Hedge trimming season is well underway across the country, and after the rush of spring growth, if you haven’t trimmed your hedges yet, or if you did it a while back, now is the perfect time to do it. There is no doubt that the best way to have good hedges is to trim regularly, and the more you cut, the denser your hedges become. Everyone loves the look of freshly-trimmed hedges, so here are some tips on how to achieve that perfect look and keep your hedges healthy too.
- Keep your trimmers sharp – sharp tools give a clean trim
- Choose the right tools for the job – your trimmers should match the scale of the job
- Trim regularly – little and often to develop a strong branching structure
- Cut in all directions – branches should be horizontal, not run upwards for several feet
- Slope the sides inwards – the bottom needs light to stay green and thick
- Start trimming early – trimming a new hedge right from the start is the way to go
- Never cut below the foliage – many evergreens can’t sprout from bare wood
- Have a fertilizer program – hedges need regular feeding to keep growing strongly
- Water before trimming – don’t trim a hedge during a drought without watering first
- Stay safe – your personal safety with tools and ladders is always your top priority
Keep your trimmers sharp
That look of a smooth, green hedge is the result of clean cuts to the foliage. Ragged cuts turn brown, so your whole hedge looks brown and dull. Blunt trimmers – hand or power – are the most common cause of poor results, and they also slow you down, meaning multiple passes are needed, where a sharp trimmer would cut in one go. Although it’s possible to sharpen them yourself, most of us choose to have a professional do it. Have your trimmers sharpened before the first cut of the season, and if you have a lot of trimming, or do it frequently, you might need a second sharpen in the middle of the season.
Choose the right tools for the job
Trimmers come in many sizes, and the most common error is using a short bar for a large hedge. A long bar not only speeds up trimming, it makes it so much easier to achieve a flat surface. As well, decide what power-source to us. There is a big move today towards cordless electric, and with the new, lighter, quick-charging batteries, it makes a lot of sense. Freed from the hanging cord, and not surrounded by gasoline fumes, trimming becomes a much more pleasant experience. The result? You are more likely to trim more frequently, with improved results.
The more often you trim, the denser and more durable your hedge will be. This is especially important with a young hedge – more on this later – but even for a mature hedge trimming twice a year, rather than the more common annual trim, makes an enormous difference. Three trims per year will really give you that top-quality look, if you can find the time.
Cut in all directions
The biggest mistake of a beginner when trimming their hedges is to run the trimmer in just one direction – usually upwards. This seems to be ‘natural’, but it causes long-term problems. You end up with a hedge that consists of long, upright branches, with foliage on the outside only. These easily break under snow or in strong winds, leaving big gaps that are hard to fill. A much better technique is to trim in all directions from day one. Upwards, downwards, and sideways too. By doing this you build a hedge with many more-or-less horizontal branches, with dense, twiggy ends that make the face of the hedge. They can’t be dislodged from the hedge, so it is so much stronger, and if one dies, it only leaves a small hole, that rapidly fills in from the surrounding branches.
Slope the sides inwards
To keep the lower part of your hedge healthy and green, it needs light, and it needs reduced competition from higher up. So your hedge should always be wider at the bottom than the top. Light reaches right down, and the bottom gets its share of food and nutrients. If you let the top grow fat the bottom will soon die, leaving you with a hedge that is full of gaps just where you see it most.
Start trimming early
A lot of people wait until their new hedge plants reach the final size they have in mind – 8 feet tall for example, and only then begin to trim. If you do this you will always have a thin hedge, because there will be too few branches available to make that solid face. So begin early – as soon as you start to see new growth after planting – and trim an inch or two from the top and upper sides regularly. Don’t be afraid this will slow down growth significantly. It won’t, and your hedge will be so much better for it.
Never cut below the foliage
Another good reason to trim regularly is because hard cutting of most conifer evergreens doesn’t work. If you trim a branch below the point where it has green foliage, it won’t re-sprout at all and that branch will never grow again. Some plants are an exception to this, particularly yew trees, which will come back happily even from thick branches. But for cedar and cypress you can only remove a certain amount of growth – that why it can be better to replace a badly overgrown hedge, rather than attempt to salvage it.
Have a fertilizer program
Regular trimming removes green foliage, so to produce more your hedge plants have to grow more leaves. To do this quickly, and remain vigorous year after year, it pays to have a regular fertilizer program that you follow pretty closely. Use a method that suits your hedge – liquid feed when young, granular when older. Slow-release forms cost more but they save a lot of time, since most only need to be applied once a year. Choose a quality blend that is designed specifically for evergreen hedges, as it has the right balance of nutrients.
Water before trimming
Trimming during drought periods can be risky, as the sudden exposure of all those cut edges can cause desiccation and die-back. But sometimes we just have to do a job when we have the time to do it, and a long delay may leave hedges ragged and untidy. So if you have to trim when the ground is very dry, soak your hedge a couple of days before hand, so that the foliage is full of water. It will trim better too.
After all that, you want to come down from that ladder in one piece. So wear gloves to protect your hands, a hard-hat if you are up a ladder to any significant height. Make sure you have trimmers that have up-to-date safety features that protect you from injury, and if the weather is hot, make sure you stay hydrated.