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Five tips on how to cut the perfect hedge

Make your hedge the envy of the neighbourhood

Cutting the top of a hedge with a Ryobi hedge trimmer

Cutting the top of your hedge can be easy with the right hedge trimmer. 

Cutting a hedge can seem like a daunting task, but with our top tips you will save time and effort, and end up with hedges that are the envy of the neighbourhood. 

Whether your hedges are tall or short, conifer or evergreen, formal or informal, there are some basic principles that apply to all hedge trimming. 

Which? Gardening expert Adele Dyer says: ‘Trim your hedge at least once a year, if not more often to keep it dense. This not only looks great, but is much better for wildlife too, so remember to look out for any nesting birds. Disturbing a nest is illegal, so watch the hedge to see if birds are going regularly in and out and take a quick peak to see if you can see any nests.’

Don’t miss our reviews of cordless electric, cordless and petrol hedge trimmers

1. When to cut your hedge 

Hedges are mostly cut in summer and some are happy with a single annual cut, while others need to be cut more often. Conifer hedges are cut in summer, with all trimming to be finished by August. Evergreen hedges such as box and cherry laurel are mostly cut two or three times, starting in late spring and ending in autumn. Holly is best cut just once in late summer. Deciduous hedges such as hornbeam and beech are cut once in late summer, but hawthorn may need to be pruned twice, once in summer and once in autumn. Privet is best cut three or even four times from spring to autumn to keep it dense. Some people will cut it every six weeks to keep it in top shape. 

Occasionally hedges need to be reduced in height and width. You can be brave and cut back fast growing, well established hedges very hard and then regularly trim regrowth for a thick hedge. However, don’t be tempted to cut back beyond the green growth of all conifer hedges, except yew, as they will not grow back. See our guide on . 

2. Cut straight hedge tops

You will need to set up a string line between stout poles to make sure the sides and top of your hedge are straight, especially when you are cutting a long hedge. Our guide to when and how to trim a hedge has more details. 

Cut the top first, setting the line about a centimetre below the final cut, so you don’t cut the string as well as the hedge. Then move the string up above the top of the hedge and move it slightly towards the middle of the hedge to mark where you want to cut the side of the hedge. 

Remember that leaves need light, so cut your hedge to be slightly wider at the bottom than at the top to ensure it will grow evenly.

3. How to cut a hedge

Even with a string line you will cut more accurately with your leading hand and eye. So if you are right handed you will want to cut with your right hand on the front handle and line up with your right eye, so you will cut from left to right along the hedge. Left handers should reverse this. 

Start your cut at the bottom of the hedge and sweep upwards. For hedges that are very overgrown, angle your hedge trimmers at 45o to the hedge to take off most of the excess growth. You will then be able to see where to make the final cut. Flatten the blade against the hedge for a neat finish. 

4. Keep safe when cutting hedges

Wait for a dry day to cut your hedges, and don’t be tempted to cut when the ground is slippery. 

To cut a very tall hedge, use a or cut from a platform. There are also some ladders, such as those by Henchman, which have a platform. If a ladder is the only alternative, use stabilisers on the bottom of the ladder and make sure someone is with you. 

5. Care for your hedge

Fungal diseases can take hold in the wet, airless conditions, so brush any excess clipping off the sides and top of your hedge. Collect clippings from the base of the hedge too. Spreading a plastic sheet under the hedge before you cut will make this job easier. 

Remember that your hedge needs water and feed just as much as your other plants. To keep your hedge growing well, sprinkle a little Best Buy fertiliser along the hedge in spring and then cover with a mulch of garden compost. This will keep the weeds down, help to retain moisture and improve the soil structure. 

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