5 Tips to Stop Winter Breakage of Your Hedges

Every time there is a big winter storm, we see damage to hedges. This can be minor, and corrects itself within a season, or major, requiring the complete replacement of the hedge. This is heartbreaking for gardeners, since we are all proud of our beautiful hedges, and hate to see our work damaged or destroyed in a few hours by the forces of nature. Often you will see one hedge wiped out, and just nearby another standing perfectly. So what was the difference between them? Why mine and not yours? There are things that can be done to protect your hedge from damage, and none of them are difficult. Many are things that will keep your hedge healthy in other ways too. Let’s look at some things you can do to make sure that come spring, your hedge will still be looking as good as it did in fall.

Start Trimming When Your Hedge is Young

Many people make the mistake of waiting until their hedges reach full size before starting to trim. It’s understandable. They think it will grow quickly untrimmed, and they will get a finished hedge sooner. Sadly, this is a big mistake. An untrimmed hedge will have a small number of large branches, and once you start trimming it is too late to build a strong structure. If a branch is broken in a storm, or by the weight of snow, it represents a large part of the hedge, and so you will have an enormous hole that will be difficult to fill.

The best approach is to trim a little from your hedge regularly as it grows. Once or twice a year at least – even more often is better, especially when young. It is a quick, simple job to just run the trimmers over a young hedge and remove an inch or two of growth. This will encourage lots of branches to form, giving you a dense, twiggy structure that is much more stormproof, and much less likely to collapse under snow, or lose branches to high winds.

Remember too that Thuja Green Giant, like most other evergreen conifer trees, will not re-sprout from a branch with no leaves on it. If you leave your trimming until the hedge is full-grown, or don’t trim regularly, you could easily find you have to trim back into leafless branches, and then your hedge is basically destroyed. Trim a little and often for the best and greenest hedge around.

Trim in All Directions

When trimming a hedge, a lot of people run the trimmers upwards. That is, they make each stroke of the blades an upward one, bending over a little and coming up. They rarely or never move the blade sideways or downwards. If you do this over all the time, the plant will respond by producing tall, upright stems, densely covered in foliage. The natural tendency of the plant to send out upwards growing stems will be exaggerated, and one stem will cover a large area of the hedge face. Because of their height and density, if the upper tip of such a branch is dislodged a little, the whole branch can easily fall outwards. In a strong wind or under the weight of snow, these branches can then snap or break. Because that one branch covers a large part of the hedge, this leaves you with a large, gaping hole in the surface of your hedge.

The solution is to trim in all directions – up, down and sideways too. This will keep all the branches short, and more-or-less horizontal. Each one will end in a tufted clump of small leafy twigs. So even if one should die it only leaves a small hole that will quickly fill in from the surrounding branches. These short branches will not catch the snow, or be blown out of the hedge by the wind – and your hedge is much less likely to be damaged in a storm.

Slope the Sides

Another common mistake of beginner hedge-trimmers is to remove the same amount all over the hedge. They will take two inches off, all over. The problem is that a plant does not grow evenly. The upper growth is always stronger and longer, so you always must take more from the top than the bottom. If you don’t, the upper part will spread outwards, giving you a fat top and a skinny bottom. The shade from the top will discourage growth lower down, making it grow even more slowly, and eventually die.

This creates several problems, the most obvious one being that you have thin growth low down, exactly where you want the densest growth to give you screening. Also, that big, fat top will blow over much more easily, break open, and collapse under the weight of snow.

Instead, plan right from the beginning to slope the sides inwards by a few degrees, so that the top is narrower than the bottom. The eye won’t notice a slight slope, but doing this has two benefits. First it will let more light onto the lower parts, and encourage more growth down there. That will keep your hedge lush and green right to the ground. Those sloping sides will tend to shed snow more easily, so it won’t lodge and stick, pulling at the branches with its weight. If you shovel you will know just how heavy snow is, and realize how easily lodged snow can tear down a hedge.

Keep Your Hedge Thin

Besides reducing the space it takes up, a thin hedge is a sturdy hedge. By sloping the sides inwards, and trimming from an early age, you will avoid the ‘big, fat hedge’ look. A broad hedge is much more likely to trap a lot of snow, and the weight of that will bring your hedge crashing down. In fierce winds a fat hedge has more density, and greater wind-resistance. So instead of just passing through, the wind will buffet the hedge, making branches break and even blowing it down completely.

Round the Top

When you come to trim the top of your hedge, a crisp, flat top, with a square corner, is often considered best. While it may have visual appeal, a much better top is rounded, particularly if you live in an area with heavy winter snow. This keeps the top narrower, which we have already seen is a good thing. It also reduces the amount of snow that sits on top, and allows that snow to fall off easily. Without that weight on top, your hedge is not going to break and fall apart.

These simple tips will give you a dense, thin, rounded hedge, with no long branches to trap snow or be blown out in a storm. Not only will your hedge look great, with green foliage right to the ground, it will be much more resistant to damage from high winds and heavy snow. While all about you are losing their hedge – you will be keeping yours!