Cutting Back Overgrown Hedges

Having a nice-looking hedge around your home or garden is something everyone enjoys.

Studies have shown that homes with plenty of green space nearby provide a positive mental boost to those who live in the home.

I have a yew hedge at the front of my house which is still in its infancy, but I feel I have planted it for a few of the following reasons –

  • Privacy – a hedge can provide privacy for your home when you are outside working, or children are playing in the garden. This is especially true if your property runs alongside a busy road with cars and traffic.
  • Pathways- a hedge provides direction for pathways around your garden, it leads curious visitors on exciting journeys through your garden, not knowing what they will see next.
  • Beauty- a well-kept hedge can add value to your home – it says something about the owners who look after it.
  • Windbreak-  a good hedge provides a great windbreak for a garden or seating area without having the harsh look of a cement wall or panel fence.

The flip side of the beauty a hedge can add is the negative impact it can have if the hedge is overgrown and untidy – this is where my advice on how to care and maintain your hedge will hopefully come in useful.

Trimming your hedge with shears

There are many different types of shears available to buy and they are each suited to different sized jobs.

Manual shears

These are the scissor-type shears that have two handles that you open and close.

The types of jobs I would say these are best suited to would be smaller-sized hedges with less to cut, as they can be tiring to use over a long period of time.

These are slower than mechanical-powered hedge trimmers but can be more relaxing to use, as there is no motor noise and they have a gentle action.

I would say hand shears require more expertise to use over powered shears, but you could soon learn.

Also sometimes if you want to go and trim a few bushes it may be nice to walk around and give things a quick snip here and there.

Most people do have hand shears as well as a powered pair as they are not that expensive to buy.

Powered shears

Powered shears come in different forms of power. You have:

  • Gas engine-powered shears.
  • Electric shears with a power cord/lead attached.
  • Electric shears are cordless and are powered by a battery.

Gas powered shears

Out of these the gas engine-powered shears would be the most heavy-duty and be able to cut through the heaviest, thickest branches.

These gas-powered shears are mostly used for bigger jobs with a longer run time required and which can take place away from services and electric sockets.

Electric corded shears

Electric corded shears would be the cheapest to buy and usually the oldest technology- these have been around for a long time.

Many people buy these if their hedge is close to the house and it is not very big or they were bought years ago before cordless and gas were an option.

It can be frustrating and dangerous to use electric corded shears as the cord does get in the way sometimes. I would strongly advise fitting an RCB electric safety breaker to the plug in case you accidentally cut the cord- but hopefully, this will not happen!

Another thing to remember is to have an electric extension lead outside for others to trip over including yourself or if it starts raining the socket could get wet causing a safety hazard.

Cordless electric shears

Electric battery-powered shears are the newest technology and these would be the lightest and probably the safest to use- as there is no hot engine, no gasoline, oil or electric lead trailing about.

These are usually lightest to hold also – although not much more than the corded shears if any.

Their only drawback is also its upside and that is the battery. It is so good to be able to use these shears without a dangerous lead trailing about –but the battery does not last forever so you do need to be near a house to plug in your charger.

I would usually have both batteries charged before I begin. Then when one dies I would put it on the charger while I use the other.

Choosing the correct type of shears

If you are not sure which of these to get I would advise buying the battery shears or the gas shears.

If you have a small enough hedge that two batteries on a cordless one will finish the job, I would buy the battery shears.

I would buy the gas-powered shears if I know that two batteries on the cordless would not finish it, or if the hedge has thicker branches I would buy the gas-powered one.

I wouldn’t really bother with the corded one unless you have a burning desire for one!

How to cut a hedge

Before you start to trim your hedge you should keep in mind that you can always take away more but never add to a hedge – so keep the depth of cut light until you get a feel for using the trimmers.

The ideal shape of a hedge you should be aiming for is slightly sloping sides, (known as the batter of a hedge)  with the base of the hedge wider than the top.

This shaping is very important as it will allow light to penetrate downwards into the lower branches helping to prevent them from turning brown and dying.

The top of the hedge is always the last part to cut and it should be cut flat.

You should start cutting the hedge at the bottom and work your way upwards- moving your hedge trimmer in a steady sweeping movement up and down.

How to cut a hedge straight

You can cut and make your hedge look ultra cool by having it cut really straight.

This is done by hammering in two temporary posts – into the ground at either end of the hedge and tying string between them tight and straight which you can use as a guide to give your hedge a professional cut look.

This string can serve two purposes – it can be used to cut the top of your hedge flat and it can be used to cut the side of you hedge straight as you look down it.

This will look better or have more of an impact on some hedge breeds than others. If you have a very close-knit, small leaf-dense hedge – like Yew it will look more dramatic than with a large leaf hedge such as laurel.

You made need more than two posts if your hedge is quite long as the string will sag the greater the distance between the posts.

Even if you don’t want to do this every time, it would be good to cut it really straight every now and then so that you could not have to put up the string for maybe 5 or 6 cuts before your eye lets you down and the hedge starts to lose its shape.

Best time to trim hedges

The best time to trim your hedge will depend upon the type of hedge you have planted.

Deciduous hedges which shed their leaves in the winter require formative pruning in winter.

Evergreen hedges should have their formative pruning done in spring.

Formative pruning creates the specific shape you want the hedge to form and can be more aggressive – this is different to maintenance pruning which is simply tidying the hedge back to the original formative shape).

Both evergreen and deciduous should have maintenance pruning done in Autumn– September is usually good.

Cutting back overgrown hedges

When you are cutting there are a few things to keep in mind.

Hedges should never be pruned or trimmed during the nesting season. This can cause damage to birds nests, or scare birds away from the nest, abandoning their young.

Some hedges are best pruned after flowering

Hedges can be trimmed up to three times a year.

It is in your interest to find out what way your hedge species likes to be pruned so it can flourish and thrive.

Hedge species trimming advice

I have compiled a short guide for different species of hedge including how and when they should be pruned:

Beech Hedge

Beech hedges are usually maintenance pruned in September getting a little re-growth before winter when it can be formative pruned into shape.

Laurel Hedge

A laurel hedge should be maintenance pruned in Mid- August, if you are using powered shears to trim the hedge it may be worthwhile to go back over it again with hand shear to remove any half-ripped leaves which can make the hedge look ragged. It should be formative pruned hard in spring (End of April) to get it into shape and to prevent it from getting too large.

Leyland Hedges

This evergreen is a fast grower and can be cut up to three times but definitely twice a year. Formative pruning in Spring and April and maintenance pruning in September.

Yew Hedge

Yew hedges like to be trimmed in Spring and Autumn, as with all evergreens, take the bulk off in Spring and tidy it up in Autumn.