Hedges provide our gardens with a soft natural boundary that helps provide privacy and greenery in the garden. Did you know that garden hedges also offer a sanctuary for wildlife, slow down rainfall, buffer wind and lastly can help soak up pollution? They really are incredible. Given all the benefits they bring its important to know how to clip and look after them. This beginners' guide on how to trim a hedge correctly and with minimal fuss will ensure a beautiful garden hedge all year round.

Whether you have just planted a hedge or inherited one in your garden this guide will show you how to trim a hedge in the most efficient way. Ignore those fears that trimming a hedge is a full weekend of drama. It really doesn’t have to be with the correct technique and tools. With hedges, you’re either going to be clipping an evergreen variety (Box, Privet or Cherry Laurel usually) that keeps its colour all year round or a deciduous hedge that loses its leaves in the winter (a good example being horny Hawthorn or Beech).

This guide will provide you with all the tips, tricks and hacks to keep your garden hedges looking fantastic all year. Let me show you how to trim a hedge the proper way!

Here’s my Ultimate Vlog Guide on How to trim a hedge

Tools for trimming a hedge

The first thing to address is that you have the correct tools to trim and clip your hedge. Even before you establish whether your hedge is formal or informal, evergreen or deciduous, large or small; the correct tools for the job are essential.

Electric Hedge Trimmers / Cutters

For most hedges, an electric trimmer is going to be preferable if you’re poor on time or technique. You have a variety of options when it comes to powered hedge clipper whether it be petrol powered or electric. For most residential gardeners an electric set of trimmers are the best option. Leave the diesel fumes and industrial hedge trimmers to the professionals who cut hedges day in day out.

Ryobi hedge clippers on a wall
Battery-powered cordless hedge trimmers are my prefered tool for beginners, easy to use and move with

I always opt for a cordless set of hedge trimmers, like my Ryobi set, as you don’t have to worry about cutting through the chord or getting tangled. You can focus your efforts on trimming your hedges effectively instead. Dependant on the size of your hedge I have multiple batteries charged so I can swap them out and carry on cutting. Waiting 80 mins between charges can turn a couple of hours hedge clipping into a full day affair!

Handheld Topiary shears

I must admit there’s something really satisfying about clipping hedges with handheld quality shears. The noise, cleanness of the cut and general action really satisfies my inner gardening zen. However, these will take longer to use and I wouldn’t start off with hand shears if you’re new to hedge clipping. Its a definite skill and should be kept for either very large-leaved evergreen shrubs (as it prevents crispy dried snagged leaves which clippers can cause), topiary or experienced gardeners. That’s not to say you shouldn’t give them a go but it may be quite frustrating for a new gardener as there is a knack to them.

The benefit of handheld topiary shears is the finish. They’re razor-sharp if well maintained and give a cut like no other for a tightly clipped box or topiary. They also make a lovely swoosh noise too and can become quite relaxing to use when skilled!

How to trim a hedge

Clipping or trimming a hedge with electric or petrol powered trimmers is relatively straight forward. The first cut may be the deepest as they say but once you start you’ll be trimming with ease in no time!

Trimming a hedge with electric clippers

First make sure you’re wearing all the necessary safety equipment such as gloves, goggles and protective footwear. You’re also going to want to make sure your tools are clean, fully charged if battery-powered and in good working order.

Garden Ninja showing how to trim a hedge
Always cut from the bottom to the top

Start by working from the bottom of your hedge upwards. Using a wand-like action from bottom to top. The reason for this is you will get a better cut due to more visible control and it’s far safer than a top to bottom approach which could lead to injury if you slip.

Garden Ninja trimming a hedge in a wand action
Using a sweeping action from bottom to top

Take your time as its better to take off smaller sections of hedge than go too deep and end up snagging your way through thicker internal branches. If you need to fully renovate a hedge see my guide below.

Using hand shears to trim a hedge

It is really the same action with hand shears as it is for electric hedge trimmers although there is more skill involved with hand sheers. This is because you’re not just moving them in a wand fashion but also opening and closing the shears to allow them to cut. You’re also going to need to clean and sharpen hand shears a lot more frequently to give them the sharp edge they require. The end result is well worth it when your hedges are crisp and clean though! The cleaner cuts heal quicker and will stop hedges going brown and crispy after a trim like you sometimes see with the rougher hedge trimmer cuts.

My advice with hand sheers is to take a little and often off the hedges when trimming them until you are comfortable. Hold the sheers vertically when clipping and trimming the side of a hedge. Rotating the shears so they are horizontal will help you cut the top of a hedge.

Use the same motion with Hand Sheers to trim a hedge. I rotate them when trimming the top part.

The shape of your hedge is really important

The shape of your hedge is incredibly important to the health of your hedgerow. Whilst you may see a perfectly clipped square topiary hedge in formal gardens. However, in reality, most gardens don’t have the open space to accommodate such a clean square finish with the necessary sunlight levels for a healthy hedge of this kind. You need to camber your hedge shape so its slightly narrower at the top than at the bottom, especially on larger hedges.

