How to buy the best hedge trimmer
By Adele Dyer
Cutting box topiary or tackling overgrown leylandii hedges? Need a standard or long-reach hedge trimmer? This expert guide will help you pick the best trimmer for you.
If you've ever had to cut a hedge with manual shears, you'll know just what a blessing a good hedge trimmer can be. Not only can they save you time and prevent aching arms, you'll find it far easier to get a clean, neat, sharp finish to your hedge.
The right hedge trimmer for you will depend largely on the kind of hedges you have in your garden and how many you have. Start by asking yourself these questions:
- Where are your hedges? Could you stretch an extension cable from the mains to reach them or do you need a petrol or cordless model?
- How many metres of hedge do you have? Can you cut them all within an hour or will it take you longer?
- What kind of hedges do you have? Formal, straight-sided dividing hedges or more informal, flowering hedges?
- How tall are your hedges? Do you need to cut above head height?
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How much do I need to spend?
Corded electric models are the cheapest to buy and you can get one from around £50. Most of our Best Buys, however, cost more than £100, and our top-scoring hedge trimmer is £150.
There are a few budget cordless hedge trimmers that cost around £50, but the ones we've tested for this price haven't scored well. More powerful models can cost as much as £250 for a cordless hedge trimmer with a high-voltage lithium-ion battery. You also need to think about the expense of replacement batteries, which can cost as much as £100. Be aware that the cost of a cordless hedge trimmer is sometimes quoted for sale without the battery. Which? always includes the battery in the guideline price we show.
Petrol hedge trimmers cost from around £80, but expect to pay around £150 or more for a better model. Many petrol hedge trimmers are aimed at professional users and so you can pay upwards of £400 for a good model from a well-known brand.
Finally, if you need a long-reach hedge trimmer, you can pick one up from around £70 for a corded electric model or £100 for a cordless version. Extending petrol hedge trimmers start at around £90, but if you're after a good, reliable brand, you may have to pay in excess of £200. Multi-tools, which have a hedge-trimmer head that can be swapped for a strimmer or pruner, cost from £150 to around £400.
What type of hedge trimmer do I need to choose?
Electric hedge trimmer
Electric hedge trimmers are usually lightweight, can be quite powerful and are useful in most gardens where you can reach all your hedges with the attached cable and possibly an extension cord.
As you will need to plug it into the mains, think about how far your hedges are from the house and whether you will need a long extension lead. Accidentally cutting the cord is possible, so work with the cable over your shoulder and out of the way of the blade. Always use a residual current device (RCD) to protect yourself from electric shock if you cut the cord.
Pros: Cheaper than cordless or petrol, and often lighter.
Cons: Need access to mains power. Easy to accidentally cut the power cable.
Cordless hedge trimmer
Cordless hedge trimmers give you the freedom to cut hedges further away from the house, and there is no cable to accidentally cut through. Cordless hedge trimmers with higher-powered 36V batteries are starting to rival petrol hedge trimmers. Batteries typically last around 20 minutes, but some will keep going for up to an hour. The best batteries recharge in about 60 minutes. If you have a larger hedge, think about buying a second battery to finish the job.
Our reliability surveys show that many cordless hedge trimmer owners find the batteries to be unreliable, either they don't hold the charge well or don't charge at all. You might want to consider the price of replacing the battery when you work out how much the hedge trimmer will cost to use over its lifetime.
Pros: Can be taken anywhere. Easy to use.
Cons: Can be expensive. May need a second battery to finish long jobs. Batteries may be unreliable.
Petrol hedge trimmers
Petrol hedge trimmers are great for cutting large hedges, especially those with thicker branches, that are away from a main power source.
Unlike electric hedge trimmers, you don't have to worry about the extension cord reaching or the battery running down. Instead, you just need a can of petrol, with the two-stroke oil mixed in, sitting ready to refuel and carry on.
Pros: Better, faster cutting for large areas. Can trim anywhere.
Cons: Weight, noise and vibration are all inescapable problems. Can be hard to start the engine.
Long-reach, extendable hedge trimmers
If you have tall hedges, the safest and quickest way to cut them is from the ground. Long-reach hedge trimmers have a long shaft that can be adjusted in length, and the cutting blade sits at the end of this. The blade can be tilted to cut the top of the hedge or the side.
