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How to Trim Hedges and Shrubs

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How to Trim Hedges and Shrubs

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When it comes to hedge and shrub maintenance, you can look at regular care —such as pruning shrubs, trimming shrubs, trimming bushes, and trimming hedges— as a chore or you can look at it as a creative outlet.

Many new gardeners don’t feel they are up to the task of trimming hedges and put it off. Rather than put off hedge and shrub maintenance, it’s much better if you start pruning shrubs right away when they are young and then continue to do minor annual pruning each year. If you allow them to become overgrown, they’ll end up needing major renewal pruning. Pruning shrubs regularly also helps promote healthier shrubs that produce more blooms.

Hedging Your Bets: How to Trim Hedges + Shrubs

What You'll Need for Pruning Shrubs + Hedge Trimming

When it comes to how to prune a shrub, good pruning tools are a must-have. The three pruning tools that will get you through most pruning jobs are hand-held pruners, pruning loppers, and a small curved saw.


Pruning shears are available in two basic designs: bypass pruning shears and anvil pruning shears. Bypass pruning shears tend to damage stems less than anvil pruning shears and fit into tighter spaces. Anvil shears are more powerful. Loppers can cut branches up to 2 inches thick. A small pruning saw can be used for branches larger than that. Pruning tools are easiest to use and make the healthiest cuts when they are sharp and clean.

For hedge trimming, you can use manual hedge shears or a power hedge trimmer. It is much easier to get an even cut with a power model because the blade is longer (20 to 24 inches for power trimmers versus 8 to 12 inches for hand shears).


Ready to learn how to how prune bushes and shrubs? Start by removing any dead, diseased, or damaged branches, then stand back and take a look. Decide which branches you should remove to improve the overall shape or size of the shrub. In some cases you will be cutting branches back to a certain point, and in some cases you will be removing entire branches at the base of the shrub.

pruning bush

Prune branches back to outward facing buds or to a point where they meet another branch. Avoid leaving stubs of branches, which usually just die back and leave dead sticks on your plant. If your shrub is bushier than you’d like, or if you just want to encourage new growth, remove a few of the oldest branches at ground level. Remember that once a shrub leafs out, it will appear much larger and shrubbier than when the branches are bare.

For the most part, shrubs that bloom on old wood (last season’s growth) should be pruned right after they flower. Those that bloom on new growth (current season’s growth) should be pruned in winter or early spring before growth starts. Pruning cuts made in spring heal quickly and form a callus, preventing moisture loss and dieback. The best times for pruning individual shrub species can be found online or by asking at your local nursery.


First things first:

When shrubs are planted close enough together so that they form a linear row, they are collectively called a hedge.


When the plants are sheared regularly so they have the appearance of almost all one shrub, it is a formal hedge. Formal hedges work best when the shrub used has a naturally dense growth habit and small leaves. Formal hedges usually require trimming several times a year to keep them looking neat.

When shrubs are left more or less in their natural state, they form an informal hedge. They require much less maintenance than formal hedges. How and when they are pruned depends on the species used and when they flower. They are usually pruned once right after flowering and then only again if they require some touching up.


When it comes to trimming hedges, especially formal hedges, your 20V MAX* Lithium Hedge Trimmer is the perfect tool. When trimming formal hedges into geometric shapes, it helps to use guidelines, so other hedge tools you will need are stakes and string. Unless you have a great eye, it is difficult to trim perfectly straight lines.


Now that you have the right hedge trimming tools, it’s important that you make sure the interior of the formal shrub receives some light. Begin by using hand shears to clear out dead wood and thin the top of the shrub. You should remove about one- fourth of old growth branches every year by cutting them off at the ground.

Next, it is important to trim hedges so that the bottom of the hedge is wider than the top. For example, a five-foot tall hedge that is two and a half feet wide at the bottom should be one foot wide at the top. If the top branches overhang the lower branches, the lower branches will be shaded and eventually die out. Use the stakes and string to mark the height and width you want for the final look. Don’t remove more than a year’s growth at a time unless you are rehabbing an old hedge. Wear gloves and eye protection and begin cutting along your guidelines. Make sure you are holding the hedge trimmer perfectly horizontal for flat cuts.


You’ve probably seen a spiral topiary at your local nursery or home improvement store. These corkscrew-shaped hedges are fun to look at it and even more fun to create.


Source: Shutterstock

If you’re feeling creative, creating a spiral topiary is a great a way to show off your hedge trimming skills and create a unique, appealing shrub. When it comes to how to make a topiary, choose a shrub such as juniper, privet, or boxwood.

Begin with a nice, conically shaped specimen. Start by attaching an inch- wide ribbon or masking tape to the top of the shrub. Wrap the tape around the shrub in a spiral, dividing the plant into gradually larger sections. Stand back and observe from all sides, adjusting the spiral if necessary. Starting at the top, cut back the branches below the ribbon. Trim branches all the way to the trunk. Next, remove the ribbon or tape and trim to perfect the shape.

Congratulations! You’ve made a spiral topiary.

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