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30 Apr 2021

Top tips for trimming your hedge

Which? Gardening experts reveal seven things you should know before you trim your hedges
Trimming a hedge

If a spruce-up of your hedges is on the cards this bank holiday, our top tips can help you to get great results.

Whether you're a regular pruner or using your shiny new hedge trimmer for the first time, following our dos and don'ts can help your hedges look their best.

If you're after a new model to see you through summer, head to our hedge trimmer reviews to compare all the tools we've tested.

1. Cut different types at different times

If you have lots of different types of hedge you might be tempted to get them all done in one go, but there are benefits to cutting hedges at certain times.

The good news is that most hedges only need to be cut once or twice a year, so you won't be spending hours toiling in the garden.

The best times to cut your hedges are:

  1. Beech hedges -Cut in August to make sure there are no bare patches through winter. If they're over-grown you might need to cut back hard in mid-winter too.
  2. Hawthorn hedges -Cut in June after it's flowered, and again in autumn if you like a neater look.
  3. Laurel hedges -Cut in the spring if it needs reshaping, then every July/August to maintain it.
  4. Privet hedges -Prune in April, then cut between May and August. The more you do it, the denser it gets and the easier it is to maintain.

See our guide on when to cut a hedge trimmer to find out more.

2. Use bamboo canes for longer hedges

Bamboo canes make the job much easier when you're shaping a longer hedge. Push two into the soil at either end, then tie them to shorter canes at a 45-degree angle pointing away from the hedge. These will stop the upright canes from pulling inwards.

Then tie more string above the hedge to get a straight side, and another around 1cm below the height you want your hedge to be.

Trimming within the string helps to shape your hedge. Start at the bottom of each side working upwards, then cut the top last.

If your hedge is dense with fine leaves, it's best to leave the base wider than the top for a more solid look and healthier plants, with sunlight more able to reach the bottom leaves.

3. Get rid of clippings

After you're finished trimming, it's important to get rid of your clippings. They could create damp, airless conditions that breed fungal diseases in your hedge.

Spread a plastic sheet besides the bush to catch clippings as you go. Once you're done, brush or rake the loose twigs from the top of the hedge.

You can put anything left over straight in your compost bin, or put them through a garden shredder. See all the garden shredders we've tested to compare the best models.

4. Leave it longer for a wilder look

If you have larger-leaved hedges, you might prefer to let them grow out a little. Bright flowers and berries add a pop of colour to your garden and they're great for attracting bees too.

Informal hedges still need some maintenance though. It's best to cut after flowering to help the hedge keep its shape. If you're happy to let berries and hips grow freely you can get away with doing one hard cut back every few years.

5. Use a long-reach trimmer for taller hedges

Long reach hedge trimmer

If your hedges are tall, it's a good idea to invest in a special hedge-cutting platform or a special long-reach hedge trimmer.

These have telescopic handles that extend by around 20-30cm, and can be used at a right-angle so you can get a neat cut on the top of a hedge.

See all the long-reach hedge trimmers we've tested to see which models we recommend.

6. Watch out for wildlife

It's against the law to knowingly damage an active bird's nest, so you'll need to be extra careful when you trim your hedge.

Birds usually nest from March until the end of August. Keep an eye on your hedge for a few days before you intend to trim - if you see any birds coming and going, you'll need to wait until the Autumn, when the chicks have flown.

Check out our gardening for wildlife guides if you want to attract birds and other animals to your garden.

7. Wear the right protective gear

Hedge trimmers these days come with several safety features, but you should still take precautions while you're trimming.

At a minimum, you should wear safety googles or a visor to protect your eyes from any flying twigs or debris. Hedge trimmers aren't the loudest tool in the garden, but ear defenders help protect you from the constant hum. Strong gloves and work boots help keep your hands and feet safe too.