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Shear Not! But Still Keep that Hedge in Check

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How to trim hedges simplified!

Learning how to trim hedges doesn’t have to be difficult. And usually hedges are sheared to prune them. But pruning hedges the wrong way can really mess them up. Moreover, they might end up looking really terrible after a bad pruning job. Or worse, they may partly or completely die.

Before you start cutting, look at your plant’s leaves…

How to prune a hedge begins by looking at the plant’s leaves. More specifically, it’s important to think about how your cuts will end up looking after you make them.

Does your plant have tiny little leaves or big leaves?

If your plant has small leaves, shearing might work out okay. Of course, timing your cuts so that you don’t trim right before a freeze is important. That’s because a freeze right after trimming may harm your plant.

However, if your plant has big, broad leaves, shearing isn’t a good way to go. That’s because when you shear, the leaves get sliced and torn. And big leaves show these raggedy remainders in a poor way.

Better ways to prune a hedge with large leaves…

Plants like Viburnums, rhododendrons, some hollies, and many laurels have large leaves. And while shearing might be okay in some situations, often it leads to a very ugly plant.

So with plants like these it is better to carefully using fine pruning cuts to trim hedge plants individually. To help illustrate this, see the two images below.

The first shows an overgrown David viburnum hedge encroaching on a walkway. The second shows the hedge pruned back. And it reveals just how much sidewalk was covered by the plant before trimming. So there’s some sweeping yet to be done!

How to prune hedge with broad leaves

Hedge Encroaching on Sidewalk Needs a Trim


Fine pruned hedge example

Hand-Pruned Hedge Finished (Somebody needs to sweep though)

Simple steps to beautiful hedges that don’t require a lot of pruning…

The first step in caring for your hedges is to choose the right plant for your space. But rather than get into hedge plant choices, let’s assume you’re looking for solutions on how to prune hedges in an existing planting space.

Here’s how we accomplished the steps involved in pruning this evergreen Viburnum hedge:

  • Timing: Prune the viburnum as it is blooming or right after. You may lose out on some of the pretty blue berries, but only where you cut. We pruned ours in late May. Do not do your pruning as plants just begin to go dormant in early autumn.
  • Tools for pruning hedges like this: Have a pair of bypass shears and folding handsaw for your plant cuts. A pair of loppers may come in handy for chopping up larger branches into the compost or yard waste container. But don’t pull out hedge shears. That’s because you’ll end up with that chopped and torn leaf look by using that kind of tool on this kind of plant.
  • How to make your pruning cuts: Remove all the dead material on the plant first. Then, work like a mechanic, removing lower, longer branches first — assuming you want your “hedge” to look taller rather than wider. Make your cuts at points where branches meet other branches. Or, if your goal is to get an otherwise bare area to fill out, make cuts just above a strong, sprouting bud; cut incorrectly, you may seriously damage your plant. And, do not remove more than 1/3 of the living material from each plant.
  • How often should you prune: How often you prune will come down to your plants’ needs. Our hedge was pruned in May 2010 and may require a small supplemental pruning by May 2012. However, when you choose to shear a plant, those cuts stimulate a lot of new growth fast. And that means you might need to shear the same plant again in late summer just to keep that plant in check.

Need more help understanding how to prune your hedge or other plants?

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