs.". extension.umn.edu. University of Minnesota Extension. (Rev 2014).
- Lonsdale D. "Principles of Tree Hazard Assessment and Management.". Forestry Commission, Great Britain. (1999).
- University of Delaware (UD). "Pruning Woody Plants.". extension.udel.edu. University of Delaware Cooperative Extension. College of Agriculture & Natural Resources. (Rev 2010).
- Kidd R. "Tips on Tree and Shrub Trimming.". msue.anr.msu.edu. Michigan State University (MSU) Extension. (2012).
- Croxton P.J., Franssen W., Myhill D.G., Sparks T.H. "The Restoration of Neglected Hedges: A Comparison of Management Treatments.". conservationevidence.com. Biological Conservation. (2004).
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: I have recently had a 6ft plus pt grown privet hedge planted. When do I give the first trim?
Answer: If you planted them recently, give them at least three months for the roots to develop before you trim.
© 2015 Fredrick JS
Fredrick JS (author) from Intercontinental on November 28, 2019:
@Mayr you can instead decide to support them to allow them grow past 6 feet (and trim back to 6 feet) - they will be offering better privacy at that height.
B. Mayr on November 28, 2019:
I have Podocarpus plants (3 feet high) planted in March of last year in Florida to make a privacy hedge. The plants grew high, so that the top branches flop over, but are not thickening up.
How much can I safely trim by hand to help grow the plants from below.