How to trim a hedge camber

If you don’t give your hedge a ‘batter’ then the bottom of the hedge will end up receiving less light and then struggle. What you will end up with is lots of lush growth on the top of your hedge and a weak hedge at the bottom. It also has a secondary benefit that a square-topped hedge will potentially suffer far more from snowfall than one with a camber or batter. If snow sits and builds upon the top of your hedge the chances are the weight will crush and break off the edges branches. A batter or camber helps the snow slide off quickly before it builds up.

How to trim a hedge batter

When is the best time to cut hedges?

The best time to trim or cut your hedges depends on whether they are evergreen or deciduous, the speed at which they grow and the ‘neatness’ you want from them. I cut both my evergreen and deciduous hedges twice a year early spring and later summer. Some larger leaved evergreen I tend to only cut once in Mid August especially if they are younger hedges. If you cut twice a year then you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a nice neat hedge row in your garden.

March or August is the best time to cut your garden hedges in the UK

As a general rule of thumb you need to make sure you’re not cutting hedges when birds may be nesting in them. In the UK this can be any time between February until August. Which may sound highly inconvenient for the time-poor gardener. What I would say is that this time frame depends on whereabouts you live, frequency of birds and whether your area is hedgerow dense ie there’s more chance for birds to nest elsewhere. They usually avoid noisy residential areas if there’s quieter hedgerow nearby.

Cut hedges before or after birds have nested usually March and then August in the UK

I always pull back parts of the hedge before I clip – usually in early March and then in August – to check for nests. I also know roughly every year where fo example the blackbird’s nest and other species so I time my trimmings around that. If I find one that’s being used I then leave that section of hedge.

You really don’t want to be clipping in April or May when birds are likely to be nesting there. Sometimes you may have no choice, especially if removing a hedge for landscaping, but its best to check and try and be as considerate for our flying friends as possible. Bird boxes and other nesting options can help birds choose other locations.

Cleaning up Hedge Trimmings

There’s a lot of advice online and in textbooks that using a tarpaulin is necessary to catch the hedge clippings. Now, this is subjective but in all my experience I never use a tarp. I opt for a brush and dustpan or use a lawnmower to collect my trimmings. The only situation where a tarpaulin would be useful is if you ar clipping a formal parterre or knot garden into gravel. In this case, a matt or tarp can be a real time-saver when it comes to collecting your trimmings. Otherwise, I find a tarp more fuss than its worth to be honest!

Garden Ninja in a topiary maze looking at Plant specimens
This style of hedging will require hours of maintenance and clean up!

Composting hedge clippings

With the exception of Hawthorn and Pyrcanthus hedges which have vicious sharp thorns, nearly all other hedgerow material can be composted. I don’t compost the thorny stuff as I quite like not having my hands spiked when I’m moving compost.

If you’re composting evergreen leaves or larger hedge leaves then I’d recommend mowing over them on the lawn to help cut them up further. Then simply add them to your compost bin where they will break down considerably faster.

Another point to note is the mix of brown (carbon) material to green (nitrogen) material in your compost bin. Hedge clippings are surprisingly high in brown carbon materials so I always add some grass clippings as well to even out the balance and speed up breakdown.

Renovating an old out of shape hedge

Now you may have moved house and found yourself with a very old or out of control hedge. The immediate thought maybe let’s get rid of it and start again. However, you can relatively easily renovate an old hedge if you have some patience. It is also a lot cheaper and much less effort than removing hedging and starting again.

It may sound brutal but you need to cut the hedge down to around 2ft to kick start new growth both at the base and the new ‘top’ of the hedge. This is by far the best way to revive an old hedge. Using a chainsaw cut through the existing hedge in sections until you’re at the 2t mark. Then it is simply a case of waiting to see the new growth emerging and then trimming twice a year as if its a new hedge altogether. Trust me when I say I’ve done this on some really awful hedges and they have all come back with a bit of patience and TLC.

A garden hedge being renovated by Garden Ninja
You can see the new growth after just 3 weeks here om this renovated Privet and Hawthorn hedge

Looking after your tools

It goes without saying that looking after your tools and keeping them sharp is essential. It’s really a false time saving to just put your tools back once you’re done. If I can give you one top tip it is to oil them both before and after you use them at the very least. Oiling your garden tools will prevent rust, keep them lubricated and keep them in good working order. I use Japanese Camelia oil (you hardly need any).

Hand shears will need sharpening after each use to keep them razor sharp. Electric trimmers don’t need as much sharpening but a good clean and oil will help keep them functioning for many years!

Hedge trimming really doesn’t need to be a huge effort if you keep on top of your trimming and plan in advance. With the right tools and approach, hedge cutting can be a breeze, especially if there are cold beers and BBQ at the end of it. So why not turn it into a fun event and be the envy of your neighbours with your gorgeously fuss-free hedging!

Why not check out the other guides and vlogs on my Youtube channel? You can also check out my TweetFacebook or Instagram for more garden guides and tips.

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