Spring Care of Hedges

Hedges are not as commonly used in modern landscapes as they were at one time. However, they are useful to enclose, to separate, to prevent cross traffic, to screen undesirable views, or to provide windbreak. Hedges lost some popularity because of the common concept that they had to be sheared as they once were to make intricate geometric patterns in formal gardens.

Even today the word ‘hedge’ still brings to mind for many people a clipped row of privet or yew. A hedge does not have to be clipped and there are many plants that may be used and allowed to develop naturally. While some pruning may be needed to maintain a controlled look, the frequent shearing is no longer considered a necessary part of a good landscape.

Spring care of hedges may range from reshaping an old hedge to the development of a new planting. If a new hedge has been planted, its success depends on how it is pruned or clipped from the start. Since hedges are often used to develop privacy screens, quick growth is usually desired. Therefore, the homeowner is reluctant to trim small plants because they are anxious to get height. The result is often height, but a fairly thin branching that opens up the hedge at the base. Do not rush the screening hedge. Good early pruning is necessary to develop thickness.

How to Trim the Hedges in your Home Landscape

If a new hedge is planted, first decide what is to be accomplished and how much space is available. Some plants require a width equal to their height. Therefore, if a hedge 6 feet tall is needed, a space at least 6 feet wide should be available. If this much space does not exist or crowds the landscape too much, choose narrower plants, or if space is very limited, a wooden screen or fence with vines on it may be a better solution for screening.

For all-year screening by plants, evergreens are the plants of choice. Yews are one of the most popular and most dependable. They will tolerate full sun or light shade. They are fairly slow to develop height if a tall hedge is needed. Upright varieties are narrower and a good choice, but they will need some pruning as young plants or they may develop more open than desired, particularly if growing conditions are shady and less than ideal. Cut off about half of vigorous young shoots at least once each season to help develop density. Upright junipers and arborvitaes are also commonly used for quick evergreen screens. They eventually grow quite tall, and may thin out at the base.

If a hedge is to be clipped formally, this process is normally not started until about the third year when the hedge has gained considerable size. When shearing hedges, the top should always be cut narrower than the base. This allows better light to reach the lower branches. If plants are trimmed vertically, or with the base narrower than the top, the low twigs will be shaded, grow poorly, or die out so the lower portion of the hedge will not provide good screening.

If there is plenty of space, hedges may be left without trimming for many years. However, if space is limited, many plants selected for rapid growth will eventually outgrow their space. After they do, some can be cut back severely in spring. Deciduous plants such as privet, Japanese flowering quince, barberry, shrub honeysuckle and winged euonymus may be treated in that way. Most hedges are maintained with better appearance by gradually taking off 10 to 12 inches of major shoots during each season. This reduces size, but allows the hedge to remain functional and never appear unnatural.

Evergreens such as pine, yew, juniper and arborvitae may be given light pruning, but will not recover well from severe pruning. Some will never recover at all. Plants of this type should never be clipped back behind existing shoots and green needles. Yew will tolerate the most severe pruning, but its recovery is slow. If evergreens are needed, but the space for them is limited, yearly pruning is essential to keep them attractive and within bounds.

Ideal for trimming hedges, shrubs and bushes, this electric hedge trimmer from Black & Decker combines the convenience of cordless operation with the long-lasting power of an 18-volt NiCad battery for efficient, reliable performance. The NHT518-1 trims up to 1,200 square feet of hedge on just one charge, and features pre-hardened, machined-steel, dual action blades for exceptional durability without excessive vibration.

Additionally, the extended blade measures 22 inches for level cuts, and a shearing blade gets the job done at an impressive rate when handling branches up to 3/4-inch thick. A durable plastic body guards against wear and tear, and a lock-off switch helps prevent unintended start-ups.