If you are in the market for a hedge trimmer, then the first part of this blog will help you ask the basic questions about what you need, and what features to look for. From the right bar length for your needs, to the safety features to look for, there are a several things to think about. Once you have done that, the next big question is how your trimmer is going to be powered. So this week we are going to look at the options, and why you might choose one over the other.
Trimmer power – the basics
There are three ways to power hedge trimmers – by hand, by gasoline, or by electricity. We will save some comments on hand trimming for the end, so let’s look at gasoline first.
Gas-powered Hedge Trimmers
Gas trimmers give you complete flexibility. You can use them anywhere, without being tied to a cord, and they just need a quick re-fueling to go as long as you need. But they are usually heavier, and noisier, so they are more the choice for someone with larger hedges, thicker wood to cut, and for someone with more experience with garden machinery. If this is your first trimmer, then gas might not be the right choice.
As many people will know, small gasoline engines come as 2-stroke or 4-stroke. Traditionally, trimmers operate from a 2-stroke engine, which runs on a mixture of oil and gas. 2-stroke engines are lighter in weight, with fewer parts, and they can be operated easily in any position. 4-stroke were always for larger machines, such as mowers, but in recent years some of the top-branded hedge trimmers are coming with new, flexible 4-stroke engines, that work in any position, and are relatively light. These are mostly for commercial gardeners, but if you have some large hedges you might want to consider one. You need to be strong, and willing to pay several hundred dollars, but the result is a tough machine that can handle just about anything.
For the rest of us, and normal garden use, a 2-stroke engine is a better bet, and a quality machine will be in the $200 to $400 range.
Electric-powered Hedge Trimmers
It used to be that electric meant a long power cord, but today there are cordless electric trimmers. Let’s think about those that use a cord first.
If you have smaller hedges, closer to the house, and you don’t have a lot to trim, then a machine with a cord is probably your easiest choice. These machines are light-weight, since you aren’t carrying fuel around, and they are priced at the lower end of the market, so you won’t break the bank. Unless you already have an outdoor extension cord, you need to add the cost of that to the cost of the trimmer, so the price is more than it looks at first. As a rule, a cord is probably not a practical option if the furthest point you need to go is more than 100 feet away. Within that range you should be fine. Remember that outdoor cords are usually 100 ft long, and it is unsafe to join two together – moisture can enter the connection, and it might drop into a puddle. Also, long cords don’t always trip the safety switch, with potentially fatal results. So stay within that 100 feet range. Take a ball of string and measure it out as if you were working, from the closest power-point. Don’t just run a straight line with a tape. If you don’t have outdoor power-points you will have to run it from indoors, or perhaps from the garage, which will add distance too.
The second issue with corded trimmers is handling them when working. There is a danger of trapping the cord in the blade while cutting, so you always need to be aware of where the cord is while you are working.
Cordless Electric Hedge Trimmers
The development of improved re-chargeable batteries has made cordless trimmer the latest thing, although few approach the power of a gas trimmer. You can reckon on a high-end gas trimmer cutting branches an inch thick, a similar corded trimmer will cut ¾ of an inch, but the best cordless will probably only be able to handle ½ an inch. If you trim regularly that should be more than enough.
There are several advantages to using a cordless trimmer. They are lighter than a gas machine, although heavier than a machine with a cord. They are the quietest of all, which can be a big consideration for your family and neighbors. They don’t surround you with fumes, and they don’t pollute the environment with exhaust gases and carbon dioxide. You don’t have to go out for fuel, or carry it around with you, although you might want to have a second battery pack. Which is the main limitation to these machines – run time. Smaller machines may not run for enough time to finish the job, so consider how long it takes you to cut, and try to buy something that will last.
The other thing to check for is the charging time. There have been a lot of innovations in this area, and charge times of just 30 minutes are increasingly common. So on a big job, you can recharge in the time it takes you to have a coffee break, or over lunch. This means that in practice you can go forever on just one battery.
Batteries can become heavy, and to get the longest run-times without carrying a heavy trimmer, back-packs are available. Wearing the battery makes it a lot lighter, and once you enter this bracket of machine, you can consider a system with one power-pack and multiple appliances – blower, hedge-trimmer, string-trimmer and more. You get high quality with a lower overall investment.
Some people consider hand-trimming something for grandad only, but others recognize that for the best finish, nothing beats it. If you have small sections of hedges, or specimen plants you like to keep trimmed, you will be amazed at the difference in the quality of the look from hand trimming. If you want to make complex shapes, then hand trimming is pretty much essential.
Find a good pair of shears. The best are usually sold as ‘topiary shears’, and have shorter, slim blades. Learn how to sharpen them properly, and keep your shears sharp, and properly lubricated. This is the quietest option of all, and there is something satisfying and calming about hand trimming. If you have never tried it, give it a good – it’s the Zen of hedge trimming.