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How to trim a garden hedge

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Difficulty: Low

This task is fairly straightforward regardless of your gardening experience. Before you get started on any of our 'how to' guides, please take a moment to read through our DIY safety tips.

A neat and tidy hedge will make the perfect addition to any garden, but it does need care and attention to achieve that smart look. Depending on the type of hedge you’re cutting, you can either trim it by hand or use a powered hedge trimmer to save you time and energy. If you’ve never trimmed a hedge before and are unsure how to do it, our simple guide will provide all the help you need.

Types of garden hedge

Before you start you’ll need to look at what sort of hedge you’re going to be trimming. There are 2 types:

  • Informal hedge: Large-leaved plants that are allowed to grow out more naturally than a formal hedge would be. Types of informal hedges include Forsythia, Darwin’s Barberry and Monteray Cypress.
  • Formal hedge: A hedge that is trimmed regularly, often in a square or wedge shape. Formal hedges are usually Privets, Conifers, Buxus or Taxus.
How to trim a buxus hedge

Step 1. Pick the right tool for the job

Manual shears

Manually operated hedge shears are great for smaller hedges and general trimming. There are 2 types available – one with fixed length handles, and another with adjustable handles that extend to help you reach higher areas of the hedge.

Powered hedge trimmers

You can choose from 3 different types of powered hedge trimmers – rechargeable, electric (mains powered), and petrol driven. For most garden trimming work you’ll find that rechargeable or electric powered models are the perfect choice. You only really need a petrol driven trimmer if you’ve got a large garden, very dense hedges, or would have difficulty reaching a power outlet.

If you’re using a powered hedge trimmer you’ll want to follow a few simple rules to stay safe:

  • Don’t use electrical hedge trimmers in damp conditions.
  • If you’re using a mains powered trimmer, make sure you use a residual current device (RCD) that will cut off the electricity if you accidentally cut the cable.
  • Avoid using powered hedge trimmers above shoulder height.
  • If you’re using a ladder, make sure it is placed on even ground.
  • Make sure you hold your hedge trimmer securely with both hands at all times.

Step 2. Work out the size of the hedge

The size of the hedge you’re trimming will determine which tool is best for the job:

Small hedges

These are best trimmed using manual hedge trimmers to give you that extra bit of precision.

Medium hedges

For hedges measuring from around your waist up to chest height use either electric, rechargeable or petrol-powered trimmers.

Tall hedges

Like medium hedges, use either an electric, rechargeable or petrol-powered trimmers for easy to reach areas. For areas above shoulder height, make sure you use either an electrical or petrol-driven pole trimmer with an angled cutting bar that allows you to trim carefully and precisely without having to use a ladder.

Step 3. Trim the garden hedge

Informal hedges

Trim back to remove old stems and branches to help them keep their shape and stop them from growing too tall or wide.

Formal hedges

Start cutting the hedge on the vertical sides first. If you’re using a powered hedge trimmer use a sweeping up and down motion, and move forward along the length of the hedge as your go. Trim the top last, making sure you angle the blades of your trimmer slightly as you move it horizontally across the hedge.

You can generally trim your formal hedge to a level plane by eye, but if you’re at all uncertain just put 2 stakes into the ground at either end of the hedge and run a piece of string between them at the height you want to cut to – this will act as a quick and easy guide to help you work.

To keep your formal evergreens looking trimmed and neat, you’ll want to cut them back around 2-3 times each year during their growing season (May-September).

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