How to Trim and Shape a Hedge

Updated on September 21, 2017
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Januaris is a miniature garden designer and author of landscaping guides. He loves to write about garden flowers, ponds, lawns, and hedges.

According to arborists, trimming improves the health of hedges. It stimulates the growth of new branches and reduces pest infestations.

Since it promotes the growth of more branches, it can make hedges bushier and stronger. When it is done together with shaping, it can improve the attractiveness of the shrubs or trees.

Trimming a Hedge
Trimming a Hedge | Source

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 while others use wrong equipment.

In this article, I'm going to discuss how to trim and shape a hedge, also known as a living or green fence. Read on to know the right time to carry out the process and the best equipment to use.

How to Trim and Shape a Hedge, In Brief

  • Decide on when to trim your hedge.
  • Decide on how much to trim.
  • Get 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.

1. Decide on 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. 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 on How Much to Trim

First, uncontrolled trimming can cause a serious damage to a hedge, so it is advisable to trim your plants carefully and as minimal as possible. You should consider cutting only the overgrow branches or stems and shaping 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.

The strings and stakes are for the marking purpose. 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 of 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 3 inches and above in diameter, it is recommended to use electric pruners or trimming saws which 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 on 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 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).

Some Hedge Trimming Equipment
Some Hedge Trimming Equipment | Source

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.

Some Hedge Trimming Safety Gear
Some Hedge Trimming Safety Gear | Source

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 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, 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 easy time in the whole trimming process. It will also allow you to maintain a healthy 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 to transmit 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. To avoid any damage when carrying the process, 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 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.

An Example of a Well-Trimmed and Shaped Hedge
An Example of a Well-Trimmed and Shaped Hedge | Source


As you can see, trimming and shaping a hedge correctly 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 trim your green fence.


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    © 2015 Januaris Saint Fores


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