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How to trim a hedge

Date posted: 10 August 2015

Well-maintained hedges not only add an attractive feature to your garden but they can also act as a wind shield, offer extra privacy, and provide an ideal habitat for birds, insects and other welcome wildlife.

You can choose your hedging plant to offer specific characteristics depending on your main objectives, but luckily most do not demand a particularly high level of maintenance – you will simply need to trim it back from time to time to keep it in shape.

The basics

  • Hand shears will often suffice for small hedges. For larger hedges, consider buying or hiring an electric or Petrol-powered Hedge Trimmer and a Long Reach Hedge Trimmer to make lighter work of the job.
  • Try to trim your hedge conservatively in order to help nurture healthy, dense growth - if you cut it back too far it might struggle to bounce back.
  • Trim from the bottom up to help cuttings fall clear more easily, using a wide, sweeping action.
  • Most hedges are slightly wider at the bottom than at the top, enabling light to get through to the leaves at the bottom, which means you will need to cut at a slight angle to maintain this shape.
  • Straight, neat edges are not easy to maintain. To help guide you, set up a taut string tied between two posts, shifting it along as you work.
  • If you want the top of your hedge flat or arched, try creating a cardboard template in the desired shape, putting it on top of the hedge and following the lines with your hedge trimmer.

Which hedge trimmer?

Your source of power will be one of the main factors influencing your choice of hedge trimmer:

  • Mains powered: If you are working close to the house or another power source you could opt for a mains-powered (corded) hedge trimmer.
  • Battery powered: Battery-powered electric hedge trimmers are a good alternative, as they have the convenience of being cordless and are usually lightweight. Batteries in modern trimmers usually enable you to cut for more than an hour on a single charge, and you could invest in a spare battery if you want to be able to work for longer.
  • Petrol-powered: Although these are generally heavier (and noisier!) than electric equivalents, petrol-powered trimmers are ideal if you do not have a mains electric supply close by.

Other important factors to bear in mind when shopping for or hiring a hedge trimmer include:

  • The trimmer's blade length: A 45-55cm blade is sufficient for the majority of day-to-day garden tasks. Longer blades will help you to work more quickly but make the trimmer heavier and more difficult to handle.
  • How comfortable the trimmer is to hold and use: Since you need to lift and manoeuvre this equipment for extended periods, look at its weight. Can you hold the machine at arm's length while you trim your hedge? Also look at the balance and whether switches are located in a convenient position.
  • The trimmer's tooth spacing: Most hedges will require tooth spacing of 16-20mm, but you may need to use a pair of secateurs for the odd larger branch. If you are trimming particularly dense hedges consider investing in a trimmer with larger spacing of up to 30mm.

Safety considerations

  • If you use a powered hedge trimmer always wear heavy work gloves and suitable face protection.
  • If you choose to use a corded electric hedge trimmer make sure you use an RC device that will cut the power in the event of an accident.
  • Never use electrical hedge trimmers in wet weather conditions.
  • Do not lift the hedge trimmer higher than your own shoulder.


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