Long-reach hedge trimmers can be found as corded electric, cordless or petrol models. Petrol long-reach hedge trimmers can often be sold as or converted to a multi-tool, and the hedge trimmer head can be swapped for a strimmer head or a pruner. This means you can effectively have several tools without having to buy more than one motor.
Pros: Perfect for cutting tall hedges safely.
Cons: Often underpowered and can be unwieldy to use.
What sort of hedges do you want to cut?
If you have a small hedge and don’t mind a little exercise, a pair of hand shears might be all you need.
If you only have a limited amount of hedge to cut fairly close to the house, a mains electric hedge trimmer with a cutting blade up to 45cm long is the best option. Our Best Buys are quick, leave a neat finish and are easy to use. If you hate the hassle of dealing with the power cable, consider a cordless hedge trimmer.
Lots of hedges
If you have lots of hedges to cut, look for a hedge trimmer with a longer cutting blade. We have Best Buy hedge trimmers with a blade length of up to 70cm or more, which will cut significantly more in a single sweep than one with a 45cm-long blade. If your hedges are too far from the nearest power source, a petrol hedge trimmer is a sensible option. But also consider a cordless machine – some come with a spare battery, or you could buy an extra one to extend the cutting time.
Find out which models are Best Buy corded, cordless and petrol hedge trimmers.
If you have a number of tall hedges, it might be worth considering a long-reach hedge trimmer, which will allow you to reach the top of a high hedge without a ladder. We've tested corded electric, cordless and petrol versions. Read our guide on long-reach hedge trimmers here.
What features do I need?
The longer the blade, the quicker it will cut, but it will also be heavier, more unwieldy and more tiring to use. If you have a lot of large hedges to cut, a 70cm blade will cut more hedge in a single sweep of the blade. But such a long blade will be cumbersome if you have smaller hedges, such as low box hedging around beds, so a 45cm blade will be much easier to use.
In theory, hedge trimmers can cut any branch that will fit between its teeth. Most hedge trimmers have teeth between 16mm and 22mm apart. If you need a hedge trimmer to cut larger branches, make sure you choose one that has some power behind it, such as a 600W electric motor or a petrol engine. Also remember that for occasional larger branches, loppers or secateurs will give a cleaner, neater cut.
Using hedge trimmers can be tiring as you will be constantly moving them, putting strain on your arms, shoulders and back. If you find hedge cutting hard work, you may prefer to opt for a light model. You can see the weight of all the hedge trimmers we've tested in the hedge trimmer reviews. However, if you have a lot of hedges to cut, you may prefer to opt for a slightly heavier model that will cut more quickly, such as some of our Best Buy hedge trimmers with longer blades.
To avoid unnecessary strain, look for a hedge trimmer that is rated highly for the comfort of its handles and switches and that is well balanced. You may prefer to go to a shop or dealer to try one before you buy.
If you decide to opt for a corded-electric machine, check the length of its cable. Some only have a 6m-long cable, while others give you a more generous 10m.
You’ll probably still need an extension lead to reach the farthest point in the garden and the far side of the hedge. Make sure you have a residual current device (RCD) to protect yourself from an electric shock if you cut the cord. Test the RCD regularly to make sure it's working properly.
Cordless hedge trimmers come with a wide variety of battery types and capacities. Lithium-ion batteries, the same kind you find in a mobile phone, are the most common battery type now, although some older models are sold with Ni-Cad batteries. The batteries vary from 12V right up to 56V and the higher the voltage, the more power they can push through the motor.
Batteries typically last from 20 minutes up to an hour and recharge times are, at best, around an hour and, at worst, around four hours long. If you have a lot of hedges to cut, it is worth investing in a cordless hedge trimmer with a higher voltage battery to get through the work quickly. A second battery may also be an option, but be aware - these can be very expensive. We have seen batteries that cost as much as the hedge trimmer itself.
Check whether a second battery is cheaper to buy as a bundle with the hedge trimmer, as in some instances it can be more expensive to buy just the battery later on. Occasionally, cordless hedge trimmers are sold without a battery at all, so make sure you know what you are getting.
We know that batteries often fail and this is both expensive and frustrating. Try to store your battery around half-full, and at room temperature, rather than in a cold, damp shed.